Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Looking for Entertainment Alternatives?

It's a pleasant paradox that one of the opportunities presented by new entertainment technologies is the opportunity of returning to old entertainment. For instance, over the last three years, Claire and I have used the "instant download" feature of Netflix to watch dozens of movies from Hollywood's Golden Age and television programs from our own youth. From what we understand, other tech companies like Amazon are getting into the swing of these things too.

The Netflix option has worked well for us -- and at a cheap price. Since we do not subscribe to a cable television service or go to the movie theater more than once every couple of years, our entertainment budget can afford the $9 a month that Netflix charges. And though we have used their "DVD by mail" service a few times (by which they make their entire catalog available), it is the "instant download" that we most use.

Several friends have asked us for recommendations and so I went through everything we've downloaded to give them a few suggestions. (Your account page keeps a complete list.) The Netflix site itself gives more information about plot, ratings, cast, running length, etc. They even offer a comments section which sometimes can be helpful in deciding whether to watch that movie or another.

So here are a few of our favorites from that Netflix pile of oldies. Let me mention, however, that the list does omit films that I've recommended elsewhere -- as in my lists of Top 100 films and favorite Christmas movies. That's because I don't want to repeat myself and because many of those are not available on "instant download" anyway. But here are several of the less-known gems we discovered (with asterisks marking our very favorite among them.)

Top o' the Morning (1949 -- Bing Crosby, Ann Blyth, Barry Fitzgerald)
* Malta Story (1953 -- Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins)
* Forever Female (1954 -- Ginger Rogers, William Holden)
Canon City (1948 -- Scott Brady, Jeff Corey and some of the real people involved in this actual Colorado prison break)
The Gallant Hours (1960 -- Directed by Robert Montgomery, starring James Cagney, Dennis Weaver)
Seventh Heaven (1937 -- Jimmy Stewart, Simone Simon)
Stowaway (1936 -- Shirley Temple, Robert Young, Alice Faye)
Plunder Road (1957 -- Gene Raymond, Elisha Cook Jr.)
* The Woman in the Window (1944 -- Fritz Lang directed, Edgar G. Robinson and Joan Bennett star)
The Odessa File (1974 -- Jon Voight, Maximilian Schell)
Ball of Fire (1941 -- Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck)
Raid On Entebbe (1976 -- many stars)
Walk, Don't Run (1966 -- Cary Grant's last film)
Our Man in Havana (1959 -- Alec Guinness)
Up Periscope (1959 -- James Garner)
The General (1926 -- Silent film with Buster Keaton)

And as I mentioned at the top, Netflix also offers TV re-runs. Among those we have enjoyed were two British documentary series, Monarchy and Six Wives. And among the "regular" TV programs they offer, we have had fun watching episodes of Columbo; Have Gun, Will Travel; Murder, She Wrote; and several British detective series: Campion, Dorothy Sayers, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Inspector Alleyn and Hercule Poirot.

(Note: Along the way, we also used the local library -- another budget-friendly and generally untapped source of quality entertainment -- to watch the Untouchables series with Robert Stack.)

So there you go. If you're looking for alternatives to the general schlock offered by current TV and movie theaters, you might consider the humble recommendations above. You'll find them entertaining -- sometimes even instructive and inspiring. And you can even watch them with Grandma and the kids.