UPDATE: This piece first appeared in December 2010. My friend Sheila Reagan was just asking me for a link to it because she wanted to dominate more public movies and, since I was already digging it up for her, I decided to re-post it on the blog. These things are a lot of work, after all, and — if the information is still valid and interesting — it bears repeating. So scrunch closer, kids, and let’s turn on the projector …
It seems like every movie, TV show and song ever recorded is floating around somewhere on the Internet, free to be plucked out of cyberspace by anyone with a computer.
Most of those bits and bytes are pirated editions or, at best, have a very sketchy legal pedigree.
That doesn’t seem to bother most of the world under 30, but copyright infringement, plagiarism and theft of intellectual property are some of the very few things I’m squeamish about. Perhaps it’s an age issue, perhaps it’s just my background as an old-fashioned newspaper editor.
I’m much happier delving into the mountain of movies — thousands and thousands of them — that are in the public domain and free to be legally downloaded, copied, reproduced, manipulated, whatever you want.
There’s a fantastic not-for-profit website called Internet Archive at www.archive.org that gives you free access to millions of documents and high-quality digital artifacts — including more than 2,000 movies and 2,000 TV shows that are now in the public domain.
It’s got plenty of other great stuff too, ranging from a live music archive of more than 85,000 concerts (check out the Grateful Dead, Sheila) to 100,000 images of space and earth from NASA to 745,000 audio recordings to more than a million digital books.
But for now we’re going to stick to feature films that are in the public domain.
As I said, there are thousands and thousands of the critters — ranging from what is referred to as the first real motion picture ever made, a 46-second 1895 documentary called Exiting the Factory (original French title: La Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon) to movies made in the 21st Century.
I’m going to tell you a bit about 100 of those public-domain films that I find interesting or weird, but this list is arbitrary and is truly just the tip of the iceberg.
First, however, I want to give you a very quick (and very crude) rundown on what “public domain” is. You can just skip the italicized part if you prefer to get straight to the movies.
In the context of intellectual property — which is what movies, books and the like are — “public domain” means the property (i.e. movie) in question is not owned by one person or group or company, but is as free to be used by everyone as the air we breathe.
Generally a film falls into the public domain because its copyright has expired or wasn’t filed properly in the first place or was not renewed on time (this only affects films released in the U.S. between 1923 and 1963, which I will sort of explain in a minute).
Any film produced by the U.S., Canadian or British governments — i.e., with the public’s money — is also in the public domain.
All films released before 1923 are in the public domain in the U.S.
There is another key point: Where you are determines what the copyright provisions are for any given work.
In the U.S., it used to be a 28-year term, followed by a 28-year renewal term. Many films ended up in the public domain because somebody somewhere forgot to renew the copyright in that 28th year.
Then the U.S. copyright term got bumped up to 75 years from the movie’s release, then up to its current 95 years. There is now no renewal requirement in the U.S. and a law passed in 1978 made renewal retroactively automatic for any film released 1964-1977 as well.
Confusing, isn’t it?
Of course, Canadian film copyright law is different — and much tougher because the law that was written to apply to books and other individual works also applies to films.
For Canadian books and films, the copyright lasts for the life of the last surviving creator plus 50 years.
That makes sense for a book, which might have one or two authors and maybe an illustrator or photographer. But for a movie, with hundreds of people involved in the “creative process,” it becomes almost impossible to determine when a film would finally be considered in the public domain. (Most Canadian film production companies have film crews and casts sign over their rights to the company, but it’s still a quagmire).
The 1973 Canadian film Alien Thunder (or Dan Candy’s Law) is still copyrighted in Canada but is considered in the public domain in the U.S. I can only assume the film had no explicit statement of copyright in its American release because that’s just about the only way a film made since 1963 goes public domain there.
In any case, you can’t legally download Alien Thunder for free and monkey around with it in Canada — but you can in the U.S.
Whew. I think that’s the gist of “public domain” although I’m sure I’ve misinterpreted some aspects. And I’m sure someone will correct me. Thanks in advance.
Now, the one movie that probably springs to mind first when you think “public domain” is It’s A Wonderful Life, Frank Capra’s 1946 weepy/cheery in which distraught bank manager George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is saved from committing suicide on Christmas Eve by his guardian angel. You (used to) see it a lot on TV at this time of year.
