MOVIES ON HULU: AN INVESTIGATION

August 4, 2009

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The fabulously popular streaming video site Hulu is useful for keeping abreast of contemporary pop-culture effluvia, sure, but if one peeks into their dusty old movies section, there’s an eclectic collection of auteur rarities, 50′s horror, Poverty Row Westerns, and public domain slapstick comedies to be unearthed. With only 3.77% of the titles listed on TCMDB available on home video, dutiful cinephiles need to devour repertory screenings, lobby intractable studios, and pluck the desirable titles out of what is available, and so Hulu is another prime portal to chip away at our film-historical ignorance. I had used it primarily to catch up with TV series I had fallen behind on (like the ubiquitous 30 Rock), but in researching my piece on Bruce Surtees last week, I discovered that Don Siegel’s The Beguiled was streaming for free on the site. Delving into their archives produced a fascinating hodgepodge of titles, some of which are quite hard to see otherwise. Below the fold is a list of titles ready to view on Hulu that I’m eager get to know, and others with which I’m already in committed relationships (with selected commentary, and each title links to its page on Hulu).

Blackmail, 1929

The 39 Steps, 1935

Secret Agent, 1936

Sabotage, 1937

The Lady Vanishes, 1938

Five Hitchcocks. No explanation necessary.

Anne of the Indies, 1951

This is a pirate swashbuckler starring Louis Jourdan and Jean Peters from director Jacques Tourneur, and rated highly by Chris Fujiwara in his definitive study of the director, Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall. This is not on DVD, but occasionally pops up on the Fox Movie Channel, where it’s still sitting on my DVR. Fujiwara says that “Anne of the Indies often gives the impression of a perpetual-motion machine: characters appear and disappear in flurries of back-and-forth activity. [snip] Through these hesitations and shifts, the film suggests the avoidance of something inexpressible, acknowledging that the narrative is based on a lack that can be filled only be fantasy.” Intrigued? Yes. Yes you are.

Bachelor Flat, 1961

No less a personage than Andrew Sarris claimed that this CinemaScope comedy is Frank Tashlin’s best film. Better than Artists and Models and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Is that even possible? Apparently, yes, led by Tuesday Weld’s impossibly moon-shaped face and a wily dachsund’s dinosaur bone obsession.

The Beguiled, 1971

I briefly discussed Don Siegel’s libidinous masterpiece last week, but I’m eager to recommend it again. An autumnal American gothic set at a boarding school for girls during the Civil War, it unleashes the violent power of adolescent sexuality, against which Clint Eastwood has little hope.

Bigger Than Life, 1956

James Mason imprisoned in 1950s America, gets hooked on cortisone and becomes a macho gargoyle. A major work from Nicholas Ray.

Breezy, 1973

Underrated Eastwood. With his second feature, Clint detours into light comedy with dark undercurrents. William Holden’s decadent playboy falls for the whims of an 18 year old hippie (Kay Lenz). Holden’s cratered face and Lenz’ airy chatter fill the screen.

Cul-de-Sac, 1966

Roman Polanski’s black comedy follow-up to Repulsion.

Fixed Bayonets, 1951

Early Sam Fuller (right before the great Park Row (1952)), and his second Korean War film, after The Steel Helmet (1951). This one is set in the snowy climes of Heartbreak Ridge, and is highlighted by the pearls of sweat accumulating on the soldier’s faces as they cross an iced minefield. Extreme close-ups for extreme times.

His Girl Friday, 1940

Everything is at an angle, from Rosalind Russel’s wide-brimmed hats to Cary Grant’s smirk that almost tumbles to the floor. The dialogue burns through their defenses, until love is in the air. One of Howard Hawks’ greatest films, and so one of the greatest ever.

The Knack…and how to get it, 1965

Richard Lester perfects the mod film.

The Last Man on Earth, 1964

Vincent Price perfects the Richard Matheson story “I Am Legend”. Sorry Will Smith!

The Stranger, 1946

Mr. Arkadin, 1962

Two samplings of Orson Welles, the first his stab at commercial relevancy, the second a European co-production with echoes of Citizen Kane. Both suffering from studio/producer interference. I prefer the latter’s fake noses and tipsy cinematography to the former’s expressionist flourishes, but I won’t hold it against you if you disagree.

Night of the Living Dead, 1968

The series that won’t die. George Romero will debut his latest zombie-fest, Survival of the Dead, at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. See what all the fuss is about.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, 1970

Before subjecting yourself to Guy Ritchie’s roided up version of the Holmes legend, sample Billy Wilder’s mellow, melancholy take on the natty inspector.

Rings on Her Fingers, 1942

In an attempt to cash in on the success of The Lady Eve, Fox tried their own con-artist romantic comedy, and signed on Henry Fonda to re-create the magic. Rouben Mamoulian was no Preston Sturges at this point in his career, although the results are sure to be diverting.

The Spikes Gang, 1974

Richard Fleischer’s light-hearted bank robbing movie finds fatherly outlaw Lee Marvin taking on three young kids (including Ron Howard) to form the least intimidating gang in the Wild West.

The Taking of Pelham, 1 2 3, 1974

White Lightning, 1973

Or, the curious case of Joseph Sargent. Sargent, a TV lifer, took some time out in the 70s to crank out a couple of genre whitelightningclassics. Then he moseyed on back to the small screen. White Lightning is a rousingly entertaining Southern revenge drama, starring Burt Reynolds at his aw shucks peak. Taking of Pelham is a no-nonsense police procedural recently remade by Tony Scott. His unfussy direction and his talent for working class argot shines in both features, with White Lightning taking the crown because of a stronger emotional pull, especially in an extraordinarily surreal sequence in an unwed mothers home. Also because of Ned Beatty, whose laid-back menace slithers out of every sweat-oozing pore.

Thunder Birds, 1942

A William Wellman pilot melodrama, with Gene Tierney. That’s enough for me.

Time Limit, 1957

The only film Karl Malden directed. Rest in peace.

The Train, 1965

John Frankenheimer’s sturdy actioner starring Burt Lancaster. He has to transport some fine art under the noses of Nazi scum. Frankenheimer knows how to handle pace and Lancaster’s torso.

Vigilante Force, 1976

Another Southern good-ole-boy action film, this one a cheap knockoff of Phil Karlson’s Walking Tall (1973), directed by George Armitage, who later went on to film Grosse Point Blank 20 odd years later. Instead of Joe Don Baker in Walking Tall though, the lead vigilante is Jan Michael Vincent. Not a good trade-off, although Kris Kristofferson is around to add some shirtless, mellow menace, a young Bernadette Peters belts out a few numbers on the periphery, and there is some jaw-dropping stunt falls in the final (ridiculous) shootout. It also musters a handful of memorable lines. The town in CA just opened an oil field, and two government employees talk shop: “Thank God for the energy crisis! Thank Allah!” And another on the influx of wildcatter oilmen: “If I wanted to live with degenerates I’d move to L.A.” Truer words have never been spoken.