Free Films, On Youtube

Make your own film festival, from movies available free online.
by Gordon Campbell

Alongside the cute baby and adorable animal videos on Youtube, you can find a lot of full length movies as well. Some are out of copyright, some are there just because someone wanted to share a few of the more obscure gems from our cinematic heritage. Some of the short films are there because where else can you see short films ? They’re all free, and if you fullscreen them on your computer they’re very watchable. This list doesn’t claim to be definitive and for convenience, I’ve broken things down into genres.

They’re not all old films, either. They include Frances Ha – a movie recently deemed by the AV Club to be the fourth best film of this current decade, thus far.

Amazingly, and at time of writing, Frances Ha is available for free on Youtube in what looks to be its Criterion edition. But lets not talk loudly about this fact, in case the copyright police hear about it. You should see this movie for oh, its lustrous black and white photography, for the wonderful lead performance by Greta Gerwig, for the hilarious/heartbreaking dinner party scene….. and for the fact that it seems like a modern US version of a 1960s French New Wave movie, crossbred with some of the best episodes of Girls. Talking of which, it even has Adam Driver in the cast. Go for it, now.

As for the rest, I’ve broken them down for convenience, into genres.

Short Films

Don Hertzfeldt’s work is a world unto itself – you won’t easily forget the murderous balloons in “Billy’s Balloon” – but the “Everything Will Be OK” collection is a pretty good place to start.

The more recent “The Meaning of Life” is also well worth your time.

And for another animation style and sensibility entirely…..The 1981 film Crac beautifully, magically, managed to compress the history of Canada into a 15 minute tale of a rocking chair, and its role in a family’s life down the generations. Frederic Back wrote, drew and directed Crac, which won him the first of two Oscars. A lifelong vegetarian and animal rights activist, he died on Christmas Eve, 2013.

From 1998, Bunny is an inspired 6 minute tale about ageing and the acceptance of death – as conveyed in a battle between an old rabbit doing some baking alone in her kitchen late at night, and a pesky moth.

Finally – and like Crac, this one belongs to the golden age of animation at the National Film Board of Canada – Ishu Patel’s ravishingly beautiful 1984 film Paradise is about the perils of envy and the rewards of accepting who you are ….as told via a discontented blackbird. The bird’s vanity and temper tantrums make him a virtual soul-mate for Daffy Duck.

Film Noir

Kiss Me Deadly (1955) The beginning to this 1955 noir epic is pretty startling. Famously, the credits are all round the wrong way, presumably on purpose. The seedy, sports car driving private eye Mike Hammer ( played to meat-headed perfection by Ralph Meeker) gets himself entangled on a highway at night with a doomed woman wearing only a raincoat. From then on, Hammer is plunged into trying to make sense out of a government /Police /evil scientist conspiracy of X Files proportions.

As Hammer blazes his way with sadistic glee through what used to be downtown Los Angeles, it becomes very clear that (a) Hammer has absolutely no idea what he’s got himself into and that (b) he’s more of a risk to his friends than he is to his enemies.

This Robert Aldrich classic – it was shot in only 21 days in late 1954 – has been lovingly referenced in everything from Pulp Fiction to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Nick, the Greek mechanic who comes to a bad end was a nod to his roots by the film’s Greek/Armenian scriptwriter A.I. “Buzz” Bezzerides, who became a victim of the Hollywood “grey” list of suspected Commie sympathisers. In his case, this was because he had written a scene in a 1943 war movie that showed Humphrey Bogart being greeted by a crowd of cheering Russians. No wonder Bezzerides wanted to blow the whole city of Los Angeles – Hollywood included – sky high. Footnote : as a scriptwriter in-joke, in the second season of True Detective the character that’s played by Elizabeth Moss ( ie, Peggy from Mad Men) is called Ani Bezzerides.

Honourable mention : Another late entry in the noir genre was this 1955 film The Big Combo.

The film is justly renowned for the black and white cinematography by the great John Alston, and the final showdown ( with its spectacular lighting) has been re-played ever since at film schools around the world. In addition, there’s a creepily villainous turn by mob boss Richard Conte. Mind you, given that The Big Combo was directed by the director of Gun Crazy, and written by the guy who wrote Johnny Guitar, the film’s fusion of sex and violence shouldn’t come as a total surprise. Conte for instance, seems to have his doomed girlfriend under his erotic spell. Plus, his duo of gay hit men ( Lee Van Cleef, Earl Holliman) are depicted as a variation on the same sex = violence = perversity theme. It was the 1950s, after all.


