Rembrandt (1936)

Alexander Korda was a very solid British director, perhaps best known for participating in the 1940 remake of Douglas Fairbanks’ The Thief of Bagdad (1924), which is considered to outshine even the spectacular silent original, and which was a major source of inspiration for Disney’s Aladdin (1992).

In the 1930s, Korda made three films that are so thematically similar that they must be considered as a trilogy. The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) and The Private Life of Don Juan (1934) have already been reviewed on this blog, and the turn has now come to the third film, Rembrandt.

Charles Laughton in Rembrandt (1936)

All three films are biographies of various European personalities in the 16th and 17th Centuries, two historical and one fictional. All three can be traced in various ways to the reformation and counter-reformation, although admittedly this is a theme that does not shine through in the films. All three films also deal with lost loves and with the agonies of growing old.

Rembrandt begins with the death of famous painter Rembrandt van Rijn’s wife Saskia. The film then follows Rembrandt’s remaining life with its numerous sorrows, but most of all it is a powerful portrait of a strong and gifted artist, who at all costs stayed true to his own vision and character. When his friends implore him to paint nobles (who can pay good money) in the traditional style, Rembrandt prefers to develop his own personal technique on motifs of his own choosing. For example, he picks a beggar off the street and dresses him as a biblical king.

This film is best enjoyed for Charles Laughton’s exquisite performance as the famous painter. The film is well made overall, but the story lacks that extra edge that would have secured its place as a great classic, partly because it is a bit shattered and out of focus. As it stands, Laughton makes it well worth the effort of watching, but you may want to go for The Private Life of Henry VIII first, also with Laughton in the lead. Comparing these two films with one another will give a good picture of Laughton’s great versatility as an actor.

Charles Laughton in Rembrandt (1936)

Download link
Year: 1936
Running time: 1 h 24 min
Director: Alexander Korda
Stars: Charles Laughton
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: Medium (666×509, not counting black border)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (814 M)

My Man Godfrey (1936)

One of the reasons for starting this blog was to help cinema enthusiasts find some of the good stuff that can be legally downloaded from the Internet Archive. The site itself provides very little help in this regard. Many of the collections are not well organized (the word “chaotic” sometimes comes to mind), and the user rating system works poorly.

Some lists of good stuff at the Archive already existed before this blog. But I felt that they mostly reiterated the same films and missed many highlights. One of the films that will frequently be found on other people’s lists of good films at the Internet Archive is My Man Godfrey.

William Powell in My Man Godfrey (1936)

My Man Godfrey is a classic, a screwball comedy of the best and finest material. The story, briefly, is that two upper-class sisters try to find a homeless man (or “forgotten man”, which is the term used in the film) in order to present him as a sort of winning trophy in a “scavenger hunt” competition. They find Godfrey, but he is not going to be anyone’s trophy just like that. He ends up becoming the butler in their somewhat dysfunctional family, but behind his surprisingly efficient butler mannerisms he hides a secret.

For a screwball, My Man Godfrey is somewhat toned down. It is not as wild and crazy as some, but focuses more on psychological aspects. This is perhaps the reason why it has become so popular. It is very, very funny, but it also has a lot of depth below that well-polished surface.

This film is best enjoyed for the excellent script (they don’t do them like this any more), although acting and camerawork are not far behind.

William Powell and Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey (1936)

My Man Godfrey
Download link
Year: 1936
Running time: 1 h 35 min
Director: Gregory La Cava
Stars: William Powell, Carole Lombard
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Cinepack (908 M)

Seven Sinners (1936)

Carnival. Nice, France. Fireworks. Drinks, costumes and wild dancing. And in the middle of it all, the American John Harwood. Dressed as a devil and somewhat drunk, Harwood stumbles upon a dead man when accidentally entering the wrong hotel room. But when he manages to convince others to come to the scene, the body is gone. Who died? And why? The plot thickens with a train crash that just may have been sabotage and the disappearance of a woman that Harwood met.

The film thus described is Seven Sinners (released as Doomed Cargo in the US), a very nice mystery thriller.

Edmund Lowe and Constance Cummings in Seven Sinners (1936)

In many ways, this film reminds of Alfred Hitchcock‘s English films from the 1930s (many of which are also available at the Internet Archive, e.g. Secret Agent (1936), which also has a train crash as an important part of the plot). Though competently made, Seven Sinners does not have the edge in composition and editing that Hitchcock does. The story and acting, however, are quite up to Hitchcock’s standards, so if you enjoy Hitchcock’s British films, there is a good chance that you will enjoy this one as well.

There is another film titled Seven Sinners (1940) with Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne. I have not seen that one, but it too is rumoured to be good. It is avaiable at the Internet Archive, but that copy appears to be dubbed in German, so no good unless you speak that language.

This film is best enjoyed if you love mysteries. This one is better than most.

