The classic films you should watch at the BFI Film On Film Festival

Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce (right) in Mildred Pierce.
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This week, the BFI is showing a selection of films on celluloid – here are the classical movies we recommend you see, and when they’re screening.

There are few things better than the whir of film as it’s stripped through projectors. The click of reels slotting into homes as the brown and black celluloid is fed through the spools and machinery. The hum and crackle as the lights burst through the small window of the projection booth and land glorious on the screen.

This week marks the start of the BFI’s incredible Film on Film Festival. From Thursday 8th June to Sunday 11th June, BFI will play host to historic and new films. They are all, however, played on celluloid!

This weekend’s festival is going to be a smorgasbord of phenomenal films, playing at BFI Southbank in London. 

So, to celebrate, here are some highlights of the films I think that you should watch.

Honourable Mentions: Manning Haynes silent comedy film Sam’s Boy (1922), Vincent Price’s horror outing House Of Wax (1953), and Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s dark musical It’s Always Fair Weather (1955)

Mildred Pierce (1945)

Dir. Michael Curtiz
Opening Night: Thursday 6 June, 18.00

Joan Crawford leads this incredibly moody and terrific film noir from the director of Casablanca (that would be Michael Curtiz, Taika Waititi).

Mildred Pierce is based on a novel by James M Cain. It revolves around the titular character whose second husband is murdered and her first husband is accused of committing the crime. As Mildred tells her story, she reveals to the police the sadness and the strife that she has suffered that has led her to such anguish.

Crawford is on top form as Mildred, a woman who tries for a better life but is thwarted by circumstance. However, it is Ann Blythe who steals every scene that she’s in as Mildred’s viperous daughter Veda.

Working Girls (1931)

Dir. Dorothy Arzner

Thursday 6 June, 18.20

This is one of the first Pre-Code films I ever watched – back in LA for an Arzner Double Bill (alongside The Wild Party).

Written by Zoe Akins and based on a play by Vera Caspary and Winifred Lenihan, Working Girls revolves around two sisters – Mae and June – who move to New York from the country. Though they have no interest in romantic relationships, their pursuit of careers leads them to unexpected boyfriends.

Held together by raucous and hilarious performances by leading ladies Judith Wood and Dorothy Hall, this is an entertaining movie. It is also Arzner’s favourite film that she directed – and what better way than to see it on the big screen?

Blood And Sand (1941)

Dir. Rouben Mamoulian
Sunday 11 June, 13.50

Vicente Blasco Ibanez’s 1908 novel about bullfighting in Spain was previously adapted to the big screen in 1922, starring silent film star Rudolph Valentino. However, director extraordinaire Rouben Mamoulian dazzles with his sun-soaked Technicolor adaptation.

Starring Tyrone Power and Rita Hayworth, Blood And Sand revolves around Juan, a matador in Spain who has been marred by criticism all his life. When he goes off to train to be a bullfighter, he leave behind a childhood sweetheart. As his stardom begins to rise, Juan is pulled to a lavish world but pulled away from the life and love within his heart.

This vibrant and exciting outing is a mastery of Technicolor, using the backdrop of Mexico City to enhance the story. Powers is always immense to watch as a somewhat action star whilst Hayworth is an excellent vamp, trying to seduce Juan into her extravagant lifestyle.

Service For Ladies aka Reserved Ladies (1932)

Dir. Alexander Korda
Sunday 11 June, 11.00

One of the oldest ever prints to be projected to a UK audience, this is one of the most unmissable movies of the entire Film on Film Festival.

Plus, Leslie Howard is always a delight to watch on the big screen. Here he stars as Max Tracey – a head waiter at an exclusive London hotel, which means he is privy to all the scandals of the wealthy socialites. However, when he falls in love with Sylvia – a rich, beautiful woman, he masquerades as an Austrian prince to win her affections.

This rip-roaring English comedy film starring Leslie Howard was voted the second-best British film of 1932 (no word on what was the first). There was previously a silent version of this movie with Adolphe Menjou, however, it’s considered a lost film.

Reign Of Terror (AKA The Black Book) (1949)

Dir. Anthony Mann
Sunday 11th June, 20:30

A spy thriller film noir set in the French Revolution? Yes please!

This incredible outing sees the rise and downfall of the blood thirsty dictator Maximilien Robespierre. He strove to be the country’s Dictator and ruled over the country with death. However, Marquis de Lafayette asks Charles D’Aubigny to help overthrow Robespierre by infiltrating the Jacobin Party.

Featuring Robert Cummings, Richard Basehart, and Ariene Dahl, this is a violent and dark journey into France’s history, played out as a nightmarish noir. Intense, brutal, and utterly captivating.

The First Born (1928)

Director Miles Mander
Friday 9th June, 14.30

Directed by Miles Mander, who also stars, and writes the script alongside screenwriting legend Alma Reville (who would become Alma Hitchcock), this is a taut drama about the double-standards of the upper elite.

The First Born revolves around politician and notable philanderer Sir Hugo Boycott whose devoted wife Lady Madeline cannot give him a child. Desperate, she secretly adopts a child and passes it off as her own. However, Hugo is an appalling cheater and soon his jealous mistress discovers the ruse.

A somewhat raunchy affair which has cinema’s supposedly very first nipple shot, this is probably the best work from Mander as well as boasting an effective performance by Madeleine Carroll.

Restored from a tinted nitrate print, this is going to be a gorgeous presentation.

You can find our more about the festival itself, here

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