It actually isn’t in the public domain now, although it was from 1974 (when the then-copyright holder neglected to renew) until 1993 (when Republic Pictures was able to re-establish copyright in a complicated court case.)
Enough blather. Let’s get on to 100 movies in the public domain, many of which you can find at the Internet Archive or, in varying states, on YouTube.
They’re pretty much in alphabetical order, although you’ll notice a few strays because I wasn’t going to renumber the whole damn thing to get some late additions in.
1. Abraham Lincoln (1930)
One of only two D.W. Griffith talkies, the Lincoln film was a sort of “make good” on Griffith’s part for his earlier, better known — and very racist — film The Birth Of A Nation (also in the public domain), which glorified the Ku Klux Klan in the post-Civil War U.S. South.
2. Algiers (1938)
Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr “come to the Casbah.”
3. Alien Thunder (1973, AKA Dan Candy’s Law)
Donald Sutherland as Mountie Dan Candy and Chief Dan George as wise, old chief Sounding Sky in the old Canadian West. In the public domain in the U.S., but still under copyright protection in Canada, where it was produced. Sutherland has reportedly said Alien Thunder/Dan Candy’s Law is the worst movie he was ever in.
4. Angel And The Badman (1947)
Wild West gunman John Wayne is reformed by nice Quaker lady Gail Russell. Angel was the first film on which Wayne was the producer.
5. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Sergei Eisenstein’s famous film about the Russian naval mutiny and social clashes of 1905, precursor to the 1917 revolution.
6. Beat The Devil (1953)
John Huston’s offbeat takeoff on noir crime films like his own Maltese Falcon. Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley, Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida are a motley crew of conmen and dreamers thrust together in a seedy Italian port town and aboard an equally seedy tramp steamer bound for Mombasa. The film was co-written by Huston and Truman Capote, often on a day-to-day basis, and was basically an excuse for Huston, Bogart, Lorre and Capote to go on a month-long bender in various scenic Mediterranean locales. Bogart hated the finished film, in part because he had invested in the production and ended up losing quite a bit of money. The producers lost even more when someone messed up the copyright.
7. Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)
Bela Lugosi, of course, and the nightclub team of Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo who had a short-lived career in the early ‘50s mimicking the then-hot comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
8. The Birth Of A Nation (1915)
D.W. Griffith’s aforementioned Civil War epic, grand in scope but contaminated by racism. Its premiere title was The Clansman.
9. The Blue Angel (1930)
Germany’s first major sound film was directed by Josef von Sternberg and introduced Marlene Dietrich to the world as sultry, devious cabaret queen Lola Lola.
10. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)
Mad scientist’s fiancé gets decapitated in car accident, he keeps the head “alive” in his lab against the wishes of the head (known affectionately as Jan in the Pan), and ultimately dies at the hands of an abused monster (telepathically controlled by Jan in the Pan) kept locked up in the lab. “I told you to let me die,” Jan cackles maniacally (wouldn’t you be maniacal in those circumstances?) as the lab goes up in flames.
11. Bride Of The Gorilla (1951)
No, it’s not a ripoff of King Kong. It’s about a curse placed on South American plantation manager Raymond Burr that turns him into a gorilla at night. The fact that gorillas are only found in Africa, not South America, didn’t seem to bother anyone.
12. The Boy In The Plastic Bubble (1976)
John Travolta is a teen with a malfunctioning immune system which means he lives his life in a sealed, sterile room until he gets a protective space suit that lets him go out into the world — and fall in love.
13. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Robert Wiene’s visually stunning expressionist horror film.
14. Carnival Of Souls (1962)
Otherwordly woman conjures up ghouls by playing an organ in an abandoned amusement park. Filmed for $33,000 by Herk Harvey in Lawrence, Kansas, and Salt Lake City.
15. Charade (1963)
One of my favourite movies, Charade is a stylish, suspenseful thriller set in Paris with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn playing a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with a bunch of baddies like Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy. It’s been called “the best Hitchcock movie Hitchcock never made.” The film had an incomplete copyright notice and so entered the public domain immediately on its release.
16. Creature From The Haunted Sea (1961)
This horror comedy is a vintage cheapie from Roger Corman, the man who became a Hollywood legend by producing more than 300 shlock films, directing about 50 of them himself, and giving directors like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and James Cameron their starts as directors. Corman made Creature and two other films — with the same cast and crew — in less than a month in Puerto Rico, where he was shooting because of tax breaks. Many of Corman’s films have ended up in the public domain.
