What’s new at the Criterion Channel

Judy Garland, cheap movies, musicals, and early Billy Wilder. The Criterion Channel opened several movie collections on Tuesday. Here’s are some of these collections and what’s in them:

100 Years of Judy Garland
Here are 17 movies starring the girl who went over the rainbow. And yet, The Wizard of Oz isn’t in this collection. So, what’s in it? Twelve films including Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, For Me and My Gal and best in the group, The Pirate, directed by Garland’s then husband, Vincente Minnelli.

The Pirate

The Pirate is a splendid entertainment – with songs by Cole Porter and dance numbers choreographed by Gene Kelly (who also starred) and Robert Alton. The mistaken-identity story debunks one romantic myth (pirates) while building up another (actors). I give it a B+. This is easily the best in this group.

Microbudget Movies
It’s easy to make a good movie if you have a lot of money; it takes ingenuity to make a brilliant one with nothing but pocket change. Here are 33 movies made by people who broke through by one cheap but brilliant movie.


I haven’t seen all of these, but here are the ones I’ve seen and really liked: Detour, Pather Panchali, Shadows, Carnival of Souls, Night of the Living Dead, Wanda, Eraserhead, Chan Is Missing, and
Stranger Than Paradise

But if I had to pick one of these, I’d take the little-known Wanda. Writer/director Barbara Loden turned cheap production values and ugly, poverty-stamped locations into virtues. She also plays the titular character – a drifter who goes where people take her in. It’s no surprise she falls in with a cheap crook. The movie was shot in 16mm, with bad lighting and echo-filled sound recording, and has no background music. But that lack of polish forces you to accept the people and places as they are. I give the film a A-.

Billy Wilder’s 1940s
Billy Wilder directed six films in the 1940s, but this collection has only four of them. The two I know are Double Indemnity, considered among the greatest of all film noirs, and The Lost Weekend, which won Best Picture but these days feels overly preachy. Maybe I’ll get the chance to see Five Graves to Cairo.

Double Indemnity

Barbara Stanwyck leads insurance salesman Fred MacMurray by the libido from adultery to murder in Billy Wilder’s near-perfect thriller. Not that she has any trouble leading him (this is not the wholesome MacMurray of My Three Sons).  Edward G. Robinson is in fine form as the co-worker and close friend that MacMurray must deceive. A great, gritty thriller about sex and betrayal (or at least the code-era equivalent).

Queersighted: The Musical!
Is there something weird about me? I’m entirely heterosexual, but I really like musicals. I’ve seen three of the seven films, and enjoyed them all (although I haven’t seen Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in a very long time). And once again, The Pirate is the one I like best.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Other collections

There are more collections and individual movies coming to Criterion, but I don’t know the films and the filmmakers enough to write about them: