(Currently) Free Movies I Enjoyed

Larry Sanger

Here are some movies I found on YouTube, which are currently free, and which I enjoyed (well, most of them). Merry Christmas!

  • 5: very highly recommended; rare, distinctively excellent, and memorable; a classic, or ought to be; one of the best films. Need not be perfect.
  • 4: highly recommended; excellent film, well-made; either highly enjoyable or quite important. Many old films can be highly recommended. Fewer new ones. Can have significant flaws, but none that make it repellant.
  • 3: recommended; above average; a good flick; not a bad way to spend an evening; has issues that make one think twice; but on balance, good enough to recommend.
  • 2: not recommended, but perhaps not a total waste of time; enjoyed myself, perhaps, a bit, but overall had serious objections to the film.
  • 1: very much not recommended; appalling film; few if any redeeming qualities

The Most Dangerous Game (1932). 3. IMDb: 7.1. Early Hollywood thriller/horror film. Despite some campy and unbelievable elements, it was very watchable and surprisingly interesting. I did not realize when I started watching it that it was a thriller, or horror show, which probably made it more interesting.

49th Parallel (1941). 4. IMDb: 7.2. While this was a Canadian war propaganda film (dated 1940), it was quite an excellent film on its own merits, with a series of cameos by famous actors. Exciting action and stirring speeches in favor of freedom, fairly believable despite a rather strained-sounding premise (a small squad Nazis fleeing across Canada). Excellent shots of Canadian scenery.

I watched these movies in this order. You might be able to spot trends.

Somewhere in the Night (1946). 4. IMDb: 7.1. Enjoyable noir, a thriller and mystery about a soldier who lost his memory and is trying to find a mysterious Larry Cravat—and who is tracked by a detective who is looking for the money that the criminal Cravat apparently left for the soldier.

Compulsion (1959).3. IMDb: 7.4. The true story of a murder committed by two rich, Niezschean law students, shown to the viewer early on, and of how they were eventually caught. Watchable, tries hard to be high-minded, but doesn’t quite bring it off. Still interesting enough.

And Then There Were None (1945). 3. IMDb: 7.4. Adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel, changes the ending slightly but otherwise not a bad adaption. Very recommendable if you’re in the mood for a rather dark, accessible, but ultimately unserious murder mystery. Note, this story is the basis of the later movie version of the board game Clue, which is a piece of fluff I’d also give a 3.

The Big Combo (1955). 3. IMDb: 7.3. Another murder noir. Entertaining enough.

Mister 880 (1950). 4. IMDb: 7.0. Rather unique film about the investigation and capture of a quirky old petty counterfeiter, glorifying the Secret Service, but fun. Romance, too. Sounds unlikely but it works.

Love Is News (1937). 4. IMDb: 7.0. Star-studded older comedy about an heiress, tired of being hounded by the press, who turns the tables by pretending to be engaged to a particularly determined reporter, causing headaches for him. You can guess the rest. Fluffy but fun.

Charade (1963). 4. IMDb: 7.9. A romantic mystery-comedy with an aging Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, fluffy again, but very enjoyable especially if you’re an Audrey fan like myself.

Walking Tall (1973). 3. IMDb: 6.9. I’d really like to give this classic a higher rating, and I can recommend it and it is pretty good, but, without going into details, it has issues. A downer.

Gone (2012). 3. IMDb: 5.9. One of the few recent movies on this list; came up as free in YouTube and I tried it out despite the low ratings, because the premise sounded interesting; and it is. The IMDb rating here is unfair. I don’t think I had seen anything with Amanda Seyfried in it, but she seems to be famous. She’s actually quite a good actress here and holds an entertaining psychological thriller pretty much all on her own. That said, it’s not exactly a classic for the ages.

Nurse on Wheels (1963). 4. IMDb: 6.2. I loved this comedy of a house-calling nurse in small-town Britain, and I gave it a 4 despite being particularly candy-coated fluff. But such likeable, wholesome, enjoyable fluff!

While You Were Sleeping (1995). 3. IMDb: 6.8. I have a weakness for Sandra Bullock which makes me capable of tolerating chick flicks. Considering her repellant cosmetic practices, I don’t feel too good about this. But I will watch most stuff with her in it. This is also romantic fluff, and a lot of people don’t like it, but I did. I might have given it a 4.