17. Dancing Pirate (1936)
A Boston dance teacher gets shanghaied by buccaneers. Surprisingly, it’s not a comedy. It was billed as “the first dancing musical,” which is absolutely untrue. Frank Morgan, who went on to become the Wizard of Oz in 1939, has a supporting role.
18. Dark Journey (1937)
British secret agent Vivien Leigh falls in love with German secret agent Conrad Veidt in World War I.
19. D.O.A. (1950)
Classic film noir in which a poisoned man tries to solve his own murder.
20. Dead Men Walk (1943)
Back-from-the-dead psycho seeks revenge on his good twin brother.
21. Death Rides A Horse (1967)
One of the better spaghetti westerns in the public domain featuring ferret-faced antihero Lee Van Cleef. Quentin Tarrantino used many elements of Death Rides A Horse in Kill Bill, including excerpts of Death’s theme music.
22. Dementia 13 (1963)
Slasher thriller was Francis Ford Coppola’s first “legitimate” (as in non-porn) directing assignment. Shot in Ireland on $22,000 from Roger Corman’s aforementioned American International Pictures (plus a $20,000 European sidedeal that Corman didn’t know about). Corman hated the movie Coppola brought back from Ireland, took control of it from Coppola and had another director shoot some additional axe-murder footage — not in Ireland, of course.
23. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
This well-done silent horror film gives John Barrymore, in his prime, the chance to pull out all the stops as the split-personality Jekyll/Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the novel in less than a week of feverish, round-the-clock work fueled by a steady diet of cocaine.
24. Diabolique (1955)
Diabolique (originally Les Diaboliques — The Devils) is a French classic starring Simone Signoret as the mistress of a brutish teacher who teams up with his wife to murder him. Wonderful twists and turns. It’s either a horror film or a thriller, but whatever it is, Diabolique is considered to have some of the scariest scenes in movie history.
25. Divorce of Lady X (1938)
British romantic comedy with Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier.
26.Dressed To Kill (1946)
Dressed To Kill was the 14th — and last — of the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce series of Sherlock Holmes movies, several of which are in the public domain. Though not based on an Arthur Conan Doyle story, the plot is still good, Rathbone and Bruce are in fine form and you even get to hear Dr. Watson quack like a duck.
27. The Eagle (1925)
Silent star Rudolph Valentino plays a Cossack Lone Ranger in Czarist Russia. Famous for an early long tracking shot in a banquet scene.
28. Ecstasy (1933)
Ecstasy is a stilted melodrama that became immensely controversial — and popular — because of the amount of sex in it. The beautiful Hedy Lamarr spends significant time running around nude and Ecstasy is said to contain “the first on-screen depiction of a female orgasm” (face only). Filmed in German in Czechoslovakia.
29. Escape From Sobibor (1987)
Alan Arkin leads a good cast in this story of the real uprising and mass breakout of Jews from the Nazis’ Sobibor death camp during World War II.
30. Embryo (1976)
Rock Hudson as a doctor whose experiments with genetics go very, very wrong — or right, depending on how you feel about seeing Barbara Carrera as the naked superwoman he creates. Again, missing copyright info put it into the public domain on release.
31. A Farewell To Arms (1932)
Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes in the first film version of Ernest Hemingway’s semi-autobiographical war novel.
32. The Fast And The Furious (1955)
Mystery-comedy directed by Busby Berkeley, the guy better known for choreographing large-scale dance musicals like Gold Diggers of 1933 and Footlight Parade.
33. Father’s Little Dividend (1951)
Vincente Minnelli (Liza’s father) directs Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor in the sequel to Father Of The Bride.
34. Faust (1926)
F.W. Murnau’s gothic, haunting deal-with-the-devil morality play was one of the most expensive films ever made at the time and put the producing studio, UFA Berlin, in serious financial difficulty. As I mentioned before, anyone can manipulate or modify films in the public domain: Just look at how American digital media artist Kurt Ralske compressed all 167,000 frames of the original 116-minute Faust into a three-minute blast of images. If you don’t want to watch the whole fabulous Faust in real time, just let Ralske’s three-minute visual tsunami wash over you. It’s stunning, non-linear filmmaking and your brain has actually synthesized the whole story by the end of three minutes.
35. Freaks (1932)
Tod Browning’s Depression-era exploitation film about bad doings in a carnival cast real-life sideshow performers as the deformed “freaks” of the title. The freaks turn out to be the honourable, caring heroes and the “normal” circus performers are the villains.
