Some of my favorite movies are available online, in high quality, for free (with limited ads) on Hulu right now. I suspect these movies will only be temporarily available, as part of ongoing efforts to lure people in to Hulu Plus, so take advantage of them while they last:
The Seven Samurai (1954). What needs to be said of this movie? One of the greatest films ever made. Directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring a young Toshiro Mifune and the charming studio stalwart Takashi Shimura in one of his finest performances (his best being in Kurosawa’s Ikiru). Kurosawa drew on tropes and traditions of American Westerns as well as samurai movies, and in turn The Seven Samurai influenced both of those genres—albeit the samurai movie to a much greater degree—directly shaping such films as The Magnificent Seven (a remake of the Western-influence samurai movie as a Western) and more recently Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins, which features a peasant warrior who is the direct descendent, if not an outright copy, of Mifune’s character in Seven Samurai.
The Tale of Zatoichi (1962) is not in the same class as Seven Samurai, but the long-running series of samurai movies is still a treat. Shintaro Katsu stars as Zatoichi, a blind masseuse roaming the Japanese countryside, who conceals a deadly sword in his cane and terrific swordsmanship beneath his bumbling façade. Most of the films in the series seem to have much the same plot: Zatoichi comes to a new town where there is some strife, often involving gangsters and gamblers, and his attraction to a beautiful woman or sense of justice draws him into the conflict; when it’s over he’s slain all the bad guys, most of them in one climatic battle, but has to leave town, driven out, back to his wanderings, by a sense of his own flawed nature and of the violence he feels follows in his wake. Or something like that. You can figure it out for yourself if you have the time: Hulu is showing 18 of them for free at the moment.
I grew up watching these on weekends in a local Japanese theatre. They’re brilliant. After you watch them, you can read about the series on Wikipedia or check it out on Amazon. Takashi Kitano did a mostly excellent remake/updating of Zatoichi a few years back, with himself in the title role — but it was a bit to serious and realistic, and lacked the hokey charm I find in the originals.
Stagecoach (1939)—the film that transformed Westerns, bringing both John Ford and John Wayne to prominence. The first appearance of John Wayne in the film is one of the great entrances of American cinema.
Notorious (1946)—one of Ingrid Bergman’s most powerful performances and Cary Grant as you have never seen him before. Bergman is a party-going playgirl in South America recruited to act as a spy; Cary Grant is her spy-master.
Charade (1963)—a movie I love, really so extravagantly that I might argue for it as one of the greatest movies of all time, though I know that in truth it isn’t. But Cary Grant has never been more charming, I think, which is saying a lot, and Audrey Hepburn is luminous and… funny. Really funny. I don’t think her gift of comic timing has ever been showcased as well (except perhaps in How to Steal a Million). Hepburn plays a young Parisian wife who suddenly finds herself a widow, and Cary Grant pops into her life as…well, watch it and see. Directed by Stanley Donen, who started out as a song-and-dance man with Gene Kelly as his partner. He made his directorial debut working with Kelly on Singin’ in the Rain and On the Town (perhaps the greatest integrated musical ever), on which he is credited as co-director, and then went on to make a number of very good films on his own, including Indiscreet with Grant and Ingrid Bergman; but those first musicals aside, this is clearly his masterpiece.
The Blob (1958). A classic monster movie that still scares. An unintentionally smart mash-up of teen movie and 50s sci fi monster flick, with one of Steve McQueen’s first performances, and a bizarrely fun and goofy theme song by Burt Bacharach.
The Ruling Class (1972). A tour de force performance by Peter O’Toole, one of his finest, as the mentally unbalanced heir of a British noble. DO NOT read any details about this film before watching it (even my earlier post on it), as there’s a surprise twist about 2/3rds of the way through, and it is worth being surprised by it. This is a cult classic, which used to get rapturous receptions at the UC Theatre in Berkeley during fairly frequent screenings in the late 1970s through mid 1980s. A bitterly black comedy whose social commentary may not seem particularly startling or original now, but was fairly sharp back in the day. Worth watching for O’Toole’s performance alone.
Quadrophenia (1979)—a great soundtrack by The Who, mods versus rockers, and Sting.
Most of these are from the wonderful Criterion Collection, which guarantees that the prints and their digital transfer will be of the highest quality, and that the versions of the films will be the most original (no half-baked cuts for the American market or anything like that).
If you have a Roku or anything similar, you can even sign up for a free one-week trial, call in sick and stay home to watch all of them for free, over a few gloriously indulgent days of movie magic, on your (hopefully big screen) TV. Otherwise you can watch them on your computer; you know, now that I think of if, the office I’m working in right now has excellent broadband, and no network restrictions…