I was shocked! Shocked that so many good films were leaving the Criterion Channel at the end of the month. Worse than that, I didn’t even know that a lot of them even were on the Channel.
Here are ten of them that I recommend you try to catch before March 1. But if you miss one, some of them will still be streaming elsewhere.
A+ Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
A deeply dark, hilarious comedy about the end of the world. General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) orders his men to bomb the USSR and start World War III. But have no fear! The men responsible for avoiding Armageddon (three of them played by Peter Sellers) are almost as competent as Laurel and Hardy. Stanley Kubrick’s “nightmare comedy” reminds you just how scary things were back in the ’60s. Read my Blu-ray review.
A+ Paths of Glory (1957)
Stanley Kubrick doesn’t just show us that war is hell. He illustrates how helpless men go through that hell for the benefit of powerful men. When an impossible mission inevitably fails, the officers who planned the fiasco get off the hook by arranging for three enlisted men to be tried for cowardice – convictions and executions are foregone conclusions. After all, three executions is easier than admitting the generals’ mistakes. Kirk Douglas plays the honorable officer who tilts at the windmills of corrupted military justice. Read my A+ report.
A Bringing Up Baby (1938)
How does one define a screwball comedy? You could say it’s a romantic comedy with glamorous movie stars behaving like broad, slapstick comedians. You could point out that screwballs are usually set amongst the excessively wealthy, and often explore class barriers. Or you could simply watch Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby, a frivolous and hilarious tale about a mild-mannered paleontologist (Cary Grant), a ditzy heiress (Katharine Hepburn), and a tame leopard (a tame leopard).
A The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Widow and mother Shelley Winters makes a very bad choice for a second husband – a cruel, sanctimonious, violent, and criminally insane preacher (or fake preacher) played by Robert Mitchum. Told mostly through the eyes of two children who must survive their new stepfather, the story is grim, atmospheric, frightening, and haunting. Then, in the last act, Lillian Gish shows up as a practical, down-to-earth savior of lost children. It’s some sort of Christian parallel, although I’m not exactly sure of what. Charles Laughton’s only film as a director, it makes you wish he made more.
A Days of Heaven (1978)
The story seems a better fit for a 74-minute, 1940s B noir, but Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven isn’t about story, and only moderately about character. It’s about time, place, atmosphere, and arguably the Bible. The time is around 1916, and for most of the film, the place is a large, uniquely beautiful wheat farm on the Texas panhandle. Through the yellow of the wheat fields, the haze of the sun, and the smoke of early 20th-century technology, Days of Heaven creates a sense of something that is not quite nostalgia, and not quite a dream, but a reality seen through the haze of distant memory. Also available on Kanopy. See my longer commentary.
A- Holiday (1938)
This 1938 romantic comedy doesn’t seem quite crazy enough to be called a screwball comedy. On the other hand, it stars Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, and plays with class differences, so maybe it is a screwball. Either way, it’s very funny. For once, Edward Everett Horton gets to play an intelligent man who gets laughs by his wits. It isn’t Bringing Up Baby, and its stage origins show occasionally, but it’s very much worth seeing. Read my Blu-ray review.
A- Harold and Maude (1971)
At a time when young Americans embraced non-conformity, free love, ecstatic joy, and 40-year-old Marx Brothers movies, this counterculture romance between an alienated and death-obsessed young man and an almost 80-year-old woman made total sense. The broad and outrageous humor helps considerably. But I do wish screenwriter Colin Higgins had found a better ending. Also available on Kanopy. See my full discussion.
B+ Bisbee ’17 (2018)
Robert Greene’s documentary initially feels distant and slow, but improves as it goes along. In 1917, Bisbee, Arizona was a prosperous mining town. But many of the miners wanted a part of that prosperity and joined the union. So the company, the sheriff, and a group of new deputies rounded them up – along with their sympathizers – herded them into cattle cars, and freighted them to the middle of the desert. To mark the event’s centennial, the townspeople reenacted this dark piece of local history for Greene’s cameras. Also available on Kanopy. Read my full review.
B+ I’m No Angel (1933)
In what I believe is probably Mae West’s best movie (I haven’t seen them all), she deals with carnies, lions, snooty millionaires, crooks, and a very young and sexy Cary Grant. Mae West – the character, not the human being – isn’t entirely about sex. To a large degree, she’s about knocking down the rich, the snooty, and the hypocritical – along with having sex. The final act takes place in a very funny and unlikely courtroom, where she’s suing Grant, and has the judge and all-male jury eating out of her hands. As she says in the movie, “It’s not the men in your life; it’s the life in your men.” That line, and the entire screenplay, were written by West.
? Death of a Salesman (1985)
I consider Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman the American theater’s great tragedy. The 1951 film adaptation (which I’ve never seen) is almost entirely despised. But in 1985, Dustin Hoffman starred in what I remember to be an excellent television production. That is the Salesman to see. Or at least as my memory goes. Also available on Kanopy.
You can also check out all of the films about to leave Criterion.