36. The Front Page (1931)
Howard Hughes produced the screwball comedy, based on the stage play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur about a Chicago reporter’s schemes to help a condemned murderer escape so he can get an exclusive interview.
37. The General (1927)
Almost all of Buster Keaton’s silent comedy classics — like this one about an unlikely railroading Civil War hero — are in the public domain.
38. The Gold Rush (1925)
As with Keaton, most of comic genius Charlie Chaplin’s silent films are in the public domain.
39. God’s Gun (1976)
Spaghetti western with Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance, Richard Boone and Sybil Danning. Van Cleef is a priest turned vigilante.
40. The Great Train Robbery (1903)
Directed by film pioneer Edwin S. Porter for Thomas Edison’s movie company, Robbery was only 12 minutes long but is considered a cinematic milestone that used innovative filming techniques and location shooting (with the New Jersey countryside filling in for the American West). The end of film, in which one of the train robbers points his gun at the camera and fires, sent early audiences screaming out of the theatre.
41. Greed (1924)
Erich von Stroheim’s silent drama about a dentist, his wife, her lover and a lottery win ran an incredible 10 hours in its first version. Under studio pressure, von Stroheim cut Greed down to six hours and then four hours, before MGM took control and hacked it down to about 2.5 hours for release. Most of the cut footage was destroyed so Greed is now considered one of the great “lost films” of movie history.
42. Glamour Gal (1945)
A propaganda documentary made for the U.S. Marine Corps tells the story of “Glamour Gal,” a mobile artillery piece and the team of Marines who operated it during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
43. Gulliver’s Travels (1939)
Dave Fleischer’s cartoon feature version of the Jonathan Swift satire of human foibles.
44. Hands Of A Stranger (1962)
Experimental transplant replaces pianist’s damaged hands with those of an executed murderer. Then the hands take on a life of their own.
45. Hell’s House (1932)
A young Bette Davis starred in this condemnation of the New York state hard-labour reform school system.
46. Hemp For Victory (1942)
Another World War II propaganda film, this one made for the U.S. Department of Agriculture extolling the virtues of hemp — the rope-making kind, not the smoking kind.
47. Hercules (1958)
Italian production starring wooden American actor Steve Reeves started a “sand and sandals” movie trend. Sequels such as Hercules Unchained (1959), Hercules And The Tyrants of Babylon (1964) and Hercules Versus Moon Men (1964) are also in the public domain.
48. His Girl Friday (1940)
Howard Hawkes remade the screwball newspaper comedy The Front Page with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.
49. The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
Actress Ida Lupino directed this film noir story about a psycho serial killer.
50. I Cover The Waterfront (1933)
It’s about a newspaper reporter who finds crime, corruption and love while covering the waterfront beat. Claudette Colbert was a mid-range leading lady when she played the love interest. A year later she was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars with the release of Cleopatra, Imitation Of Life and It Happened One Night.
51. I Eat Your Skin (1964)
It involves a mad scientist and voodoo. I just like the title. In 1970 it was released on a double bill with I Drink Your Blood, a completely unrelated splatter film supposedly based on the Manson Family, which is not in the public domain.
52. Impact (1949)
Another pretty good film noir.
53. The Inspector General (1949)
Danny Kaye musical comedy.
54. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966)
Western-horror hybrid with the tagline “Roaring guns against raging monster.”
55. Jungle Book (1942)
Zoltan Korda’s colour adventure film based on the Rudyard Kipling story of a boy raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. It was good enough to get four Academy Award nominations.
56. The Kid (1921)
Charlie Chaplin’s first full-length film was a huge success. A mix in equal parts of comedy and bathos.
57. King Of The Zombies (1941)
I just like the title. There are zombies in the movie but they are only the tools of a Nazi spymaster in the Caribbean. The movie was made during World War II, don’t forget, even though the U.S. wasn’t an official participant at the time of the film’s release. King Of The Zombies actually got an Academy Award nomination and spawned a 1943 sequel.
58. Kansas City Confidential (1952)
KCC is a raw, brutal crime drama, little of which actually takes place in Kansas City. It has a great cast of truly bad-ass armoured-car robbers: Lee Van Cleef, Neville Brand and Jack Elam. Quentin Tarantino based his 1992 film Reservoir Dogs on the plot of Kansas City Confidential.