Lured (1947). 4. IMDb: 7.0. If you didn’t know Lucille Ball was not just a screwball sitcom actress, get ready for a revelation as she is quite fetching here as an ad hoc detective helping the constabulary to track down a serial killer in this British noir. Keeps you guessing practically until the end.

Phantom Lady (1944). 4. IMDb: 7.2. Another mystery noir, this one also a romance, Ella Raines is lovely as a secretary is besotted with her boss, who has been framed and imprisoned. She goes to great lengths to investigate and prove his innocence by finding the woman who can give him his alibi. Well-constructed and well-performed, if imperfect.

The Lost Moment (1947). 3. IMDb: 6.9. This unlikely and dark gothic psychological mystery-thriller, with slight occult undertones; it takes place in Venice and apparently based on an almalgam of Shelley, Keats, and Byron. Watchable and interesting but a downer.

The Dark Corner (1946). 3. IMDb: 7.1. Another Lucille Ball murder noir; not as good as Lured but watchable enough.

Heaven Only Knows (1947). 3. IMDb: 6.6. This is an extremely bad reproduction of the film, but watchable. About an angel who unites a man who has gone bad, who was supposed to be in the Book of Life, and was supposed to marry a certain woman and do great things. But now he’s on the wrong road. As is typically the case for shows about angels that come to earth, it is fluffy and sappy; but if you’re in the mood for that sort of thing, it’s not bad.

One Touch of Venus (1948). 2. IMDb: 6.6. A comedy-fantasy about Venus (Ava Gardner) who comes to earth and solves some problems for a naive young window dresser. Fluffy and silly. Certainly, some would like it. I should have stopped earlier but I made it all the way through and therefore it is on this list. There are several other movies that didn’t hold my interest, would have gotten a 2 probably, but I didn’t finish them and removed them from the playlist. One redeeming feature is that it is the origin of the popular song “Too Soon.”

Hope Floats (1998). 3. IMDb: 6.0. Another Sandra Bullock vehicle, a drama-romance chick flick. I made it through and didn’t regret it. Serious and heavy at times, but qualifiedly uplifting in the end.

Walking Tall Part II (1975). 2. IMDb: 6.0. Probably should have stopped. Similar to the first installment, but worse. Don’t get me wrong. It really isn’t that badly done; it could have been much worse. But can I recommend it? No. Another violent and uninspiring downer.

Sabrina (1995). 4. IMDb: 6.3. As much as I adore Audrey Hepburn, I have to say that I liked this updated version, which is quite similar to the 1954 original, rather more; the original is a classic, and one of my faves, but Julia Ormond is more believable as the overlooked chauffeur’s daughter, and Harrison Ford is more believable as the captain of industry; the pair have more chemistry than Bogey and Audrey.

Sabrina (1954). 4. IMDb: 7.6. I mean…it’s arguably better than the remake. Many people think so. And Audrey is wonderful as the returning fashion plate.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). 4. IMDb: 8.1. While this is very self-consciously a Serious Movie, it is so extemely well-done that one cannot make fun of it for that reason: yes, its coming-home-from-war themes are serious, but ultimately this film is uplifting and edifying. It is about three military men, one middle-aged and the other two younger, and their relationships with their women when they come home. Very close to a 5.

The Bishop’s Wife (1947). 2. IMDb: 7.6. An angelic Cary Grant puts the moves on a remarkably patient and decent Episcopalian bishop’s wife, although his assignment is to improve them all. And so he does. I’ll be honest: I more or less enjoyed it when I was watching it, but the ending showed that the angel was actually every bit as smarmy as he appeared to be, and perhaps more. Frankly, some of you will probably be offended by this rating and be ready to give it 4, because in its way it is uplifting and nice. But…yeah. Can’t recommend it.

The Little Foxes (1941). 3. IMDb: 7.9. This a Serious Film, by which I mean, an enormous downer. However, it is an extremely well-done downer with fantastic acting particularly by Bette Davis. Also, it has two things that it has going for it: Teresa Wright, who brightens everything she is in, and the ending, which I am not going to reveal. I mean, I wouldn’t want to watch it again, but I don’t regret watching it once.

