I love old movies. I love them so much that I even wrote a book about a 60s movie producer. Some of the best of the old classics have slipped into the public domain, which means they're free. Some of the old PD titles have been put out on DVD over the years, but a great many are in a kind of film limbo, with no easy way to see them if they don't get picked up for DVD distribution.
I'd suggest one nice solution for the iPad. It's called Movie Vault, and it basically lets you stream more than a thousand public domain titles for your viewing enjoyment, either over Wi-Fi or 3G. Now I won't say most of these films are in pristine condition. Quite the contrary. With no studio claiming them, there haven't been any restorations, but there's a lot of gold in those PD hills.
You can search by title, genre, or a director or cast member name. I found a lot of bad films, but I found some great ones, too. For whatever reason, Bela Lugosi was in his share of clunkers. The infamous Plan Nine from Outer Space is one example (well, ... sorta). Lugosi died before the film was made, and director Ed Wood used test footage so that he could put Lugosi in the credits. Another howler is Bela Lugosi meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. It also stars Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo who do an uncanny Martin and Lewis imitation. There are lots of westerns, horror, sci-fi, romance, action and documentary films. One of the gems is The Stranger with Orson Welles, who plays a Nazi in hiding in the United States while being chased by Edward G. Robinson.
The app claims there are about a thousand titles, with more on the way. I think it's a great app for just taking a walk through some of the classics (and non-classics) of the silver screen.
As I mentioned, quality goes from fair to pretty grungy, but that goes with the territory. All the films I tried were highly watchable. There are some errors in the listings, however. The 1935 film A Shot in the Dark appears with the graphic for the 1964 version with Peter Sellers.
OK, so how do you get this little US $4.99 app for free? We have five copies to give away, so leave us a note in the comments and tell us what your favorite public domain films are. It can be a great movie or a horribly bad one. We'll select five entries at random, and the winners will get their own copy of Movie Vault. Here are the official rules. In short, you need to meet these requirements:
- The contest is open to legal US residents of the 50 United States and District of Columbia and Canada (excluding Quebec), and you must be 18 or older.
- To enter, leave a comment and tell us the title of your favorite public domain movie.
- The comment must be left before Sunday, October 31, 2010, 11:59pm Eastern Daylight Time.
- You may enter only once.
- Five winners will be selected in a random drawing. Each winner will receive one copy of Movie Vault for iPad (Value: $4.99).
If you have an iPhone, there is also a version of Movie Vault for you. It's $2.99 and requires an iPhone or iPod touch with iOS 4.1 or later.
Have a fun fling with some old movies. I think you'll find plenty to watch. It's a great app if you are stuck at the airport or train station.