Sep 19, 2018

Streaming Diary: 7 Films to Watch on FilmStruck

There’s a darn good reason why so many classic film fans are raving about FilmStruck. I’ve never had so much fun working my way through the offerings of a streaming service. Curation is the key here. Everything is carefully selected, with a balance between artistic statement and pure sensation. Meaning: there’s always something I want to watch because the selection covers so many genres, styles and moods.

That said, the number of films available can be a bit daunting. What to watch? Here are some of my favorites:

Penelope (1966)

Everybody is in love with Natalie Wood in this comedy caper. She plays a bored banker’s wife who robs his new bank in disguise to make up for the lack of attention from her career-obsessed spouse (Ian Bannen). It’s a playful take on a lady with an odd neurosis: she steals without guilt and it is her most profound joy. Her love-stricken therapist (a rare juicy screen role for Dick Shawn) is in dismay that the woman of his dreams is so happily devious. As a detective on the case, Peter Falk hesitates to do his job because he is so charmed by this clever criminal. Depravity is always best played with a smile.

What Price Hollywood? (1932)

Before there were multiple versions of A Star as Born and the films it inspired, Constance Bennett played a waitress who was lifted to stardom in much the same way Esther Blodgett and her other cinematic sisters would be. This time the mentor (Lowell Sherman) is a friend, rather than a lover, but the relationship is just as moving. The story glides along with that perfect pre-code efficiency that would fade away in the decades to come. It is never pulled under by its melodramatic elements and plays with visuals in a then innovative and artistically appealing way.

The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)

The perfectly executed dialogue in this lively adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s stage play about deception and romance is as butter smooth as leading lady Joan Greenwood’s sexy purr. Every line is a dry-witted zinger. The posh setting of the elite is like a playground for its well-tuned cast of players, which also includes Michael Redgrave, Edith Evans, and the haughtily perfect Margaret Rutherford. For all its pretty costumes and classy milieu, it is ridiculously sexy, which accounts as much for how entertaining it is as much the witty barbs.

Petulia (1968)

This drama of a battered society wife who finds solace with a kind doctor is heartbreaking, but also filled with the purest love. That’s why I have subjected myself to its trauma so many times. Julie Christie has made a career of devastating her audience, and here she is at her most endearing and tragic. It’s unsettling to see the volatile George C. Scott in the role of a gentle savior, but that complexity is what makes his performance fascinating. Richard Chamberlin and Joseph Cotten are effectively horrifying as they demonstrate the entitlement and uncontrollable fury of abusive men. This isn’t an easy watch, but it is essential.

The Wicked Lady (1945)

I enjoy Margaret Lockwood as a heroine, but that precisely pointed nose and cloud of dark hair, punctuated by a perfectly situated beauty mark, are best suited to villainy. Here she embraces her femme fatale side, stealing a husband, then some jewels, committing a little murder, and enchanting fellow thief James Mason in the process. You know she’s evil, but the people she scams are so dull and self-righteous you can’t help cheering her rebellion.

Piccadilly (1929)

Anna May Wong plays a scrappy night club dancer in this silent that showcases the eternally cool actress the way she should have been presented in Hollywood. While Wong was capable of playing vulnerable, she was at her best as she is here: bold, clever, and unapologetically ambitious. She’s also glam in a metallic Chinese costume, dancing in the light of four pre-disco disco balls.

Evergreen (1934)

The perfect antidote to a bleak mood. Jessie Matthews demonstrates just why she was the golden gal of classic British musicals. If Fred Astaire wanted to work with her, you know she had to be great. Here she plays an Edwardian era musical hall singer, in an adaption of a role she played on the stage. With a uniquely bright-eyed appeal, she’s a star, but also endearingly humble. A surreal and wonderfully bizarre futuristic number gives all that sunshine a Busby Berkeley-style edge. She’s even better in First A Girl (1935), which is well worth tracking down.

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