Of course I’d rather watch a brand new print of any movie than an old beat up print. Likewise, given the choice, I’d rather see that pristine print projected onto a large screen than watch it on a laptop. But if the choice is between seeing or not seeing a film, let’s say it’s a Fritz Lang picture I’ve read about but never seen, the laptop will do.
Over the last few months I’ve watched a bunch of old movies on YouTube at no charge. Sometimes the look of the movie has been better than others. On any given day, it seems thousands of titles are available. Some of the films are in the public domain, others may not be. Consequently, due to rights issues, they might not be available on YouTube for long.
Several of the gems I’ve watched recently have subsequently been pulled, so don’t wait to see one on the list below you really want to see. The opportunity might be gone the next day.
In particular, I’ve been enjoying the black and white movies from the 1950s and early-‘60s. Of the movies in that category I’ve watched recently on YouTube, my favorite five today (with links that still work at this posting) are as follows:
- “The Big Heat” (1953): B&W. 90 minutes. Directed by Fritz Lang. Cast: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin. Note: Ford is the cop who won’t be scared off of investigating the death of a colleague. Grahame is the gangster’s moll who gets caught in the middle. Marvin is the second-in-command of a crime syndicate; he routinely terrorizes people, especially women, for his own amusement. Click here to watch it.
- “The Hitch-Hiker” (1952): B&W. 71 minutes. Directed by Ida Lupino. Cast: Edmund O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman. Note: Based on a true crime spree story that had been covered extensively by the press in 1950. For a woman to direct a lean and brutal movie like this one was a breakthrough in that time. Talman’s quirky portrayal as the psychotic murderer is memorable. Click here to watch it.
- “Paris Blues” (1961): B&W. 98 minutes. Directed by Martin Ritt. Cast: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Sidney Poitier, Louis Armstrong, Diahann Carroll. Note: Nice soundtrack and just seeing the good looking stars of this story about Americans involved with the jazz scene in Paris is worth investing 98 minutes. These expatriates were way too cool for the processed rhythm and blues, folk music, etc., that was dominating the pop charts in the USA. Click here to watch it.
- “Patterns” (1956): B&W. 83 minutes. Directed by Fielder Cook. Cast: Van Heflin, Everett Sloane, Ed Begley. Note: Written by Rod Serling, “Patterns” was first presented on the Kraft Television Theatre in 1955. A year later it was reworked as a feature film. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this story of dog-eat-dog immorality in the business world is how well it holds up -- Serling's dialogue is still crisp. Click here to watch it.
- "Shake Hands With the Devil" (1959): B&W. 111 minutes. Directed by Michael Anderson. Cast: James Cagney, Don Murray, Dana Wynter, Richard Harris. Note: This story about an American medical student (of Irish heritage) getting inadvertently involved with revolutionary politics is set in Dublin in 1921. The student, who is also an apolitical WWI veteran, gets dragged into the IRA’s bitter battle with the thuggish Black and Tans. Click here to watch it.