NEW YORK, March 21 — “Two great tastes that taste great together” was how Reese’s once extolled the virtues of its famous peanut butter cups. A similar notion endures when considering the streaming services FilmStruck and Warner Archive. If you are a fanatical lover of classic movies and are moving away from physical media, both sites offer cinematic stimulants and comforts in often complementary ways.
FilmStruck — available as an app and on a website, and on devices such as Amazon Fire, Apple TV and Chromecast (Roku and PlayStation will be adding it this year) — is a joint endeavour of Turner Classic Movies and the boutique DVD and Blu-ray label the Criterion Collection. Warner Archive Instant, also an app and a site — also available on Roku and Apple TV — is an offshoot of the DVD and Blu-ray service Warner Archive, which specialises in the more obscure holdings of the vaults of Warner Bros and other timeless Hollywood studios.
For classic-movie nuts looking for a film noir binge, FilmStruck offers T-Men and Raw Deal, two late-1940s crime movies directed by Anthony Mann. These pictures are notable for their brutal violence and their remarkable black-and-white imagery, captured by the cinematographer John Alton. Their stylisations are definitively noir but may be lacking for those genre fans who insist that a true noir must contain a potent psychosexual element.
For that, FilmStruck has a batch of pictures from Fritz Lang, a godfather of noir. One of them is Scarlet Street (1945), in which Edward G. Robinson’s milquetoast character falls hard for a heartless streetwalker played by Joan Bennett. The way she and her implied pimp, Dan Duryea, toy with Robinson is still agonisingly cringe worthy today. The shocking tabloid thriller Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956), the last movie Lang directed in the United States, is a tale of a reporter whose crusade against capital punishment has a perverse twist. It hides its depraved secrets until the very end; in a way, it is Lang’s bitter kiss-off to American cinema.
Move on over to Warner Archive, and you can savour Gun Crazy, the 1950 picture in which sexual obsession and larceny got hitched well before Bonnie and Clyde (with an audacious long-take bank robbery scene that film scholars are still raving about to this day). The Phenix City Story (1955, directed by Phil Karlson) pares down the stylisation of the Mann films while upping the ante on brutality, both physical and emotional. My Blood Runs Cold is a 1965 oddity that throws the squeaky-clean Troy Donahue and the saucy Joey Heatherton into a pot of post-noir lunacy. All these films are in black and white, but Point Blank, the 1967 film directed by John Boorman and starring Lee Marvin, is in bright pop-art colour yet manages to be arguably more gritty and bleak than any of the above.
FilmStruck’s subsection the Criterion Channel contains films of a more international bent. This month, for instance, the service adds 10 films directed by the Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman, more than half of them from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s, a period not as well known by American viewers as the films from The Seventh Seal (1957) on. These display Bergman’s mastery of cinematic storytelling; viewers accustomed to him as a forger of tortured mystical allegories might be surprised by, say, Dreams (1955), a melodrama set in the Swedish fashion world. Indeed, the early pictures here, which also include Thirst, Port of Call and Secrets of Women, find Bergman straddling the prerogatives of the conventional Swedish modern drama and an increasing need for self-expression. The push-pull on display is fascinating even as the films’ individual stories work their spells.
And lest you come away with the impression that FilmStruck’s mission is strictly highbrow, this month the site hosts all six films in the spectacular Lone Wolf and Cub series, 1970s “chanbara” (sword-fighting) movies from Japan featuring a wandering warrior and his unlikely accomplice, his infant son in a baby cart.
FilmStruck selections are often accompanied by supplements: new short films and video essays that provide intelligent thumbnail sketches of the art of, for example, the cinematographer Néstor Almendros. Seven films he shot — including Claire’s Knee (1970), Days of Heaven (1978) and Sophie’s Choice (1982) are on the service, as are 11 works from the director Michelangelo Antonioni, from Story of a Love Affair (1950) to Red Desert (1964) to Identification of a Woman (1982). Tim Robbins, Bill Hader and the author Jonathan Lethem are among the luminaries holding forth on particular films in these “FilmStruck Originals.” FilmStruck even has its own blog, Streamline, which features essays on films offered on the service by sharp critics and enthusiasts such as Nathaniel Thompson, Kimberly Lindbergs and R. Emmet Sweeney.
The Warner Archive site is not nearly as stuffed with special features. There’s a “News” section featuring occasional updates on programming. When the Warner Archive debuted in 2009 as a manufacture-on-demand DVD label, my sense was that its target audience was film nuts who liked to dig, not ones who wanted docents. The relatively bare-bones approach of the streaming site seems to confirm my impression. But any site that can comfortably accommodate Boorman’s feature debut, from 1965, Having a Wild Weekend (released in England as Catch Us if You Can), a rather downbeat A Hard Day’s Night variant starring the Dave Clark Five; the over-the-top 1940 James Cagney boxing melodrama, City for Conquest; and John Ford’s intermittently brilliant 1964 epic, Cheyenne Autumn, is doing several things right in my book.
As it happens, the two sites have the same parent company, Time Warner. Given how much fun it is to look for classics on services that retain such distinct personalities, I’m glad that corporate synergy doesn’t always go too far. — The New York Times