Today the TCM Classic Film Festival begins, bringing classic film fans from around the world to Hollywood to enjoy four days of fun, friends, special events, and of course, classic films. There’s no better time of year for fans of classic cinema, no better place to watch classic films than movie palaces like the Chinese and Egyptian Theatres in the heart of Hollywood, and no better audiences to watch films with hundreds of people who love the classics as much as you do. Of course, not everyone can make it to the festival this year, but because these are older films, many of them can be streamed from the comfort of your own home. We'll let you know which ones and where you can watch them below.
However, some TCM Festival films cannot be seen easily, so if you’re interested in classic-era rarities, it’s definitely worth getting to the festival. Every year they screen some number of rare and difficult-to-find films to highly appreciative audiences. Not to mention, most screenings feature special guests or film historians who provide a unique and wonderfully educational experience, and there are several programmed events that you won’t find elsewhere. For example, this year cartoon expert Jerry Beck will present a program of early Ub Iwerks cartoons, there will be extended live interviews with Peter Bogdanovich and Michael Douglas, a presentation of early nickelodeon films sheds light on some of the earliest exhibition practices, and film archivists tell some of their favorite restoration stories. That’s less than half of the special events going on.
Of course, if you ARE going to be at the festival this year, you’ve probably already got your schedule locked in stone at this point, or as close as possible! Look for me - I’ll probably be wearing a Flickchart shirt and a pin with my Twitter handle, faithx5. And I might just ask you your opinion on some Flickchart-style classic movie matchups!
TCM Fest Films on Subscription Streaming Services
These seven films can be watched for no extra cost if you have Netflix Instant, Amazon Prime, or Filmstruck (TCM’s new streaming venture, partnering with the Criterion Collection). Most can also be rented from Amazon, VUDU or iTunes for a nominal fee if you don’t have the streaming service in question.
After making not one but two largely silent films after the advent of sound, Charlie Chaplin finally caved and made his first all-talking motion picture in 1940, and what a doozy it is. Not content with just commenting on social stratification with his shabbily dressed but dignified Little Tramp, he makes the Tramp a Jewish Barber who happens to look exactly like the thinly-veiled dictator Adenoid Henkel. In 1940, the US was not yet at war with Germany, and this was a pretty risky move - in fact, Chaplin’s leftist politics weren’t welcome in the US even after we entered the war, and he made the rest of his films back in his native Britain. From our current vantage point, the film looks like a perfect marriage of Chaplin’s silent film strengths (exemplified by the exquisite globe dance), the specific power of sound cinema (that pointed but great speech at the end), and his prescient political stance at the time. Watch on Filmstruck, or rent it from Amazon. Ranked #123 globally by 3428 users.
One of the most ethereal and romantic of film noirs has detective Dana Andrews investigating the apparent murder of Laura (Gene Tierney), represented through the first half of the film by a large and beautiful portrait hanging in her apartment and evoked by the men in her life, Clifton Webb and Vincent Price. Andrews becomes a just a tiny bit obsessed with the portrait, and you can barely blame him. There are a lot of twists and turns in the plot, but what you’ll remember is the look and the mood. At the festival, this is playing in a special series of films presented on nitrate - the original material used for films which was replaced in the mid-1950s by acetate safety film. Nitrate is extremely flammable, but from all accounts it also has a unique shimmer to it that sets it apart from later, safer stock. Plus, the knowledge that that print could literally burn up at any second probably adds an element of excitement. I’ll let you know, as I plan to see at least one or two films in the nitrate series. But nitrate or no, this film is wonderful and it’s one of the very few classic films you can still watch on Netflix Instant. You can also rent it from Amazon, VUDU, or iTunes. Ranked #162 globally by 1861 users.
There are only a few cases of great directors remaking their own work, and this is one of them. In this case, we see Alfred Hitchcock’s original take on this kidnapping and espionage story - the color remake with James Stewart and Doris Day is better known and possibly also better in many ways, but this one has the distinct advantage of Peter Lorre as one of the bad guys. You simply can’t beat Peter Lorre. This film has been in the public domain for quite a while, and a lot of prints out there are frankly almost unwatchable. The one on Filmstruck looks beautiful, though, and I expect the festival will be playing a pristine restoration as well. You can also rent this on Amazon, but I cannot vouch for the quality. Ranked #1407 globally by 801 users.
One of two midnight movies playing at the festival, this film from the writing team behind Airplane! and the director of Animal House is an irreverent sketch comedy that misses as often as it hits, but probably makes for a pretty good midnight movie. The writers (Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker) and director John Landis will be in attendance as well. If you’re looking to watch at home, it’s on Amazon Prime, or you can rent it from VUDU or iTunes. Ranked #1792 globally by 1610 users.
TCM Fest always has a premiere silent film event with a live orchestra, often with a new original score. This year it’s Harold Lloyd’s Speedy, and it’s probably my most-anticipated screening of the festival. It’s a Lloyd film I haven’t seen, for one thing, but even if I had, the chance to see a silent with a live orchestra is not to be missed. The Alloy Orchestra will be providing the music - they tend to do somewhat modern/industrial scores, which I’m not sure how will work with Lloyd (it worked great with Metropolis, I can tell you that), but I’m game to find out. Lloyd’s granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd will be in attendance along with Leonard Maltin. At home, it’s available on Filmstruck, or you can rent it from VUDU or iTunes. Ranked #3236 globally by 127 users.
