Five to Watch: Classic Hollywood on BBC iPlayer

Dan Norman June 11, 2020
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

BBC iPlayer has uploaded a selection of films from RKO Pictures – one of the studio giants from Hollywood’s Golden Age. The list includes some of the biggest, best, and most influential films in history – all scheduled to stay up on the iPlayer for over a year.

Here are five we recommend – with bonus picks for anyone wanting to take a deeper dive into what’s on offer.

Bringing Up Baby

Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and a couple of leopards join forces to bring us this screwball-comedy classic. Number 14 on the American Film Institute’s list of the ‘Funniest American Movies’, Howard Hawks’ film paved the way for the modern romantic comedy. Hepburn’s cavalier heiress drags Grant’s meek paleontologist into chaos as he tries to persuade her aunt to donate to his museum. Two of the greatest stars Hollywood has ever produced at their very best.

If you liked this: Why not try My Favourite Wife? Cary Grant is paired with Irene Dunne this time, in a story of a man whose first wife returns after seven years presumed dead.

Wrath of Man | Official Trailer

Citizen Kane

A popular choice for the greatest film ever made. If you’re into film you’ve probably already decided whether or not you’re interested in watching Orson Welles’ magnum opus. But if you’re curious, then here it is. Welles commands the screen as we watch the rise and scandal-ridden fall of an enigmatic and powerful man.

If you liked this: Despite Kane’s lofty reputation, there are some who argue it isn’t even as good as Welles’ next film, The Magnificent Ambersons. Luckily, iPlayer has made that one available too. Be warned though, Welles himself considered the film ‘severely damaged’ after the studio removed 45 minutes from his original cut.

Fort Apache

Though Westerns were hugely popular through the 1930s and 1940s, there’s not a lot on offer amongst this selection. Fortunately, those that are available were directed by John Ford, king of the genre.

Here he’s joined by Henry Fonda and, of course, John Wayne, playing cavalry officers at odds with one another. The film pointed the way towards a more sympathetic portrayal of Native Americans within a genre often determined to demonise them.

If you liked this: The other John Ford and John Wayne Western available is She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. Wayne’s cavalry captain saddles up for one last job before he can ride off into the sunset.

King Kong

The world-famous story of a director, an actress, an island, a gorilla, some airplanes, and an awful lot of screaming. So beloved and iconic that they put the poor gorilla through it all again in the 1970s and once more in the 2000s.

If you liked this: There’s nothing quite like King Kong (except for those remakes). However, Cat People is another influential early horror that plays on fears about the animal kingdom, female sexuality, xenophobia and race. And if you like that, then there’s also the sequel.

Top Hat

The crown jewel of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers pairing, with a helping hand from Irving Berlin. Enjoy some 1930s glamour as Rogers mistakes Astaire for her best friend’s ne’er-do-well husband and treats him with the appropriate disdain. That is, when they’re not dancing Cheek to Cheek.

If you liked this: iPlayer are clearly quite big on Fred and Ginger. Carefree and The Gay Divorce are available if you want more of their double act. Alternatively, if you prefer one to the other, then take your pick between Vivacious Lady (Rogers), Kitty Foyle (Rogers), and The Sky’s The Limit (Astaire).

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A screenwriter and sometimes a writer of other things, living in York.