Contrary to what some people think, there are a lot of entertaining old movies, some of which have fallen into the public domain, and can now be downloaded from Internet Archive completely free of charge.
The only problem is that like now, back in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s when many of these films were made, there were also many poor films made as well.
The challenge for the online film buff is to pick the gems, and not waste time with movies that have not aged well, or just weren’t very good to start with.
So here are five great movies that were great in their day, and still offer the modern viewer entertainment. Don’t be put off by the fact that they’re in black and white. What makes these movies entertaining are their tight scripts and good stories (some thing that’s missing from many modern movies).
The movies are available as 64Kb MPEG4 or 245Kb MPEG4 streams or downloads, or as MPEG1 or MEG2 downloads.
Just click on the titles to go their download page.
Duration: 81 minutes
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll
A man is suspected of murdering a spy. As police pursue him across Scotland, the real murderers become apparent.
While there have been two other movie versions of this story (based on a novel by John Buchan), Hitchcock’s version stands as the most acclaimed.
Duration: 92 minute
Directed by Howard Hawks, starring Carry Grant (pictured) and Rosalind Russell.
Russell plays a reporter who is planning on getting out of the newspaper game after divorcing her publisher husband played by Grant. Just about as she is about to make her exit, Grant asks her to cover breaking news.
Described by one reviewer as one of the “fastest of all movies, from line to line, and from gag to gag”.
Duration: 98 minutes
Directed by George A Romero, starring Judith O’Dea and Duane Jones.
Rating: Very good
One of the most influential horror films of all time. The heroine finds herself trapped in a farmhouse with an assortment of characters as flesh eating zombies attack.
A lot of old horror movies haven’t really stood the test of time. This one does, and many argue that it’s better than the 1990 remake.
Interestingly, this movie was made on a budget of $114,000, but had managed to make $30 million within ten years.
By the way, the opening scene gets my nomination for “just deserts for a real jerk” award — you’ll know what I mean when you see it.
D.O.A. (Dead on arrival)
Genre: Film noir drama
Duration: 83 minutes
Directed by Rudolph Mate, starring Edmond O’Brien
A man tries to find out who has poisoned him, and why, with slow acting Radium.
D.O.A is considered by many to be a classic film noir movie.
Duration: 96 minutes
Directed by Elia Kazan, starring Richard Widmark, Jack Palance
Rating: Very Good
In this semidocumentary film, Heath officials attempt to find a carrier of Bubonic plague on the New Orleans waterfront.
Why are some commercial films in the public domain?
Movies made before 1923 are generally in the public domain (but not restored versions, which usually contain their own updated copyright notices).
Movies made after 1923 may be in the public domain unless their copyright has been renewed. So why doesn’t every studio simply renew the copyright of its movies?
In the case of D.O.A, for example, the producer Leo C Popkin made the film for his short-lived studio Cardinal Pictures, but then didn’t renew the copyright when he had the chance in 1977.
Other times, movies fall into the public domain because someone screwed up.
In the case of Night of the Living Dead, the original theatric distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, forgot to place a copyright notice on the title of the film prints when it changed the name of the movie from Night of the Flesh Eaters to Night of the Living Dead. In 1968 copyright laws in the US required that proper notice be given.
Oh well, their loss, our gain.