59. The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Margaret Lockwood is a wonderful dipsy old British nanny/spy who disappears on a train trip through Central Europe. It was one of Alfred Hitchcock’s last British films before he left for Hollywood.
60. The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954)
Elizabeth Taylor was rightly considered one of the most beautiful women in the world when she made this romance with director Richard Brooks and co-star Van Johnson.
61. Last Woman On Earth (1960)
B-movie king Roger Corman strikes again in this post-apocalyptic love/hate-triangle bit of pop anthropology, again filmed in Puerto Rico for tax reasons.
62. The Last Man On Earth (1964)
Not a sequel to Last Woman, this Italian production starring Vincent Price is based on the Richard Matheson horror/sci-fi novel I Am Legend, which also spawned the 1971 Charlton Heston movie The Omega Man and the 2007 Will Smith feature.
63. Little Shop Of Horrors (1960)
Probably Roger Corman’s best-known film, Little Shop Of Horrors is a black comedy about an inept florist and his flesh-eating plant. Corman made the film in two days for $30,000. Jack Nicholson, a frequent collaborator of Corman in the 1960s, plays masochistic dental patient Wilbur Force.
64. The Lone Ranger (1955)
Feature film pieced together from the hit ‘50s TV series with Clayton Moore as the masked avenger and Canada’s Jay Silverheels as Tonto.
65. M (1931)
The suspense thriller about a serial child killer was German director Fritz Lang’s first sound film and Lang considered it his best work. It was also the first starring role for a young actor named Peter Lorre, who had previously been typecast as a supporting actor in comedies.
66. Man From Music Mountain (1938 and 1943)
There are two movies with this name, both directed by Joe Kane and both in the public domain. The first was made in 1938 with Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy. The second was made in 1943 with Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys.
67. McClintock (1963)
John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara comedy Western based on Shakespeare’s Taming Of the Shrew. Lawsuits after Wayne’s death prevented the copyright from being renewed and the movie slipped into public domain.
68. Meet John Doe (1941)
Starring Gary Cooper, John Doe is one of Frank Capra’s string of “American everyman” comedy-dramas that kept U.S. moviegoers hopeful through the Depression and World War II.
69. Metropolis (1927)
Well, Fritz Lang may have considered M his best film, but Metropolis was certainly his biggest. His futuristic vision of a deeply class-divided skyscraper city-state has special effects that are still staggering today. It was the most expensive silent film ever made and, along with Murnau’s Faust, almost pushed Germany’s giant UFA studio into bankruptcy. After its Berlin premiere, the film was drastically shortened for general distribution — and reworked entirely for the U.S. market, which feared the dangerous socio-political implications of the original film’s plot. A version of the film very close to the premiere edition was found in Argentina in 2008, restored and shown publicly for the first time in Germany in February 2010.
70. My Favorite Brunette (1947)
Dorothy Lamour teams up with Road partner Bob Hope (minus Bing Crosby except in a cameo role) in this murder-mystery spoof on detectives, mistaken identity and noir movies in general. Lon Chaney Jr., Peter Lorre and Alan Ladd also pop up in cameos.
71. Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
George Romero’s low-budget feature about a small group of people in a farmhouse fighting off flesh-eating zombies started a new trend in American horror films and engendered a series of Living Dead sequels, knockoffs and ripoffs. Again, public domain status resulted from missing copyright information in the original release.
72. Nosferatu (1922)
Max Schreck was a fairly successful and normal looking stage and film actor in Germany before he was cast as the unbelievably creepy Count Orlock in Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau’s unacknowledged reworking of Bram Stoker’s Dracula vampire melodrama. As with all Murnau films, Nosferatu is visually stunning and Schreck is certainly the scariest vampire I’ve ever seen. As I said earlier, Nosferatu’s creative debt to Dracula was unacknowledged, so when Bram Stoker’s widow won a lawsuit against the production studio, Prana Film, it declared bankruptcy rather than pay the widow her due.
73. One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
The only film Marlon Brando ever directed stars Brando as the outlaw Rio and Karl Malden as his friend/nemesis Dad.
