At the end of every month, The Criterion Channel drops a lot of movies from its streaming service to make room for other pictures. Here are just a few of the films that will disappear from the Channel on February 1st.
A Broken Blossoms (1919)
We’re not supposed to say good things about D.W. Griffith, but this small masterpiece is one of the best silent melodramas. It deals with horrific poverty, child abuse, drug abuse, religious proselytism, and yes, racism. Set in the slums of London, a cruel and brutish boxer (Donald Crisp) takes out his anger on his helpless daughter (Lillian Gish). A Chinese immigrant (Richard Barthelmess in yellow face) takes her under his care, although that could make things worse.
B+ Force of Evil (1948)
John Garfield plays a crooked lawyer in the numbers racket. He’s about to make a fortune, and his gangland boss will make an even bigger one. But the lawyer’s upright brother has a small business, which will be destroyed when the big money hits. Shot in New York while both film noir and the blacklist were heating up, Force of Evil is a short, powerful punch of a movie, leading up to a terrifically suspenseful final act.
B+ Forty Guns (1957)
Samuel Fuller’s black-and-white, Cinemascope western is best remembered for its shocking ending (which isn’t anywhere near as shocking as what Fuller intended). Barbara Stanwyck plays a wealthy rancher who usually gets what she wants (the title refers to her army of gunfighters). You’re never quite sure what side she’ll land on. Lesser-known Eve Brent plays a beautiful gunsmith who’s very much not a proper lady. A lot of fun.
B+ Putney Swope (1969)
Before actor Robert Downey, Jr., there was his father, auteur filmmaker Robert Downey – maker of absurd, offensive, and very independent comedies. In this satire, the token black executive of a Madison Ave. ad agency accidentally becomes top dog. Suddenly, this meek “negro” becomes a militant black, and things get very surreal. Even Mel Brooks gets into the cast.
B Cry of the City (1948)
In the late 1940s, Robert Siodmak directed several high-quality film noirs. In this one, a cop and a criminal – childhood friends from the tough side of town – face off as the detective tries to find out what the gangster is up to. Richard Conte plays the crook as a charismatic tough guy always looking for himself. Victor Mature, as the police detective, does a surprisingly good performance (he’s often considered talentless) as a smart, determined, but overall decent man.
B Humoresque (1946)
Talent isn’t enough to make you a great musician. You need to work hard, devote yourself to your art, and sleep with Joan Crawford. John Garfield plays a brilliant yet poor violinist who finds success through special performances for a wealthy, alcoholic matron of the arts (Crawford). In addition to two charismatic stars, Humoresque offers Oscar Levant providing wisecracks, along with music performed off-camera by Isaac Stern.
C+ The Flying Ace (1926)
This low-budget murder mystery would have been fine if director Richard E. Norman had bothered to find actors with talent and charisma. The only interesting performer is Boise De Legge, a one-legged comic-relief sidekick, who could outrun most two-legged villains on a bicycle chase (and no, I’m not going to describe one-legged bicycling; you’ll have to see it yourself). This movie is the only surviving feature from the Norman Film Manufacturing Company – an independent studio for African Americans.
C+ Flower Drum Song (1961)
Probably the least known movie adaptation of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, thanks mostly to the lack of white people in the cast. The cliched story of mismatched couples is set in San Francisco’s Chinatown – a bold choice for a Hollywood studio in 1961. Much of the humor comes from older Chinese immigrants uncomfortable with American ways, and their young, more American children. The songs are mostly forgettable, with a couple of exceptions. Hermes Pan’s choreography is vigorous and delightful. James Shigeta makes a fine, romantic lead, but as the ingenue, Miyoshi Umeki shows an acting range from innocence to purity.
Other films probably worth watching
- The Blue Dahlia
- Call Northside 777
- Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A.
- The Glass Key
- This Gun for Hire
- Shaolin Soccer
- Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl
These are only a few of the films that will disappear. Here are all of them. A lot of them are noir.