Film classics from the Internet Archive’s public domain collection

His Girl friday
Screenshot from the screwball comedy His Girl Friday,
a film which is freely available though the Internet Archive

I watched His Girl Friday for the first time this evening and it was quite impressive -I am still recovering from the barrage of piercing dialogue shot at me, as if with a machine gun, for over an hour. Much to my surprise, the film is much darker and political than most screwball comedies I have seen. But I am not posting a review of this movie, but rather to direct you to the unbelievable film resource that is the Internet Archive.

After finishing this film I wanted to find out what the idiomatic expression “His Girl Friday” means, or meant. I had heard a few people use it in my childhood, and when my wife asked me if I could explain its meaning – I froze. Such a moment is not easy for one who takes great pride in being well-versed in all things slang. So, in a state of resignation, I turned to the internet but alas with no luck (so another alternative is Gardner, for some reason I think he’ll know this). However, all is not lost for I did serendipitously stumble upon a far greater prize that the signification of an idiomatic expressions from the 40s: the public domain film collection of the Internet Archive.

Recently I published some thoughts on horror movies, wherein I noted that The Night of the Living Dead is in the public domain and freely available through the Internet Archive to anyone with an internet connection. During my stunted search for slang this evening, I realized that there are many, many more great films made available by the Internet Archive -it is truly the site that just keeps on giving!

The site provides smaller versions of these films that are a quick download (and readily compatible with a video iPod as mp4s which I am well aware is sacrilege for many purists) as well as larger, higher-resolution versions (around 3-4 gigs). And while the transfer quality on the larger versions may not match that of a digitally mastered DVD, there are some useful tools that would allow you to quickly and easily edit and compile clips from these movies for entertainment, intellectual, instructional, and/or creative (i.e.mash-ups) purposes. And all this joy is made available to us (the John & Jane Q. Publics of the world) gratis.

I have listed some highlights from the collection below (interesting that one could take a trip through the cinema of German Expressionism without ever using Netflix!):

The Cabinet of  Dr Caligari
Screenshot from The Cabinet of Dr Caligari a tour de force of German
Expressionism that has the craziest filmsets you’ll ever see!

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9 Responses to Film classics from the Internet Archive’s public domain collection

  1. Gardner says:

    It’s a great film, this is a great post, and while I did not know (or perhaps had known and forgotten) the answer myself, the OED revealed it to me: a “girl Friday” is a female version of Robinson Crusoe’s helper. The definition reads, “a resourceful young woman assistant (to a man).” So far it’s the only entry I’ve seen in the OED that refers to Cary Grant. I hope it’s not the last.

    We need to keep this movie conversation going.

  2. jimgroom says:

    You are a very resourceful chap! Thanks for the clarification and I will be sure to keep the conversation going for I had some really interesting ideas while working through the internet archive’s resources last night. For example, how about creating a serialized video blog that integrates videos clips and extended commentary about a number of films. Another one was to use the resources to setup an itunes/video iPod subscription viz-a-viz a serialized videoblog that offers regular releases of public domain shorts (some of the campy serials, say of Flash Gordon) that are accompanied by a well-researched reading and discussion of the place of these serials in the film world of the 1940s. Kind of like Vintage Tooncast, but with a more robust historical/literary approach to film.

    Cool, right?

  3. Gardner says:

    Right! Sign me up.

  4. Inversarium says:

    Heyyy. Some great movies you’ve listed there. I had no idea they were available at the Internetarchive. Great post. This is the second post i’ve read after the Bluehost Blues one and I love your blog now :D.

  5. Jim says:

    Thanks Inversarium, I appreciate your blog patronage. I’ll do my best to keep the hits coming, in particular I am considering videopodcasting some old Flash Gordon serials I found on the internet archive, truly fun stuff. So stay tuned to your favorite bat channel!

  6. Rawkcuf says:

    Actually ‘Girl Friday’ is a reference to Robinson Crusoe’s assistant Friday. It means that although shes a woman, shes just a helper. (And in the instance of the movie, ironically used…) Its a common enough term used by people who read books.

  7. jimgroom says:


    Its a common enough term used by people who read books.

    Yeah, that must be my problem you pompous ass.

  8. Pingback: Old Movies and the Internet « Celeste LeCompte

  9. Fredrik says:

    I second the motion for a video blog. Great idea! I am not the one to do it, though, but in the meantime, you can always hop over to my own (regular) blog about movies found on the Internet Archive, Silver in a Haystack.

    As you say, the IA is a wonderful resource, but the films you list are only a drop in the ocean, and it can be hard to find the gems in the midst of all the trash that is also to be found in the archive. Of course, my blog is only one man’s opinion, and sometimes a bit on the odd side, but I am hoping that it can be one tool to help finding the good stuff.

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