Constance Cummings and Edmund Lowe in Seven Sinners (1936)

Seven Sinners
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Year: 1936
Running time: 1 h 9 min
Director: Albert de Courville
Stars: Edmund Lowe, Constance Cummings
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (816 M)

As You Like It (1936)

Earlier this year, it was exactly 450 years since the birth of William Shakespeare, considered by many as the greatest playwright ever. And even though such anniversaries are technically speaking just non-events based on arbitrary calendaric and mathematical concepts, it is nevertheless a good thing to be given a reason to reflect and celebrate.

According to Wikipedia, Shakespeare is the most filmed author in the history of motion pictures. Quite an accomplishment. Considering that, there are comparatively few Shakespeare films at the Internet Archive, and fewer yet that I find to be interesting.

There is a lot of stuff about Shakespeare and his texts, such as a TV programme with the title Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?. A fascinating subject, though fraught with speculating charlatans. There are also several films of amateur companies performing Shakespeare, as well as abridged LEGO animations(!) of Macbeth and Hamlet. (I have seen none of these, so watch at your own risk.)

"All the world's a stage." Henry Ainley and Leon Quartermaine in As You Like It (1936)

But when it comes to feature films, we have to look harder. There are some early silent adaptations, mostly incomprehensible if you do not know the stories well, but historically interesting.

There are a handful of others, but the only one I find really interesting is the first sound version of As You Like It. Not only is this a nice version with neat, theatre-style scenography and good actors, it was also the first Shakespeare adaptation to feature Laurence Olivier, here in the role as the love-sick Orlando.

Unlike Olivier’s other three Shakespeare films, As You Like It was not directed by him. This is a shame, since his three films as director are among the greatest Shakespeare adaptations of all time. But at least you get to see this legendary actor perform, and that is certainly not a bad thing.

This film is best enjoyed for the wonderful, Shakespearean language, delivered by very good actors. The story about Orlando and his beloved Rosalind – who dresses as a young man in order to escape when she is driven away by her uncle, the Duke – is frankly a bit silly. Yet, it is a popular Shakespeare text, and this is a very good adaptation of it.

Laurence Olivier, Sophie Stuart and Elisabeth Bergner acting out the mock marriage of Orlando and Rosalind in As You Like It (1936)

As You Like It
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Year: 1936
Running time: 1 h 36 min
Director: Paul Czinner
Stars: Laurence Olivier
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×576)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: DivX (698 M)

Pilot X (1936)

Pilot X (originally titled Death in the Air) is in many ways a unique and interesting movie. Unfortunately, it is also rather bad. But keep reading and I will tell you why it is worth watching anyway.

Biplanes dogfight in Pilot X aka Death in the Air (1936)

The story in Pilot X involves aircraft being shot down by an unknown pilot. So instead of asking around at nearby airports, trying to find a pattern matching the shootings, the investigators decide to invite a number of potential suspects to a few days at a mansion. (Checking for alibis? Nah, why bother?) Of course, there is also a girl present. Otherwise, who would be the hero’s romantic interest? Eh? Anyway, things do not go exactly as planned, and instead the guests start to be shot out of the sky, one by one.

The mansion setting technically puts this film as a part of the mansion mystery subgenre. A few months ago, I wrote a bit about that genre’s origins in my post about The Bat (1960). It is a genre with a good deal of potential. The closed space and limited number of characters result in a heightened sense of suspense, increased by the knowledge that someone has committed a terrible crime and may do so again.

As mansion mysteries go, however, Pilot X is not very spectacular. In fact, the plot is quite silly (though the ending is nice) and the actors are far from stellar. But the presence of aircraft provide a nice twist. Normally, the killer would be someone with a knife, a gun or a bottle of poison (or all three, as in And Then There Were None (1945)), not as in this case a World War I biplane with machine guns. That, as far as I know, makes the film absolutely unique. I cannot think of another one quite like it.

Director Elmer Clifton was a B film director with small budgets and less talent. (His best effort, Captain America (1944), was co-directed with experienced serial director John English.) Pilot X is fairly typical of Clifton’s efforts, unfortunately. Had it been handled with just a touch more class and professionalism, it might have been a very neat movie.

This film is best enjoyed if you are attracted by the bi-plane dogfights and the original mix of aviation and mansion mystery. The flight sequences are not bad for a B movie, and occasionally showcase some really neat action.

John Carroll, Leon Ames, Henry Hall, Hans Joby, Gaston Glass, Pat Somerset, Wheeler Oakman and Reed Howes in Death in the Air aka Pilot X (1936)

Pilot X
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Year: 1936
Running time: 1 h 7 min
Director: Elmer Clifton
Stars: Lona Andre, John Carroll
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (2.2 G)

Things to Come (1936)

In his essay “Son of Dr. Strangelove, Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Stanley Kubrick,” sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke writes about the work that lead up to the classic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Among other things, Clarke mentions that he first met with Kubrick to discuss the project on April 22, 1964 – exactly 50 years ago tomorrow.