Carnival of Souls (1962) This one really is creepy. A young woman survives a car crash that kills her friends, leaves town and takes a job elsewhere as a church organist. The demons from her past follow her there. Literally.

Night Tide This film is so odd it stars Denis Hopper as a shockingly young and innocent sailor who goes to a jazz club ( in the 1950s, a portal to the forbidden) where Hopper falls for a mysterious young woman. She turns out to a creature afflicted by a curse that charms seagulls, and leads her lovers to their watery deaths. Will Dennis be able to resist ? Clearly influenced by Maya Deren – there’s a walking sequence straight out of Meshes of The Afternoon – this is worth checking out…. if only to see what Hopper looked like before the decades of hard living got to him. And hepcats, there’s the jazz : in the club, and as background to some wild, wild dancing on the beach. There’s even a film credit for “Bongos.”

Historical drama

Reign of Terror (1949) This low budget saga of the French Revolution (the whole thing cost only $40,000) was made in 1949, just as the Cold War kicked into full paranoid gear. This probably explains why the film begins with a hysterical voiceover (a) denouncing revolution and (b) the imminent threat of dictatorship being posed by the fanatical Maximilian “Don’t call me Max ! ” Robespierre.

Director Anthony Mann and (again) John Alston light and shoot this film as if it really was a film noir – it is all long shadows, oblique angles and shocking close-ups. Arlene Dahl is lovely as the (good) femme fatale, and she certainly enlivens a tale of double-dealing and impersonation. In brief, the goodies are trying to obtain a black book (in which Robespierre has written the names of his next victims) in time to bring down the budding dictator, and send him off to Madame Guillotine. At only 75 minutes, it’s a lesson in compression. Plus, there’s a walk on bit by Napoleon Bonaparte at the end.


Day of the Outlaw (1959) As Quentin Tarantino says, holding hostage the inhabitants of a town is a classic Western plot device, and one that’s ripe and ready for the use of flashback sequences during the stalemate that inevitably follows. Tarantino is using that same hostage trope again in his next film The Hateful Eight, which co-stars Walton Goggins from the great, recently concluded Justified TV series.

Here’s another good example of the town-held-hostage plot, minus the flashbacks. Day of the Outlaw is an undeservedly obscure 1959 movie about a small mountain town up on the Sierra snowline that gets taken over by a band of misfits led by Burl Ives. There’s a memorable sequence where the local womenfolk are forced to dance with these degenerates – whose pathetic need for female company and attempts at social decorum almost render them sympathetic, before things turn nasty. The tough and taciturn loner (Robert Ryan) finally saves the day by leading the bad guys off on an apparently suicidal trek into the mountains where one by one, they get their come-uppance.

The film’s director Andre De Toth made the original House of Wax horror film with Vincent Price, and went to do second unit work on Lawrence of Arabia, so should be no surprise that this film looks really, really good. Trivia note : the beleaguered town’s pretty young teenager was played by Venetia Stevenson who subsequently married Don Everly of the Everly Brothers. Their daughter Erin became Axl Rose’s inspiration for the Guns’n’Roses hit song ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and Erin appears in the song’s video – that was before she left him, amid accusations of his violent abuse.

Canyon Passage. A whole column could be devoted to the endlessly versatile Jacques Tourneur, who made stylish horror films ( Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie) some terrific film noir ( Out of The Past) and a string of fine Westerns including the trio of Stars in My Crown, Stranger on Horseback and Wichita, all of which starred Joel McCrea. The 1946 film Canyon Passage though, with Dana Andrews is arguably the best of his Westerns. The plot includes emergent capitalism, pioneer barn-raising, small-town mob violence, marauding Indians and a music cameo by Hoagy Carmichael…..It is viewable if you follow this link :

1946 – Canyon Passage – Dana Andrews; Susan… by cldickjr

Also worth checking out are the well known series of Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott Westerns : such as 7 Men From Now. Ride Lonesome, and The Tall T. They’re available on Youtube, and they’re all great. Avoid the bungled upload for the last film in this series, Comanche Station. It really is unwatchable.

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