Filmstruck, the best video streaming service ever created, is dead. Well, it’s almost dead. The last day of the service is November 29, 2018, which means that if you already have a subscription, you can keep using it until then. But with just a month to go, you might be asking yourself what to watch. Below you’ll find this blogger’s humble suggestions for a great time while Filmstruck is still up and kicking.
The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
One of the coolest things about Filmstruck is that it has audio commentary tracks for some incredible movies. The Most Dangerous Game (1932), a film about a deranged rich guy who hunts humans for sport, is one of the best horror movies of all time. And if you love this one as much as I do, you’ll definitely want to listen to the audio commentary by film historian Bruce Eder.
The commentary includes a ton of background on the film, including why so much of the original footage was cut. But thanks to those cuts, the movie has a fast pace with absolutely zero waste or needless exposition, especially in the beginning of the story. You’ll also learn about the movie’s relationship to King Kong (1933), which was shot at the same time as The Most Dangerous Game using some of the same people and many of the same elaborate jungle sets.
Long story short: If you’ve never seen The Most Dangerous Game, now’s your time to watch it. If you have watched it, I highly recommend listening to the audio commentary. It made me appreciate this movie even more than I already did.
Watch The Most Dangerous Game on Filmstruck.
Singin’ in the Rain (1951)
Singin’ in the Rain is such a classic you feel like you’ve seen it, even if you haven’t. But if you really haven’t, this is a great time to finally see what all the fuss is about, because this 1951 movie really is something special.
I’ll admit that a lot of the elements of this movie didn’t appeal to me for years and I didn’t see it until I was an adult. Singing? Dancing? Cheesy midcentury romance with incredibly low stakes? Not typically my thing. But the real fun of the movie is that it’s very self-aware and actually has interesting things to say about both movie-making and the history of Hollywood.
Yes, you’ve heard the title song a million times in parodies and TV commercials. But if you’ve never seen Singin’ in the Rain, this might be the time to do it, before Filmstruck gets killed off for good.
Watch Singin’ in the Rain on Filmstruck.
North by Northwest (1959)
Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest is one of my favorite movies ever made. It’s one of those movies that I can watch any time, and it doesn’t hurt that Filmstruck has two documentaries on the making of North by Northwest. I can already hear the epic Bernard Herrmann soundtrack blasting into my brain just by thinking about this classic film.
The plot is a classic Hitchcock “wrong man” scenario where our protagonist, played by Cary Grant, is mistaken for a U.S. government spy. The bad guys don’t believe Grant’s denials and he’s forced to try and find the real spy before the baddies, led by James Mason, bump him off.
The whole ordeal takes us to some beautiful sets, including a romantic train ride with Eva Marie Saint, the United Nations building in New York, and ultimately to the top of Mount Rushmore. Apparently they worked backward from “wouldn’t it be cool if we shot a movie on the face of Mount Rushmore?” and went with it. You’d think that such an idea would inevitably lead to failure, but that weird premise produced one of the 20th century’s best movies.
If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and just watch it now. You won’t regret it. If you’ve seen it already, check out the documentaries. They’re pretty damn neat and give you a new appreciation for classic scenes, like the one where Cary Grant gets chased by a plane through an empty field.
Watch North by Northwest on Filmstruck.
To Be Or Not to Be (1942)
To Be Or Not to Be (1942) was pretty controversial for its time. The idea that anyone would make fun of the Nazis while they were still slaughtering millions of people was off-putting to many. But somehow director Ernst Lubitsch manages to pull off the movie without minimizing the atrocities that were going on all over Europe. The Nazis are ridiculed, yes, but they’re still no joke. They’re the enemy and they must be defeated.
The movie stars Carole Lombard and Jack Benny as narcissistic stage actors in Poland during the Nazi invasion of 1939. They’re forced to put their acting skills to good use when the Nazis invade, spying for the Polish resistance and sometimes posing as Hitler himself to get away with things.
To Be Or Not to Be was also the last movie starring Carole Lombard before she died in a plane crash at the age of 33. Lombard famously asked President Roosevelt what she could do for the war effort and the president said she should just keep making movies. She did that, but she wasn’t content with the status quo. Lombard was flying around the country to raise money for war bonds when her plane crashed at Mount Potosi, Nevada.