A flop when released, this John Huston-Humphrey Bogart-Jennifer Jones adventure film about international crooks heading to take advantage of rich land in Africa is under re-evalution from cinephiles and even makes critics’ best lists with some regularity. I thought it was kind of a mess, personally, but I haven’t seen it in forever and would give it another look. You can too, on Amazon Prime. Ranked #4615 globally by 248 users.
Usually remakes are considered poor imitations of the originals, but in this case, the newspaper comedy The Front Page has been almost completely overshadowed by its gender-swapping remake, His Girl Friday. However, the original has only existed in rough public domain prints for many many years, and with a new restoration from Criterion in circulation, it’s time to give this another look on its own terms. I’m sure the festival will be playing the new print, but the version available on Amazon Prime could easily be one of the old and busted ones. Just fair warning. The new one is included on the recent Criterion release of His Girl Friday, so if you want to check that out, you can buy or rent that disk. Ranked #7205 globally by 83 users.
This film is basically a complete unknown to me. It’s about a young man (Keir Dullea) in a mental institution who finally begins to make a connection with a young woman there (Janet Margolin). It seems like a sweet and interesting story, and definitely fits the “Discovery” programming of which it is part. At the fest, Keir Dullea will be in attendance, and Hollywood historian Cari Beauchamp will introduce the film. At home, you can watch it on Amazon Prime. Ranked #11741 globally by 27 users.
TCM Fest Films That Cannot Easily Be Seen Elsewhere
These films are not only absent from subscription streaming services, but also are unavailable for digital rental, and do not even appear to be easily available on DVD in the United States. So if you heard about TCM Fest and were like, pshaw, I can see classic films at home whenever I want to, here are some examples of classic films you might not be able to see except at the festival. Often these films do show up on the TCM channel, and I’ll of course let you know if they do in my monthly guide to TCM’s programming.
I have never even heard of this film before now, but apparently it’s the top-ranked rare film playing at the festival. It does sound interesting, a French comedy about war, insanity, and bombs. Sounds like it plays in some of the same satirical waters as Catch-22, a personal favorite. Actress Genevieve Bujold will be in attendance at the festival. Ranked #4455 globally by 105 users.
William Powell and Myrna Loy made some 13 films together (just under half of them in the Thin Man series), and a number of them are light witty romantic comedies like this one, in which a married couple (Powell & Loy) grow estranged, and then Powell pretends to be insane to win Loy back. Ranked #6953 globally by 58 users.
This is a real gem, folks, and I’m legitimately miffed that my schedule won’t allow me to see it. This is an Ernst Lubitsch silent that I can’t find anywhere else, and its marriage-swapping story definitely seems a great fit for Lubtisch. Also apparently the first time the Charleston was captured on film, so there’s that. This is a great example of a film by a great filmmaker being simply impossible to find. Ranked #7028 globally by 54 users.
A French noir by undersung director Julien Duvivier, about a misanthrope who falls in love, but may have to blackmail his way to getting the girl. I’ve never heard of this one, either, but I’ve had good luck simply trusting TCM Fest with my noir choices, and I would do the same here. Ranked #12872 by 19 users.
The “incident” is a pair of hoodlums taking a NYC train hostage. Another unknown quantity, but it sounds very stark and compelling, and it was the film debut of Martin Sheen as one of the hoodlums. Sheen will also be in attendance at the festival. Ranked #13546 by 18 users.
Pre-Code comedies are always big tickets at TCM Fest (it doesn’t help that they always put them in the smallest theatre), and with Ginger Rogers leading the cast list here, this one will be no different. She and Norman Foster share an apartment under the conditions that they work opposite shifts and never see each other. They assume they dislike each other until, well, they actually meet. This is the type of film that often shows up on TCM in later months, so I would keep an eye out for it there if you’re interested. Ranked #15021 by 8 users.
The 1995 version of Alan Paton’s classic novel has become the standard film adaptation to some degree, but this older one has a solid reputation as well, and has the added classic film fan bonus of starring Sidney Poitier. Donald Bogle, an expert on classic-era African American films, will introduce it, and he’s always great at situating African American concerns within the Hollywood studio system. Ranked #16174 by 18 users.
Cinerama was a short-lived film format created in the 1950s to combat people’s increased interest in staying home rather than going out to the movies. It required three cameras to shoot it and a super-wide curved screen with three projectors to display it, and only a handful of films were ever made with it - mostly demo films and travelogues rather than narrative features. This is Cinerama was one of the demo-type films, showing what cool things you could see in Cinerama. One of the few theaters still equipped to play Cinerama films is the Arclight in Hollywood, and TCM Fest takes advantage of it with a film each year. Because you can’t really reproduce Cinerama at home (which was the whole point), they tend to be hard to find on home video, though some have been released on VHS or DVD. This one has not, to my knowledge. Ranked #18682 by 3 users.
