Charade (1963)

I cannot decide whether one should regret or applaud USA’s old copyright law. What it amounted to was that anything that did not have a copyright notice on it was not protected by copyright. So whenever someone forgot to put that fateful © in its proper place, that entire work automatically entered the public domain immediately upon publication. One of the victims of this was the movie Charade.

Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade (1963)

We are fortunate to have Charade in the public domain, of course, since it is a gem of cinematic art. Hollywood at its absolute best. Warm, well written, effective scenography, a brilliant score, and not least an excellent cast, spearheaded by Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, each doing his and her best to outshine the other. Also, it is filmed on location in Paris, which was unusual at the time.

On the flip side of that copyright coin is the fact that the big companies rarely care about public domain movies. They are hard to make money off, because anyone can go ahead and legally distribute any preserved or restored edition. Such as in this case, where a brilliant Blu-ray copy has been ripped and uploaded to the Internet Archive. In many cases, though, those nice copies never appear.

Speaking of copies, a perfect high-resolution Matroska file is available for download, but if 11.5 gigabytes put you off, you can go for the much smaller MP4 (H.264) file. Lower resolution, but still very nice quality.

This film is best enjoyed when you are unfamiliar with the plot. This interesting and funny story, with all its twists and corny characters, is a bit too complex to sum up in just a couple of sentences. Besides, it may be better to see it with as few preconceived notions as possible. Just sit back, relax, and allow yourself to be carried away. This is cinematic magic.

Cary Grant taking a shower in  Charade (1963)

Charade
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Year: 1963
Running time: 1 h 23 min
Director: Stanley Donen
Stars: Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: High (1920×1038)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: Matroska (11.5 G)

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Ikarie XB 1 (1963)

The Polish sci-fi author Stanislaw Lem is something of a cult celebrity. His stories have inspired several good movies, including three versions of Solaris (in particular Tarkovskij’s splendid adaptation from 1972).

Not one of his best-known works (but still interesting), The Magellanic Clouds is the basis for the Czech film Ikarie XB 1.

Ikarie XB 1 / Icarus XB-1 (1963)

The film is about a pioneer space flight to the Alpha Centauri system, two hundred years into the future. The world at that point is a communist Utopia, and the forty-man crew depart in search of extra-terrestrial life. But the there are many dangers ahead of them.

Ikarie XB 1 comes complete with some heavy-handed anti-capitalist propaganda. Though it is no worse than the corresponding anti-communist messages in some Hollywood films from about the same period.

Like Battle Beyond the Sun and many other sci-fi films from behind the iron curtain, Ikarie XB 1 was released in the US in a slaughtered and dubbed version, with a new ending and generally much worse than the original. The title of this abomination was the bland Voyage to the End of the Universe. Fortunately, the original version, subtitled in English, is the one to be found at the Internet Archive.

This film is best enjoyed if you prefer the psychological and philosophical kind of science fiction that was more common in the East during the Cold War. The tempo is slow and the plot is somewhat splintered, but that matters little, for the focus is on character development and interaction. Great stuff!

Exploring the capitalist ship in Ikarie XB 1 (1963)

Ikarie XB 1
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Year: 1963
Language: Czech (English subtitles)
Running time: 1 h 23 min
Director: Jindřich Polák
Stars: Zdeněk Štěpánek, Radovan Lukavský, František Smolík
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (852×360)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG 4 (493 M)

Battle Beyond the Sun (1963)

In the 1950s and 60s, the Cold War was in full swing, and it was reflected in the film productions of both the US and the Soviet Union. In particular, science fiction movies were often used to carry more or less covert political messages. The American tradition was to use lots of space monsters and robots to represent the terrible Reds. There were several exceptions, of course, but to a large extent the fear of communism fuelled the popularity of science fiction, just as it also fuelled the ongoing space race.

The Soviet films had their own share of political messages, yet they were very different from their American counterparts. While you might find the odd monster or robot in a Soviet film, focus was on a more philosophical aspect of science fiction. This made the films very much slower in terms of plotting and cutting, and the propaganda was often more direct.

Many of these films found their ways (whether legally or not, I do not know) into the hands of American distributors such as Roger Corman. But to distribute a Soviet film as it was would not do, both because of the tempo and the political implications. So they were dubbed and significantly altered. In many cases, entire scenes, plotlines and even endings were removed, added or replaced. Additional material was often shot in the US, with American actors.

Astronauts in Battle Beyond the Sun (1963)

One of the best films to meet this destiny was Mikhail Karyukov’s 1959 Небо зовёт (“The Heavens Beckon”). In America, it was released as Battle Beyond the Sun, and just like several others, it was cut to pieces and made into something else than the original.

In the film, astronauts from the South Hemisphere (Americans in the original) intend to make the first manned journey to Mars, but their more heroic colleagues from the North Hemisphere (originally Soviet cosmonauts) decide to take up the challenge, forcing the South Hemi ship to make a risky start ahead of schedule. When their ship is thrown off course without enough fuel to make it home, the North Hemi crew has to decide whether to save them, at great risk of their own lives, or to push on towards a successfully completed mission.

Although there is a lot of propagandistic content (switched around for the American version, of course) director Karyukov wanted to make a film about peace and friendship across ideological borders. Most of all, though, the film is worth seeing for Karyukov’s groundbreaking use of special effects. In many ways, he was years ahead of contemporary American sci-fi producers. Some scenes are reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey, made almost a decade later.

Another reason for watching it is that the US version was directed by none other than Francis Ford Coppola. His most famous addition to the film is in the shape of two monsters battling, a scene which adds absolutely nothing to the story, but needed to be there for the monster-hungry American audience. It is said that Coppola’s monsters were designed to look like a penis and a vagina, and to some extent they do. I leave it to the reader to consider the metaphorical and freudian implications of this.

This film is best enjoyed if you realize that American version was heavily altered, and none for the better. This version is worth watching, but the original is much superior in every way.

One of Francis Ford Coppola's monsters in Battle Beyond the Sun (1963)

Battle Beyond the Sun
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Year: 1963
Running time: 1 h 7 min
Director: Mikhail Karyukov, Aleksandr Kozyr, Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Aleksandr Shvorin, Ivan Pereverzev, Larisa Borisenko
Image quality: Acceptable (American material) to poor (Soviet material)
Resolution: Medium (720×528)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: DivX (690 M)