Kanopy is one of the best kept secrets of the streaming world. A free service available through most public and college libraries, it features a robust selection of American indies, foreign films, and educational programming. And thanks to deals with Criterion, Kino Lorber, the Cohen Film Collection, and other libraries, it has perhaps the most impressive line-up of classic and foreign cinema outside of The Criterion Channel. There is a catch, however; Kanopy restricts users to a limited number of items per month. That makes it a great supplementary service, but hardly a replacement for your subscription service(s) of choice. Given that, it is a great supplement to Netflix or Amazon or Hulu, which all favor contemporary over classic offerings. And when it comes to noir, it delivers the goods.
Let’s start with Sunset Boulevard (1950), the blackest of Hollywood’s self-portraits, starring Gloria Swanson as former silent-movie queen Norma Desmond and William Holden as a failed screenwriter with a mercenary streak. Billy Wilder makes his scabrous and acidic exposé of Hollywood’s living graveyards both ghoulish and tragic.
Joan Crawford earned her third and final Oscar nomination as a Broadway playwright married to a scheming younger actor (Jack Palance) in Sudden Fear (1952). The screenplay makes ingenious use of a dictating machine as both a plot device and a dramatic element, and director David Miller showcases the San Francisco locations to great effect as the film slips from sunny romance to the inky night of murderous intent.
Also making great use of San Francisco is Woman on the Run(1950) with Ann Sheridan and Dennis O’Keefe. This terrific independent production was orphaned for years and only available in poor editions until it was restored by the Film Noir Foundation and UCLA Film & Television Archive in 2014. Kanopy presents this edition, which was released on Blu-ray/DVD by Flicker Alley in 2016, along with two additional Film Noir Foundation restorations: Too Late for Tears (1949) with Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea and The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950), also shot in San Francisco and featuring a superb use of the Presidio’s Fort Point in the third act.
Frank Borzage’s Moonrise (1948) is film noir as a dreamworld haunted by ghosts and sins of the past. The small-town crime drama turned psychological odyssey is filled with poetic imagery, eerily expressionistic flashbacks, and floating camera movement giving it the texture of a silent movie in the sound era.
Detective Story (1951), featured at 2019’s NOIR CITY 17, could be the godfather of the TV-precinct show. Adapted from the stage and set over the course of a long shift in a detective squad room, it juggles cases and characters while self-righteous cop Kirk Douglas uses his own moral yardstick to administer justice.
Fritz Lang’s World War II thriller Hangmen Also Die! (1943), which turns the assassination of Heydrick in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia into a wartime noir, and Scarlet Street (1945) come from Kino Lorber’s excellent editions, as does Orson Welles’ The Stranger (1946). And from the Cohen Film Collection come a pair of costume noirs from Douglas Sirk featuring a droll George Sanders: A Scandal in Paris (1946), with its delightful studio recreation of 19th-century Paris, and Victorian mystery Lured (1947) with Lucille Ball as a brash American showgirl in London.
Still unavailable on DVD in the U.S. (though that may be rectified later this year), the British It Always Rains on Sunday(1947) twines the stories of working-class civilians and underworld criminals who are more connected than they realize. Robert Hamer directs this handsome mix of British Noir and social drama for Ealing Studios. Fans of BritNoir can also enjoy the original Brighton Rock (1948) with Richard Attenborough in his most sociopathic turn, They Made Me a Fugitive (1947) with Trevor Howard, and 1960’s The Criminal(aka Concrete Jungle) with Stanley Baker. All editions are provided by Kino Lorber.
Jean Gabin is a haunted outcast in Marcel Carne’s shadowy Le Quai des brumes (aka 1938’s Port of Shadows) and an elegant old-school gangster in the mercenary post-war Paris underworld in Jacques Becker’s Touchez pas au grisbi (1954), two of the best continental noirs. Jean-Pierre Melville took the romance of the French gangster film into the modern world with the elegant, elegiac Bob le flambeur (1956) and played further variations with Two Men in Manhattan (1959) and Le doulos (1962). Less well known and worthy of rediscovery is René Clément. 1947’s The Damned (aka Les maudits) is a dark twist on the classic platoon film set on a doomed submarine mission of Nazi leaders, opportunists, and collaborators in the final days of the war in Europe. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the submarine adds to the toxic portrait of the so-called Master Race in collapse. All in French with English subtitles.
Moving out of the classic noir era, there’s Private Property(1960), a sexually-charged psychological thriller set in the sunny Hollywood Hills culture of affluence and trophy wives with Corey Allen and Warren Oates as outlaw drifters on the California coast. It was considered lost until its 2016 restoration and rerelease. John Frankenheimer’s Seconds(1966) takes noir expressionism into social commentary, conspiracy, and nightmarish alienation, and moving into the seventies there’s Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) and Peter Yates’ The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973).
One final note: anyone who spent any time searching for noir in the days of video stores and local UHF TV knows about the often risible editions of films that fell into the public domain. Kanopy has done its due diligence; the editions of Phil Karlson’s Kansas City Confidential (1952) and Sam Fuller’s The Naked Kiss (1964) provided by the European company NYX Channel are very watchable, far better than the cheap YouTube uploads and superior even to most versions available on Amazon Prime Video. NYX Channel also provides good streaming editions of The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), D.O.A. (1949), The Hitch-Hiker (1953), Suddenly (1954), and The Man with the Golden Arm (1955).
As with any streaming service, new titles are added each month and other programs are dropped, so the biggest frustration you may find is trying to see everything that interests you before they rotate out of the line-up.
Kanopy is currently supported by Roku, FireTV, AppleTV, and Apple and Android media devices, and is accessible through the website via laptops.