At the end of every month, The Criterion Channel removes a lot of films from their streaming library. Here are some of the best of those that will disappear after 12:59 pm. don’t worry too much; some will pop up on the Channel in a year or two.
A+ Days of Heaven (1978)
The story seems a better fit for a 74-minute, 1940s B noir, but Terrence Malick’s masterpiece 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 in 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. See my longer commentary.
A Design for Living (1933)
Impeccable credentials occasionally pay off. Design for Living is every bit as good as you’d expect from a sex comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch, from a screenplay by Ben Hecht, adapted from a Noel Coward play. Of course, it also helps to have a great cast. Best friends Gary Cooper and Fredric March both want the beautiful and sexy Miriam Hopkins. She wants both. Edward Everett Horton plays the disapproving bluenose.
A Touch of Evil (1958)
Orson Welles’ film noir classic, and his last Hollywood studio feature. Although he lacked the freedom he found in Europe, the bigger American budget- and perhaps studio oversight – resulted in one of his best works. As a corrupt border-town sheriff, Welles makes a bloated, scary, yet strangely sympathetic villain. Janet Leigh is a lovely and effective damsel in distress. As the hero, a brilliant Mexican detective played by Charlton Heston is…well, he’s miscast, although not as badly as some people say. Read my Blu-ray review.
A Metropolis (1927)
The first important science fiction feature film still strikes a considerable visual punch. The images – workers in a hellish underground factory, the wealthy at play, a robot in the form of a beautiful woman – are a permanent part of our collective memory. The simplistic politics at times feel like trite melodrama, but it soon turns into something like grand opera. Read my longer report.
A- April and the Extraordinary World (2015)
This French, animated steampunk tale is set in an alternate world where the human race has not yet harnessed electricity or oil; but the year is 1941.
You’ll get a glimpse of an unknown Adolf Hitler, drawing caricatures of passers-by on the streets of Berlin. Someone keeps kidnapping scientists, and civilization runs on steam produced by burning coal. The setting is an animator’s dream. You can watch either the dubbed or subtitled versions. Read my full review.
A- Trouble in Paradise (1932)
What’s so fascinating and entertaining about witty, sophisticated crooks that makes us want to root for them? Probably our own desire to get away with it. This near-perfect pre-code screwball proves that whatever it is, it works. Yet another deliciously amoral Ernst Lubitsch comedy about sex, love, money, and larceny. Starring Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, and Herbert Marshall.
B+ Shanghai Express (1932)
Josef von Sternberg created this seductive, romantic, and totally inaccurate vision of China without ever stepping off the Paramount lot. Add von Sternberg’s muse, Marlene Dietrich, photographed with the most gorgeous black-and-white lighting imaginable, and you have an exotic and erotic tale. The story is somewhat of a precursor to Stagecoach, with a cross-section of humanity traveling through dangerous territory. But most of the characters are shallow, and the movie goes on way too long after the suspense is over.
B Merrily We Go to Hell (1932)
This surprisingly serious tearjerker deals with alcoholism, class stratifications, and adultery. A wealthy young woman (Sylvia Sidney) falls for a writer with a severe drinking problem. He also has an infidelity problem. He frequently fails her, and yet she keeps coming back. And no, it never feels repetitive. Written by Edwin Justus Mayer from a story by Cleo Lucas and directed by Dorothy Arzner – one of the very few women who got to direct in the studio era. An unknown Cary Grant has a small part.
B The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales (2017)
Simple, limited, hand-drawn animation has its pleasures, and one of those pleasures is exaggerated slapstick with a perfect sense of timing. And that’s just fine for The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales, a family movie telling three comic stories of barnyard animals. The only thing the movie wants to do is make you laugh, and it succeeds. You can see either the dubbed or subtitled versions.
B- Cleopatra (1934)
This Cecil B. DeMille extravaganza is twice as good as the 1963 Elizabeth Taylor version. Why? Because this one tells the story in half the running time. Claudette Colbert stars as the Queen of Egypt. I assume you know the basic story. Warren William and Henry Wilcoxon play Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. The sets are big and the clothing is skimpy.
B- If I Had a Million (1932)
Here’s the ultimate wish fantasy of the Great Depression. A dying tycoon gives his money away to eight strangers – one million at a time. And then, of course, we see what each of these lucky people do with their sudden fortunes (in 1932 money). Some of the stories are funny; others are tragic. Wynne Gibson plays a prostitute who sleeps alone in a fine hotel. W. C. Fields rams into cars because he hates the drivers. Charles Laughton gives us the shortest and funniest sequence. Different directors shot each of the stories.
Other films probably worth watching
These are not all of the films that will disappear come May. Here is the full collection of films that will go away.