74. The Outlaw (1943)
Howard Hughes produced and co-directed this Western that featured more of Jane Russell’s bosom than it did of purported title character Billy the Kid. Because of controversy over the film’s sexiness, The Outlaw got only limited release in 1943 although it had been completed two years earlier. It finally got general release in 1946 but by then, because of the ongoing notoriety of the production, Jane Russell had already become one of Hollywood’s biggest sex symbols. Hughes, a self-taught aeronautic engineer, did in fact create a special reinforced uplift bra to enhance Russell’s bustline but Jane, in her autobiography, said Hughes’ mechanical monster was a bust, so to speak, and she wore her own un-uplifting bras throughout filming.
75. Penny Serenade (1941)
Well, this film seems a little strange to me — it’s all about love and loss and adoption and loss and adoption and redemption and love. With a little Japan thrown in for good measure. But it got Cary Grant one of his two Academy Award nominations, so it must have some degree of cinematic value.
76. Phantom Of The Opera (1925)
The first (silent) version of more than half a dozen film incarnations of Phantom. This one starred Lon Chaney (the dad, not the Junior you’re used to seeing in horror movies) in self-applied makeup that was considered quite shocking for the time — and is still pretty scary.
77. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
I have nothing to add to what has already been said about Plan 9, dubbed “the worst movie ever made.” It’s a combo alien invader-zombie movie directed by cross-dressing director Ed Wood Jr. starring Bela Lugosi (in stock footage, since Lugosi died three years before Plan 9 was made), camp vamp Vampira and the wonderful Tor Johnson, a former Swedish wrestler who did ghouls better than almost anyone.
78. The Brother From Another Planet (1984)
One of auteur director John Sayles’ early films, Brother mixes the story of an escaped alien slave from outer space with the black American experience of 1980s New York City. It’s part comedy, part drama and a whole lot of wry, sly social commentary. Again, in the public domain because of improper copyright on the film when it was released.
79. Randy Rides Alone (1934)
One of John Wayne’s crappy Lone Star Pictures westerns. He was churning out about one a week in the mid-1930s. They were cheap and tacky but they gave Wayne the chance to develop from a twitchy football player into the stoic (repressed?) movie icon he became in the ‘40s and ‘50s.
80. Reefer Madness (1936)
This cult fave was originally financed by a church group as the educational film Tell Your Children to warn against marijuana, but shifty film distributor Dwain Esper got his hands on it, added some salacious dope party scenes and released it as an exploitation film. Reefer Madness was “lost” until marijuana activist Keith Stroup found a copy in the U.S. Library of Congress and put it on the 1970s midnight movie circuit. New Line Cinema, by the way, got its start distributing Reefer Madness.
81. Road To Bali (1952)
The sixth of seven Bob Hope-Bing Crosby Road pictures was the only one filmed in colour and the last to include Dorothy Lamour. It’s good, features a lot of celebrity cameo appearances and fell into the public domain through another one of those labeling mistakes.
82. Sabotage (1936)
Hitchcock film about “foreign” secret agents setting off bombs around London, not to be confused with his 1942 film Saboteur. Quentin Tarantino used a clip from Sabotage in Inglourious Basterds.
83. The Great Saint Louis Bank Robbery (1959)
Based on a real holdup, the movie featured many of the cops and bank employees — but none of the robbers — involved in the actual events. The tough, gritty film featured Steve McQueen in one of his early film roles (although he was already a TV star on Wanted: Dead Or Alive at the time).
84. Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)
The title says it all.
85. Santa Fe Trail (1940)
This cavalry western smashes history and fact to smithereens as it purportedly shows the early military careers and relationships of soldiers who went on to become opposing generals in the U.S. Civil War. Leads Errol Flynn, as J.E.B. Stuart, and Ronald Reagan, as George Armstrong Custer, are supposedly best friends and love rivals when, in fact, the two men never met.
86. The Saturday Night Kid (1929)
Romantic comedy starring Clara Bow and Jean Arthur was one of the early talkies. It’s also a good example of how sexy movies were before Hollywood production-code censorship came into full effect a few years later.
87. Secret Agent (1936)
Spy movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock the same year he made Sabotage. Great cast with John Gielgud, Madeleine Carroll, Robert Young and Peter Lorre, who had recently fled from the Nazis in Germany.
88. Shoot The Piano Player (1962)
The U.S.-release version of 1960’s Tirez Sur Le Pianiste, Francois Truffaut’s jumpy New Wave tribute to bleak cinema noir crime melodramas.
89. A Star Is Born (1937)
The original version starring Janet Gaynor, not the better-known 1954 Judy Garland remake.