A Celebration of Winsor McCay

Larry Sanger

My favorite illustrator ever, Winsor McCay (1869-1934), worked for decades as a newspaper political cartoonist, illustrator, and animator.

I learned about McCay while browsing through books in the 1990s, I think it was, in a shop in Seattle’s Fish Market, and I just stumbled upon a collection of his work titled Daydreams and Nightmares, which has many (not all) of the items below.

What has always struck me about McCay, aside from his sheer skill as an illustrator, is his ability to express important values in a striking and beautiful way.

I found that most if not all of his values were my values, and indeed, the words are right in the images: things like thought, knowledge, truth, hard work, duty, wisdom, books. And many more, too: his political cartoons show that he was deeply opposed to war on principle, a view I tend to support; he hated drugs (and mind you, he was illustrating from the late 1800s to the 1930s); he was serious about Christianity, a theme that came up now and then in his work; there’s one that shows he was deeply disturbed about “The White Slaver,” with a caption reading, “The most sinister and degraded member of the race! The shame of civilization!”; he has illustrations on the importance of taking life seriously in the face of death; at least two about women’s rights; several visions of a fascinating (often incorrect) future; and one against “technocracy,” portrayed as a futuristic machine-monster, which seems newly relevant in the age of Big Tech. I saved one of the best for last, “The Children of Ignorance,” which I have used several times online throughout the years.

Why I haven’t read Lolita

Larry Sanger

I posted a Twitter poll recently, by way of unburdening myself of the following opinion about Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, the book about a middle aged man who has a love affair with a 12-year-old girl. Here is the question:

How many of you, like me, always found it bizarre and even a little hard to believe that a book about a pedophile and his victim—Lolita—should wind up being a classic for the ages? Never could read the damned thing. Just ugh. Can I finally say that now?

In another tweet I elaborated slightly:

Supposedly highfalutin “art” that sympathetically portrays monsters of all sorts always struck me as deeply pathological. Natural Born Killers, The Collector, Pan’s Labyrinth…and Lolita…all trash. All pretentious and pernicious garbage.

How does it improve us? Not at all.

While most of my followers agreed with me (maybe not surprising), I thought I would explain my view on this a little less briefly, for the sake of those literature lovers who think it is weird and surprising—if not positively philistine of me—that I would judge a book without reading it. So here goes.

I am not totally ignorant about the book. I watched the 1997 movie adaptation. I read the first chapter or so, and flipped through the rest at various times over the years, trying and every time failing to persuade myself to read it. It has always left me sick to my stomach. A great deal of this has to do not just with the subject of the book, but the sort of glowing praise people give it, people who, it is perfectly obvious, would never dare to judge the book on its moral content, because that sort of things is just not done. Not anymore.

I’ve read much more about the book, over the years. I’m passingly familiar with what is said about it. Moreover, I have consumed my fair share of clinical and mostly nonjudgmental portrayal of criminals, monsters, and twisted characters of various kinds. John Fowles’ book The Collector was one I read as a graduate student. It’s a book about a young man who kidnaps and holds an art student in his basement; she eventually dies of illness, and he gets away with his crime and learns nothing. I read it to the end and I simply could not believe that it was a popular or well-regarded book. I regarded it as wholly without merit.

I wholly reject the notion that art is a self-contained, closed system, that we must simply accept the latest ejaculations of a morally corrupt art world as being profound and worthy of contemplation. I think the dictum “art for art’s sake” is a canard that serves as cover for an art world mired in corruption.

If depictions of evil are thought to have any merit at all, it will be for one of three reasons: stylistic excellence, profound insight into human nature, and the tendency to edify or uplift us—to improve us.

Now, it is common (but completely puzzling to me) to suppose that stylistic excellence is enough to make some work of art noteworthy. But to my mind it clearly is not enough. Graduate schools are full of all sorts of brilliant wordsmiths whose work is immediately forgotten because they just don’t have anything interesting to say.

But Lolita, we’re told, isn’t just beautifully written—an assessment I’m afraid I don’t share, by the way, based on what I’ve read. It is also supposed to give us dark but necessary psychological insight into the mind of a pedophile. That may be so; I’m not going to gainsay such claims, because I haven’t read the book and I wouldn’t be able to say for sure without reading it. Let’s stipulate that Nabokov has plumbed those depths.

