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Classic movies on YouTube

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NEW YORK — Before the advent of television and the later rise of home video, Hollywood tended to regard films as ephemeral products whose moneymaking potential was essentially limited to their initial run in theaters. This attitude meant that studios were sometimes negligent when it came to maintaining their copyright over a past picture.

Thus, while all movies made before 1926 are now in the public domain, other, much younger titles that might still be protected lost their copyrights for a variety of reasons over the years. As a result, a number of these can be viewed, in their entirety and for free (annoyingly frequent ads aside) on the popular website YouTube.

Below, in alphabetical order, are capsule reviews of five such films. While all have been assigned a classification by the Media Review Office of Catholic News Service, none are rated by the Motion Picture Association. 

 

Beat the Devil (1953)

Director John Huston and author Truman Capote collaborated on the script of this urbane genre satire, loosely adapted from the 1951 novel by Claud Cockburn. Humphrey Bogart plays a once-wealthy but now down-on-his-luck adventurer whose need for cash has gotten him mixed up with a quartet of crooks (Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Ivor Barnard and Marco Tulli) traveling to British East Africa where they hope to acquire a uranium-rich plot of land by underhand means. Despite being married to Gina Lollobrigida, Bogey falls for Jennifer Jones, a fellow passenger on the tramp steamer the swindlers are waiting to board whose wits are quite a bit sharper than those of her starchy husband (Edward Underdown). Marital morals fare no better than honesty or loyalty among a collection of characters on the make. So mature viewers will have to accept the whole enterprise as tongue-in-cheek exaggeration or leave it alone.

Watch out for: Frivolous treatment of adultery.

Rated: A-III, adults.

 

Behind Office Doors (1931)

Mary Astor plays the secretary to the head (Charles Sellon) of a paper manufacturing company who uses her intelligence and knowledge of the business to advance the career of the considerably duller salesman (Robert Ames) for whom she secretly carries a torch. While some of the dialogue in director Melville W. Brown's adaptation of Alan Schultz's 1929 novel "Private Secretary" is badly dated, the proto-feminist appeal of Astor's plucky character endures, albeit her persevering love for an emotionally dense dim bulb may leave viewers scratching their heads. Although the script, penned by Carey Wilson and J. Walter Ruben, predates enforcement of the Hollywood Production Code, the protagonist's potential on-the-rebound dalliance with an unhappily married millionaire (Ricardo Cortez) is handled both with discretion and moral good sense.

Watch out for: Adultery theme, momentary sexual harassment, a joking drug reference.

Rated: A-II, adults and adolescents.

 

The Deadly Companions (1961)

Adapted from his own novel by screenwriter A.S. Fleischman, director Sam Peckinpah's feature film debut has none of the graphic violence that would later become the helmer's trademark. Instead, it's an emotionally complex but dry Western in which a buttoned-up Civil War veteran (Brian Keith) accidentally kills the young son (Billy Vaughan) of a dancehall hostess (Maureen O'Hara) during a shoot-out and, in an effort at atonement, insists on accompanying her on the dangerous journey through Apache territory to the ghost town where she intends to bury the lad next to his father. Their trek is made even tenser by the presence of two gunslingers, one wily (Steve Cochran), the other batty (Chill Wills), with whom, for reasons of his own, the ex-soldier had ostensibly allied himself at the start of the movie. Cochran's character has criminal designs on the feisty redheaded widow, glimpses of whose unclad body as she dries out after getting soaked and later as she bathes in a pond must have seemed racy at the time. While not suitable for kids, it's probably acceptable for older teens.

Watch out for: A sexual assault, a vengeance theme, partial nudity, mature references, including to out-of-wedlock birth, stereotyped Native Americans.

Rated: A-III, adults. 

The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

Hardboiled, fact-based crime drama in which two friends (Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy) on a fishing expedition pick up the traveler of the title (William Talman) only to discover that he is a murderous psychopath who not only takes them hostage but terrorizes them as well. Remarkable as the only film noir of the golden era directed by a woman, the multitalented Ida Lupino, the durable film finds Talman a long way from the TV courtroom in which his district attorney Hamilton Burger was, in later years, forever being bested by Raymond Burr's Perry Mason. Believers will appreciate the fact that his desperado's scoffing at faith and prayer, while incidental, are depicted as characteristic of his depravity.

Watch out for: Grim but discreet violence.

Rated: A-II, adults and adolescents.  

 

Till the Clouds Roll By (1946)

Fans of big production numbers will revel in this lavish, music-rich biography of composer Jerome Kern (Robert Walker). Though only one of several who took turns at the helm, Richard Whorf was the credited director of a film that kicks off with the triumphant first night of "Show Boat" in 1927 — and extensive excerpts from that landmark in Broadway history — then has Kern, who died in 1945, aged 60, reflect on his friendship with a fictional mentor (Van Heflin) and the latter's daughter (Joan Wells as a girl, Lucille Bremer when grown) as well as on his romance with the English lass (Dorothy Patrick) he eventually married. Despite the title, the troubles through which the tunesmith passes are mild and the best that can be said of the tepid drama is that Bremer's character learns a lesson about selfishness. But the real point of the proceedings is that if Lena Horne singing "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" or Judy Garland exhorting viewers to "Look for the Silver Lining" doesn't grab you, an unlikely yet oddly successful version of "Ol' Man River" by Ol' Blue Eyes just might.

Watch out for: Mature themes.

Rated: A-I, general patronage.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021