The movie also has audio commentary by film historian David Kalat, so, again, if you’ve already seen the film and want to learn more there’s plenty to learn about how this film was both produced and received when it was released after Lombard’s death.
Watch To Be Or Not To Be on Filmstruck.
The Gold Rush (1925)
The Gold Rush is one of Charlie Chaplin’s greatest works. And while silent movies aren’t exactly popular here in 2018, there’s so much about this movie to enjoy.
The movie stars Chaplin as a down-on-his-luck adventurer exploring the frozen tundra. He comes across a number of strange characters, including a very hungry hunter who soon visualizes Charlie as a giant chicken. It’s a gag that’s been repeated countless times in cartoons, but this might be the earliest. There’s a love story, of course, and your heart will ache as Charlie struggles to impress the love of his life.
In my opinion, the funniest scene in the movie is the snow-shoveling scene. I won’t ruin it for you if you haven’t seen it, but fast-forward to the 45 minute mark and just watch that if you want to witness a perfect silent comedy scene.
As a weirdo purist, I prefer to watch the silent version of the movie, but there’s also an audio track that supplements the film with a sort of pseudo-commentary and dialogue that tracks with the action. It’s not my cup of tea, but it was actually approved by Chaplin and given a proper release. Needless to say, you don’t need the audio to understand the action on screen.
Watch The Gold Rush on Filmstruck.
Good Morning (1959)
Good Morning is definitely one of director Yasujiro Ozu’s most lighthearted movies, but it’s that silliness that makes it so much fun. The Japanese film follows two brothers who are angry that their parents won’t buy them a TV. The neighbor kids have a TV and watch all kinds of cool things all day. So why can’t they get one? The two brothers decide that they’ll just stop talking in protest, but that doesn’t stop them from farting nonstop, a running joke that, while crude, is really adorable.
Good Morning is a fascinating snapshot of postwar Japan and the tension between pre-World War II and post-World War II generations that Ozu was so great at capturing in his films like Tokyo Story (1953) and An Autumn Afternoon (1962), despite never having kids himself. But even if you don’t care about any of that, it’s got some great fart jokes. And I mean that as a compliment.
One of the funniest scenes ever filmed is when a man in the neighborhood keeps farting and his wife keeps coming into the room thinking that he’s said her name. It’s objectively funny, no matter what language you speak.
Watch Good Morning (Ohayo in Japanese) on Filmstruck.
49th Parallel (1941)
I’m not Canadian, but after watching 49th Parallel, I felt a strange sense of pride for Canada. The movie, also released under the title Invaders, was produced with the explicit aim of getting Americans to wake up to the threat of fascism during World War II and tells the story of a fictional Nazi invasion of Canada.
Canada and Britain were fighting the Nazis for two years before the Americans finally joined the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in December of 1941. Before that, Canadians produced this film as a plea for FDR and the Americans more broadly to take up the cause, as fascism was infecting the world. The 49th parallel north, the line that divides much of Canada and the U.S., would surely be invaded if the Germans conquered Canada.
The film follows a group of Nazis who escape from a sunken U-Boat waging war against allied forces in the Hudson Bay. The Nazis make their way across the country, brutalizing unsuspecting Canadians along the way.
The movie celebrates the cultural diversity of Canada at the time, with a particular emphasis on religious freedom exemplified by a German-Canadian commune. The people of the anti-war religious sect live peacefully until the wandering Nazi invaders go undercover and infiltrate the group. One of the Nazis defects and wants to stay with the commune after they’re finally found out, but he’s executed for his treason.
British actor Leslie Howard is particularly good in the film as a bookish anthropologist in the Canadian Rockies who comes across the escaped Nazis in disguise. When he learns about their true intentions, he becomes an unlikely hero. I won’t ruin the ending, but like I said, it makes you feel a peculiar pride in Canada’s fight against evil, even if you’re not Canadian. Which we all could use right about now.
The Filmstruck version of 49th Parallel includes an optional commentary track by film and music historian Bruce Eder, who also did the commentary for The Most Dangerous Game. He’s very good and gives some great background on how this movie came to be made during a particularly stressful time in world history.
Watch 49th Parallel on Filmstruck.