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  • Carrie Specht

October on the Criterion Channel Includes Errol Morris, Alfred Hitchcock, Raymond Massey and more!

If you don't know about Errol Morris documentaries, or have never seen Alfred Hitchcocks The 39 Steps, or even know the actor Raymond Massey, then this October you need to sit down in front of the viewing device of your preference and tune into The Criterion Channel. It's always a good idea anyway, but this month has some particularly fine offerings that no film lover should miss. Especially since these recommended must-sees are virtually never presented in movie theaters any more. But fortunately for us, The Criterion Channel is here to keep films, filmmakers, and actors, in the public eye.



On Sunday, October 20, The Criterion Channel offers a block of films "Directed by Errol Morris". The lineup features a selection of archival interviews with Morris, the most renown filmmaker in documentary films prior to Ken Burns. Morris' impact upon the art of contemporary documentary storytelling can not be overstated. His director-detective signature has successfully gotten the most out of his subjects, oddballs and icons alike. Morris' offbeat eye matched with his wry personal vision has always focused on the unique qualities of American eccentricity. He redefined nonfiction filmmaking with The Thin Blue Line. This was the very first Errol Morris film I ever saw, and the gripping account of a miscarriage of justice had me completely riveted. I fell in love with documentaries, and I measure every one of them by the high standards set by the revolutionary filmmaker. Morris has continued to tackle stories both big and small bringing an idiosyncratic perspective and philosophical insight to whatever subject piques his curiosity. Errol Morris films scheduled to air include The Thin Blue Line (1988), A Brief History of Time (1991), and The Fog of War (2003).


The next day, on Monday, October 21 the channel presents Alfred Hitchcock's early masterpiece, The 39 Steps. Adapted from a novel by John Buchan, this classic wrong-man thriller is the blueprint for several of the master's later films involving a man on the run, mistaken identity, and a secret spy ring (sound familiar?). Even though those later films are more familiar to the public, The 39 Steps remains one of Hitchcock's cleverest and most entertaining films. I suggest you take the opportunity to see it on Criterion and then watch Saboteur, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and North by Northwest. You'll see exactly what I mean by the well-established blue print.


Finally, on Friday, October 25 the Criterion Channel presents a Raymond Massey double feature with The Old Dark House and Arsenic and Old Lace. Possessed of one of the most distinctive faces and richest voices in Hollywood history, Raymond Massey cut a striking figure in scene-stealing character roles. He puts his commanding presence to memorable use in two macabre tales of eccentric families hiding some (literal) skeletons in their closets. First, he plays a caught-in-the-rain traveler who takes refuge in the wrong mansion presided over by Boris Karloff as a creepy butler in The Old Dark House. I am unfamiliar with this James Whale thriller, but I am particularly found of the second film in the lineup, Arsenic and Old Lace. Frank Capra’s screwball comedy is set on Halloween, stars Cary Grant, and features Massey as a homicidal maniac who bears a curious resemblance to Boris Karloff. He even has Peter Lorre as a sidekick. It's silly, and charming, and shows Grant giving the most remarkable "triple take". If you love Capra or Grant or both, then you have to see this film. It will really bring the feeling of the season to life, add a whole new character actor to you list of favorites.


To see a full schedule for the month of October just use the above image as a link to the official Criterion Channel website. Give it a good look, and check back in every month. You'll find plenty of reasons to visit frequently.