90. The Stranger (1946)
The Stranger is one of Orson Welles’ lesser known films today but it was his most commercially successful film when it was released — making far more money than Citizen Kane or The Magnificent Ambersons. Filmed immediately after the end of World War II, The Stranger has Nazi hunter Edward G. Robinson tracking down a war criminal (Welles) who has assumed a new identity as a school teacher. It is believed to be the first film after the war to show footage of concentration camps.
91. She Gods of Shark Reef (1958)
A Roger Corman film (of course). Bad guy shipwrecked. Rips off kindly islanders. Is eaten by shark. Revenge is sweet meat.
92. Swamp Women (1955)
One of Roger Corman’s first films. Female gang looking for stolen diamond stash in the bayous of Louisiana.
93. The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe (1972)
If you read my recent blog posts on Hollywood remakes, you know the French spy spoof The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe is a film I like a lot. So it surprised me to discover the film distribution company Peter Rodgers Organization says the U.S. release of the French film is in the public domain. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. The only way you can get copies of the film through amazon.com (in a North American format) is as a Russian version with English subtitles or as a badly recorded and dubbed version which may either be pirated or “public domain.” I just don’t know.
94. Teenage Zombies (1959)
A group of teenagers discover a mad scientist on an island. Not to be confused with Teenagers From Outer Space, also released in 1959 (and also in the public domain).
95. Terror of Tiny Town (1938)
Musical western with an all-midget cast. Many of the cast members, after getting off their Shetland ponies, went on to play Munchkins in The Wizard Of Oz.
96. The Terror (1963)
Roger Corman, Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, and at least five directors (including Francis Ford Coppola and Nicholson) involved in piecing together a convoluted movie about a haunted castle, tragic noblemen, ghostly and witchy women, double identities and jumbled plot lines.
97. They Made Me A Criminal (1939)
Busby Berkeley (the dance extravaganza guy) directed movie tough guy John Garfield and The Dead End Kids (later The Bowery Boys) in this cinema noir entry about a boxer on the run after being falsely accused of murder.
98. Voyage To The Planet of Prehistoric Women (1965)
Of course it’s a Roger Corman film, directed by Peter Bogdanovich and starring ‘60s sexpot Mamie Van Doren (still alive and still shaking her booty). Corman bought the rights to a 1961 Soviet sci-fi film, Planet of Storms, and used its special effects footage for the space flight sequences.
99. Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902)
Considered the first science fiction film, Le Voyage was a 14-minute wonder about rocket flight to the moon created by the Melies brothers — both magicians — in Paris.
100. Zulu (1964)
Michael Caine’s first starring role has the Cockney lad as an upper-crust English army officer leading an all-star cast of layabouts and misfits fighting off an overwhelming force of Zulu impis in the middle of South Africa 130 years ago. In the actual Battle of Rorke’s Drift, 11 soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross, the most ever for a single unit in a single battle in British military history. A pretty good film, although there was concern at the time of it being produced under the repressive, racist apartheid regime then in place in South Africa.
A to Z. That’s it. That’s all.
If nothing else, this piece may qualify as one of the longest blog posts ever written. I started out just listing the movies, then had to tell a few stories along the way and, well, at a certain point I figured I had to comment on all of them.
I’m going to watch a movie now. Bye.
NOTE: After this piece first appeared, I received the following e-mail from a film company:
“Almost all the post-1923 foreign films, including THE GOLD RUSH, listed in this article are actually copyrighted now since the US government adopted the GATT/Uruguay treaty in 1996. All this films were retroactively copyrighted. Canada is also a signee to the treaty so whatever films are copyrighted in their own country are still copyrighted in Canada. The only exception might be BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN because it’s supposedly PD in it’s own country. In the American films, GREED is definitely in copyright and has never been public domain. I would suspect the same for BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET since it was made after 1976 when copyright laws relaxed about the proper placement of copyright notices.”
To which I replied:
“I know for sure John Sayles’ Brother from Another Planet is Public Domain and I have seen so many versions — in vastly varying conditions of reproduction – of Gold Rush that I have to go with the Internet Archive’s assertion that it is public domain. As I said, film copyright and public domain is a very complex area. Just because someone claims something — whether it’s me or a film company — doesn’t make it so. I would be glad to hear other input.”
Nothing’s changed since I wrote those words. You can trust the Internet Archive to exercise a high degree of due diligence when it comes to Public Domain.