Clarke also relates how he later tried to introduce Kubrick to some of the classic science fiction films, presumably to give him more insight into the genre. Kubrick was not very impressed by what he saw, and after they eventually got around to watching Things to Come, Kubrick said “What are you trying to do to me? I’ll never see anything you recommend again!”

Post-apocalyptic Everytown in H.G. Wells' Things to Come (1936)

Kubrick was right and he was wrong. Things to Come does have its share of weaknesses, as does 2001. But in the end, both are classics in the genre, and both deserve that status.

The two films actually have more than that in common. Both were born out of a cooperation between the most important living science fiction writer of the time (H. G. Wells for the earlier film) and one of the best directors (Alexander Korda, although he did not direct Things to Come; he only produced it). Both films are in some ways highly prophetic and, more to the point, try to convey important messages that are still relevant today.

Things to Come is divided into three sections. The first prophecies World War II (which begins in 1940 in the film) and is clearly anti-war. The second section deals with the world in the 1960s. The war never really ended, but civilization is in shambles and there is no central government. Local warlords fight for whatever remains. This part of the film makes it one of the first post-apocalyptic films, perhaps the first where a large part is dedicated to survival in the world after the apocalypse.

In the final section, we see the new world of 2036, typical of Wells, who was a firm believer in the wonders of technology, and how they could bring peace and wealth to the world, if used wisely. This part fascinates mainly because of its excellent sets and special effects, many of which still impress.

Things to Come is a splendidly effective and well-produced film, full of beautiful imagery and fascinating ideas. The film does have one major problem, however, in that it follows Wells’ script too closely. Wells, while one of my favourite SF authors, was always very didactic, which could sometimes give a rather stiff air to his books. In the movie, this shines through even more clearly, leaving in part a stilted, pompous and unnatural dialogue. Wells’ detailed synopsis for Things to Come has been published, and actually reads better than it comes through in the final film.

There are several versions of this film, all cut and incomplete to various extents. At least two are available at the Internet Archive. In this post, I mainly link to a version distributed in America, but there is also another version, slightly longer and with better resolution, but unfortunately the copy is very dark.

I understand that the copyright status of this film has been in question, and according to Wikipedia it is under copyright in the UK and the rest of the EU, but apparently not in the US. Whether you decide to download it or not is, of course, a matter for your own conscience.

This film is best enjoyed by those who, unlike Stanley Kubrick, realize that a film can have a few faults and still be brilliant.

Edward Chapman, Kenneth Villiers, Pearl Argyle and Raymond Massey in H.G. Wells' Things to Come (1936)

Things to Come
Download link
Year: 1936
Running time: 1 h 33 min
Director: William Cameron Menzies
Stars: Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Low (426×320)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Cinepack (838 M)

Secret Agent (1936)

Alfred Hitchcock. One of the most deathless names among the great directors, and deservedly so. He introduced many cinematic storytelling techniques, and his amazing camerawork and timing can still take your breath away.

If you want to see his most classical masterpieces then (with a few exceptions) you must unfortunately go elsewhere than the Internet Archive. But if you are interested in digging deeper into his copious production, then the Archive offers many a forgotten gem (and some that should perhaps best remain forgotten). One of the best, and one which is almost never remembered today, is Secret Agent.

Madeleine Carroll, Peter Lorre and John Gielgud in Alfred Hitchcock's Secret Agent (1936)

Thematically, Secret Agent shares many features with the non Hitchcock thriller Dark Journey (1937), which I have previously reviewed. Both are spy stories made shortly before World War II, set during World War I, and mostly taking place in a neutral country (Switzerland in the case of Secret Agent). The main thematic difference is that the love story here is not between agents from different sides.

The plot of Secret Agent is somewhat problematic and may actually be one reason why the film is no longer very popular. The beginning, about a person whose death is faked in order to provide a good secret identity, is elegantly told but leaves only a really, really thin layer of credibility, if any. The ending is also somewhat blunt and not entirely satisfactory.

But in between, there is ample opportunity to enjoy Hitchcock’s indisputable genius. Ironically, for a film which is rich with interesting and groundbreaking use of sound effects, Hitchcock gives several nods to the silent film which saw his own beginnings as a director.

Psychologically, the film holds many interesting dimensions, and the actors interpret them excellently. Not least Peter Lorre in a spectacular role as an assassin who is in equal measures jaded and naive.

This film is best enjoyed if you love Hitchcock and want to start exploring some of his lesser-known films. Secret Agent deserves better than obscurity.

Escape through Swiss chocolate factory in Alfred Hitchcock's Secret Agent (1936)

Secret Agent
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Year: 1936
Running time: 1 h 26 min
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: John Gielgud, Peter Lorre, Madeleine Carroll
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×616)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG4 (1,017 M)