There were over 20 Hollywood releases in 1943 which grossed $3 million dollars or more. (That would be about $95 million today).
A few, such as Casablanca and The Song of Bernadette, would go on to become classics. Others would become “cult” classics. Remember The Gang’s All Here?
Mickey and Judy’s version of Girl Crazy had grossed $3.7 million. But it had cost a million and a half to produce, so the profit wasn’t as large as the year’s two sleeper hits, Hitler’s Children and Behind the Rising Sun. Both had been made by RKO for about $250,000 and Hitler’s Children made $3.5 million and Rising Sun about a million and a half.
Remember the war was raging and anything about Hitler and Hirohito was going to pack the theaters.
Still, the two MEGA Hits of the year (not just by grosses but by the number of tickets sold) were not about the Germans or the Japanese. Yes, they were about the war, but in an indirect way.
This is the Army was a film of the hit Broadway revue which featured real soldiers. In the movie version a plot was added and performers (such as George Murphy and future President Ronald Reagan) played the parts. Songwriter Irving Berlin, who’d produced the stage and screen epic, also performed his hit song from WW I, Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning.
The film remains one of the all time hits of the Forties. Grossing over $8 million, it was seen by over 56 million people — that was over 41% of the population.
For Whom the Bell Tolls fared almost as well. Based on the hit novel by Ernest Hemingway, the Paramount film starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman (pictured above) was seen by 39% of the people in the country and grossed over seven million dollars.
But as we’ve noted, hit films don’t necessarily become classics.