But what I will say is that mere clinical insight, as opposed to moral perspective, into some dark corner of human nature does not make for great or classic art. It might be useful for law enforcements and psychologists, perhaps, if it is a faithful portrayal of this sort of evil. It is a bizarre quirk of cultural life in the modern period that otherwise intelligent, sober people have thought such psychological perspective was enough to justify us taking some art seriously. On my view, it isn’t enough; it never has been. There is no classic art that does not take an essentially moral (not to say moralistic; that’s different) perspective on any evil it portrays. Perhaps Fowles, for example, laid bare the soul of a kidnapping madman (I couldn’t say), but what he didn’t have was an interesting moral perspective on such a madman.

It would be revolting enough if such clinical depictions of evil were characterized as important art. But lift the curtain back just a bit and you will find all sorts of appalling admissions that people find such art thrilling or titillating. For example, one not infrequently sees the comment (as, for example, here) that readers sympathize with Humbert Humbert, the antihero of Lolita.

Hence it really looks as though this kind of art is basically degrading to its more enthusiastic consumers. They like the degradation. Maybe it is comforting to them, or exciting; I wouldn’t be able to say. All I can say is that I want absolutely nothing to do with it.

For me the sine qua non of good art, the one absolutely necessary (if not sufficient) requirement, is the tendency to uplift or improve us effectively. We are made better people for having seen it. But in the case of Lolita, and in the other examples I cited, it actually does the opposite of what good art is supposed to do, on my view. A merely clinical or sympathetic portrait of evil—if that’s really all it is—tends to deaden the soul of its audience. It’s a bad influence. I actually wonder if it can really appeal only to people who actually like such bad influences, or who believe them not really to be so bad.

It is not that I think all art should be “moralistic,” like parables, fables, Sunday School lessons, and 19th century children’s literature. That is not the point at all. There is a profound difference between being really uplifting or edifying, on the one hand, and merely didactically inculcating (through obvious example to emulate) various moral or religious principles. I am a big fan of Shakespeare’s tragedies, which do lay bare the evil in man’s soul, but which also edify the reader or audience by indicating, in what is ultimately an exquisitely beautiful and satisfying way, that such evil will be justly repaid, why it is indeed evil, and how the world can move on in spite of it. Those are important lessons, too; we need not just to understand evil, we need the tools, moral and emotional, to fight it. Good art provides us some of those tools in a very basic and necessary way.

The reason we do and should assign our children to read classics is to teach them by inspiring example many moral principles that our lives might be too humdrum to illustrate. For example, I’ve been reading David Copperfield to my son lately. He, as as American middle-class boy, has no way of knowing what it might be like to live through a period of absolute poverty and bereavement (as David does when working for Murdstone and Grinby) and yet retain a sense of dignity and decency. Having read those pages, however, he will begin to have some inkling of that sort of life, sympathy for those going through it, and admiration for those who stay basically decent as David does.

If a modernist writer took up the same subject, the book would not be appropriate for children, because David would be shown helpless in the face of molestation by Grinby and violence by Murdstone, and he would ultimately become a nasty piece of work with no way out. Also, Little Em’ly would become a whore and the Micawbers would die in the gutter; and nobody would learn any lessons. And it would be hailed as a great work of literature because it provides such an unflinching, realistic look at the life of the poor.

That is, of course, just one example. Great literature is absolutely full of examples. It is why most of us read it. Most of us have no interest whatsoever in reading literature and consuming other art as mere psychologists or clinicians. We love a good story because we care about characters we relate to, showing what we, too, might want to do in their interesting or exciting situations.

More generally, we consume art as a way to appeal to and develop our sense of what life is really like, what it ought to be like, on the best view. What the purveyors of modern art do is substitute “sophisticated” or “edgy” for “best” and then proceed to convince themselves that art that essentially celebrates monstrous behavior is fine art.

So that’s why I haven’t read Lolita. I don’t care if hoity-toity people tell me Nabokov was a brilliant stylist, or that he had insight into the criminal mind, or the modern mind. I regard criminality and twisted modernism as things to avoid, fight, or repair—certainly not to examine clinically or lovingly.