Movie Network: Top 5 Classics
In January I compiled a list of ten classic movies available to stream on the The Movie and Music Network, a website akin to Netflix offering streaming movies and music. They have a great collection of lesser known classic films, including many B-movies, so here is another list of five more great classic films you can stream now.
Besides classic Hollywood films, the Network offers over 2,500 movies, including sci-fi, westerns, and horror. (The Network also offers some channels of erotica, but there are parental locks if that’s an issue.)
There are several different channels, but I’ll be focusing on the classic film offerings on the “Vintage Films Channel.”
To the films! Here are five movies I’d recommend streaming from The Movie and Music Network’s “Vintage Channel.” For more, check out my first list of ten films, including The Most Dangerous Game and Royal Wedding.
1. Happy Go Lovely (1951)
This is a British production starring Vera-Ellen, David Niven, and Cesar Romero. Vera-Ellen is an American chorus girl in a show touring Scotland. Through a comic misunderstanding, a rumor spreads that she is involved with wealthy David Niven, and the producer of her show tries to use her connection to the millionaire to bolster his failing production.
The plot of this cute musical is reminiscent of Easy Living (1937) with the same mistaken identities, wild rumors resulting in new wardrobes and special treatment, and an adorable heroine who is completely bewildered by her sudden good fortune.
There are some fairly elaborate musical numbers built into the backstage storyline, so if you enjoy watching Vera-Ellen dance, give it a try! It’s also fun to see David Niven in an early film like this. Here’s a clip.
2. Sin Takes a Holiday (1930)
Constance Bennett stars as a dowdy secretary in love with her womanizing boss (Kenneth MacKenna). He never wants to get married, so he only dallies with married women–since they’ve already got husbands, they can’t marry him!
It’s a foolproof plan until one such married woman decides to divorce her husband so she can marry MacKenna! To get out of this pickle, MacKenna makes a deal with Bennett: if she marries him (in name only), he’ll give her a healthy allowance, and in return he can continue his caddish behavior with married ladies from the safety of his own sham marriage. It’s a pre-Code film, so this type of behavior was allowed and delightful! (Visit this post for more on the Production Code).
Bennett accepts MacKenna’s conditions, marries him, and gets shunted off to Paris so he can play with his girlfriends. While there, she undergoes a fabulous makeover, meets a dashing man (played by Basil Rathbone), and tries to conquer her love for MacKenna. I love Constance Bennett (sister to Joan Bennett, and brilliant actress in films like After Office Hours (1935) and Topper (1937), and any movie with the tagline: “Oh lady–what clothes!” is good by me! Here’s a clip.
3. Detour (1945)
This film follows a bitter, down on his luck piano player (Tom Neal) who decides to hitchhike from New York to Hollywood. Along the way he becomes embroiled in murder and blackmail, and a terrifying femme fatale (Ann Savage) gets him under her spell.
This B-movie film noir is now famous as the ultimate exercise in Poverty Row creativity and production. B-movies were used to fill out double features: an A-movie would play first, followed by a B-film, which were made with smaller budgets and shorter production schedules than A-movies.
For example, in 1940, the average budget of an A-film was $400,000, whereas the budgets on Poverty Row very rarely reached $200,000, and shooting schedules for B-films were measured in weeks, not months. (Detour was an outlier at $100,000, most B-movies were produced for five figures, and it was shot in about four weeks.)
The big studios like 20th Century-Fox and RKO made B-films along with their bigger budget films, but there were some studios that only produced B-level movies. They were nicknamed Poverty Row, and Detour was produced by one of their number, PRC. The small budgets and fast shooting schedules meant that B-movie filmmakers had to be especially creative. They couldn’t afford huge sets, multiple takes, or pricey effects, so they worked with what they had.
Detour is notable for its wild, incredibly creative effects (daring lighting and the giant coffee mug are famous example), “mistakes” that only make the film more interesting, and its quintessentially noir atmosphere and tone. In a really cool way, the B-movie constraints and inspired direction by Edward G. Ulmer seem to only increase the dread, guilt, and fatalism of film noir. If you like the genre, this is a must-see. Here’s a clip.
4. Bird of Paradise (1932)
Joel McCrea is my favorite, so I have to include Bird of Paradise. It’s one of those white men arrive in a yacht, meet the charming “natives,” disrupt their lives, and sail away films, complete with an angry volcano.
Joel McCrea arrives with his buddies on a South Pacific island and falls for the chief’s daughter, played by Dolores del Rio, a Mexican actress who enjoyed great success in Hollywood in the 1920s-1930s before reigning onscreen in Mexican films for three decades.
McCrea and del Rio attempt to start a life together on a neighboring island, but when a volcano erupts, del Rio knows she must return home to “appease” the volcano by throwing herself into it. Naturally, McCrea tries to save his lady love. Who will win: the volcano or handsome, shirtless Joel McCrea?
This often racist and at times ridiculous film features all the cliches of island life, including a famous nude swimming scene, “native dances” by nearly naked women, and human sacrifice. For all its troublesome elements, it’s interesting as a pre-Code movie packed with sensuality that would go on to inspire similar island films like King Kong (1933). Fun fact: this film features an appearance of Lon Chaney, Jr. in his first film, and the dances were choreographed by Busby Berkeley. Here’s a clip.
5. Algiers (1938)
This film is the Hollywood remake of a wonderful French movie called Pépé le Moko (1937). In Algiers, Charles Boyer takes over Jean Gabin’s role of the master thief, Pepe. He has fled France and become the leader of the Casbah, a mysterious section of Algiers populated by criminals and otherwise “underground” characters. The police dare not venture into the Casbah, so Pepe is safe. But also bored.
He meets Gaby (Hedy Lamarr), a Frenchwoman vacationing in Algiers, and they begin a passionate affair. Will Pepe leave the Casbah to be with her, thus risking capture? Or will he choose the Casbah and safety?
Fun facts: This was Hedy Lamarr’s first Hollywood film, and she stunned audiences with her beauty. Boyer’s Oscar-nominated performance had an unexpected, lasting legacy: Boyer’s Pepe le Moko partially inspired the animated character “Pepe Le Pew.” Algiers also served as inspiration for Casablanca (1942), and the writers originally had Lamarr in mind to play the part that eventually went to Ingrid Bergman. And finally, Algiers was re-made as a musical entitled Casbah ten years later with Tony Martin and Marta Toren in the lead roles. Here’s a clip of Algiers.
For more, follow me on Twitter, tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram at BlondeAtTheFilm, and Facebook. And visit my Movie and Music Network: Top Ten Classics list here and my Netflix picks for more great movies available to stream instantly!