Playing on the popularity of Freudian psychology in the 1940s, this film has Ginger Rogers as a magazine editor who undergoes psychoanalysis to explain her frequent headaches and daydreams, prompting a lot of Technicolor fantasy sequences. This film is also part of the nitrate series mentioned above. Ranked #22132 by 3 users.
10. Those Redheads from Seattle in 3D (1953)
Musical westerns are one of my favorite subgenres, and I haven’t even heard of this one - a mother takes her four daughters to find their fortune in the Yukon gold rush. Some decent names in the cast, like Rhonda Fleming and especially Agnes Moorehead, this sounds like a fun one to check out. At the festival, TCM will be playing it in the original 3D. For some reason I’m way more interested in seeing vintage 1950s 3D than the modern version. The film is so obscure I had to add it to the Flickchart database.
11. Cock of the Air (1932)
Airplane magnate and millionaire Howard Hughes went through a film production phase in the early 1930s, and this is one of the films he produced. Unsurprisingly, it’s about an army pilot, and the opera diva who falls for him (the opera part may be surprising, but the pilot part definitely is not). This one I also had to add to the Flickchart database.
TCM Fest Films That Are Available for Digital Rental
If you look back on the similar posts I wrote for the last two years of festivals, you’ll note that the films available for subscription streaming have gone down each year - from 12 to 11 to only 8 this year. Subscription services are not nirvana for classic film fans. However, digital rentals have stepped in to fill the void that Blockbuster never really filled in the first place, and most of the films from the festival are available via Amazon, VUDU, and iTunes (and others, those are just the most ubiquitous). I won’t detail all of these, but if you’re interested in checking them out, here you go.
Rear Window (1954; ranked #11 by 32563 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Casablanca (1942; ranked #16 by 42730 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Dr. Strangelove (1964; ranked #27 by 36182 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
The Princess Bride (1987; ranked #43 by 68898 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
The Graduate (1967; ranked #148 by 24891 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971; ranked #176 by 69622 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957; ranked #186 by 15025 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Singin’ in the Rain (1952; ranked #198 by 18303 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU
Some Like It Hot (1959; ranked #201 by 19813 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Bonnie and Clyde (1967; ranked #213 by 9491 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944; ranked #220 by 4202 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Harold and Maude (1971; ranked #234 by 5000 users) - Available for rent at VUDU, iTunes
The Last Picture Show (1971; ranked #238 by 2122 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Black Narcissus (1947; ranked #269 by 778 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, iTunes
In the Heat of the Night (1967; ranked #311 by 3236 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Red River (1948; ranked #345 by 1055 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962; ranked #462 by 1616 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
The Jerk (1979; ranked #473 by 8648 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
The Awful Truth (1937; ranked #486 by 777 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Planet of the Apes (1968; ranked #617 by 28213 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Broadcast News (1987; ranked #701 by 2120 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Cat People (1942; ranked #744 by 782 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963; ranked #816 by 2626 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Best in Show (2000; ranked #880 by 9979 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Monkey Business (1931; ranked #904 by 784 users) - Available for rent at Amazon
What’s Up, Doc (1972; ranked #990 by 588 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Top Secret! (1984; ranked #1136 by 4568 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU
The Palm Beach Story (1942; ranked #1156 by 346 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
The China Syndrome (1979; ranked #1204 by 1187 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
The Court Jester (1955; ranked #1220 by 362 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Bon Yesterday (1950; ranked #1630 by 288 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Unfaithfully Yours (1948; ranked #1787 by 159 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
High Anxiety (1977; ranked #1884 by 1673 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Saturday Night Fever (1977; ranked #1996 by 6712 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Barefoot in the Park (1967; ranked #2104 by 503 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Jezebel (1938; ranked #2442 by 251 users) - Available for rent at VUDU, iTunes
Twentieth Century (1934; ranked #3215 by 143 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Postcards from the Edge (1990; ranked #3456 by 598 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Bye Bye Birdie (1963; ranked #3536 by 483 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Way Out West (1937; ranked #3691 by 161 users) - Available for rent at Amazon
Detective Story (1951; ranked #3785 by 118 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962; ranked #4212 by 92 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
The Egg and I (1946; ranked #5958 by 90 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Zardoz (1974; ranked #6096 by 516 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Hell is for Heroes (1962; ranked #7229 by 81 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Lured (1947; ranked #7339 by 67 users) - Sara Karloff - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
America America (1963; ranked #7406 by 63 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
I’m All Right Jack (1959; ranked #8318 by 39 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Red-Headed Woman (1932; ranked #8596 by 48 users) - Available for rent at VUDU
The Magic Box (1951; ranked #15856 by 5 users) - Available for rent at Amazon, VUDU, iTunes
Jandy is especially drawn to classic, off-beat, and foreign film, but loves a good blockbuster action sequence, too. You can find her on Flickchart as faithx5. She also writes at The Frame, and co-hosts the occasional podcast Not at Odds at Row Three.