The new NBCUniversal streaming app offers a respectable roster for film fans.
Classic-film fans love to share tips on where their favorites can be viewed, from YouTube links to movies in the public domain to Amazon Prime Video, Tubi and other streaming sites. From NBCUniversal, the aptly named Peacock entered this increasingly crowded field on July 15th, and if you haven’t yet signed up or downloaded the app, a respectable (and surprising) roster of classic films might compel you to do so.
A deep dive into Peacock’s offerings reveals that, unlike other streaming services (we’re looking at you, Netflix), classic films make up a respectable percentage, grouped into themes that include “Golden Age of Hollywood: 1930s,” “Hitchcock: The Master of Suspense,” and an overall “Classics” category. As a bonus: Many of these films are available for free viewing. Again setting itself apart from its competitors, Peacock launched with a three-tiered program: free viewing, a Peacock Premium plan for $4.99 a month, and a Peacock Premium Plus plan for $9.99 a month (viewing movies and TV programs comes with short commercials at the very beginning, but otherwise showings are uninterrupted). The service already has won praise for its healthy selection of free movies and TV shows, which in the classics category include everything from 1933’s The Invisible Man to full seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Peacock also features Alfred Hitchcock Hour in its Premium plan).
For fans of classic film and fashion, Screen Chic has put together this roundup of eight stylish films, each available for free viewing, and you can check out the other offerings at PeacockTV.com …
Rear Window (1954)
Starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Costumes by Edith Head
Edith Head’s designs for Grace Kelly consistently rank high in favorite fashion-in-film moments among fans of classics, and the legendary costume designer likewise positioned both Rear Window and working with Grace Kelly among her all-time favorite projects. This story of James Stewart’s L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries, as a photographer who is recovering from a broken leg and thinks he sees something suspicious from a neighbor in an adjacent building, could have been thoroughly unexciting in its costumes, if Kelly had not been cast as the ultra-stylish Lisa Fremont, a New York fashion professional who swans in and out of Jeff’s apartment in a succession of couture-level looks. Hitchcock’s blondes were always the height of fashion in cinema, but with the possible exception of To Catch a Thief, none of his films surpasses Rear Window in costumes that fans still love to covet.
Starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant
Directed by Stanley Donen
Hepburn’s costumes by Hubert de Givenchy
Audrey Hepburn plays an unhappily married woman who returns to Paris from a ski trip to find her husband murdered and her posh apartment empty. Cary Grant is the handsome stranger who had flirted with her at the ski resort and then turns up in Paris, though his motives are suspect almost from the start. Equal parts frothy and mysterious, Charade showcases the actress at the height of both her style-icon fame and her role in fashion’s most celebrated designer-muse relationship, with “Miss Hepburn’s clothes by Givenchy” announced in the opening credits. From chic sheaths and cunning coat-and-dress combinations to the perfect accessories Hepburn wears throughout, Charade is a must-see film for fans of Hepburn and fashion alike. For proof, watch the film and consider how many of her costumes you would still wear today.
Starring Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren
Directed by Stanley Donen
Costumes by Yves Saint Laurent and Marc Bohan for Christian Dior
Another Stanley Donen film that highlights a stylish woman seemingly in distress, Arabesque doesn’t receive the level of adoration that other great fashion-in-film classics experience, which is precisely why it’s fun to see it among Peacock’s free offerings. This fast-paced story of preventing a hieroglyph-encrypted message from getting into the wrong hands doesn’t get the love of, say, Givenchy’s work in Funny Face or Sabrina, but its fashion pedigree is just as stellar: Sophia Loren personally requested Marc Bohan and Yves Saint Laurent, both under the label of Christian Dior, as the designers of her costumes, and there’s a well-known scene in which she tries on a fab pair of white thigh-high patent-leather boots, surrounded by Christian Dior shoes. Sketches Saint Laurent created for Arabesque also can be viewed at the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris that opened in 2017, nine years after the couturier’s death.
Shanghai Express (1932)
Starring Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook and Anna May Wong
Directed by Josef von Sternberg
Costumes by Travis Banton
One of the most delightful elements of Peacock’s selection is its spotlight on 1930s films, which include a healthy assortment of choices starring Marlene Dietrich; other titles available for free viewing include 1936’s Desire with Gary Cooper, 1932’s Blonde Venus with Cary Grant, and 1939’s Destry Rides Again with James Stewart. Shanghai Express may not boast the power of those co-stars, but that only makes Dietrich’s turn as Shanghai Lily all the more compelling. Costume designer Travis Banton created some truly iconic looks for Dietrich throughout the 1930s, and Shanghai Express is no exception: One detail of her entrance costume, a flurry of lush, iridescent rooster feathers, reportedly was specifically requested by the actress, because she understood exactly the effect they would create, while her black-and-white leather gloves were custom-made by Hermès. Dietrich always believed no expense should be spared in her costumes — an idea that would be most transparent in Hitchcock’s Stage Fright in 1950 — but she also was generous in her praise of the impact von Sternberg and Banton had in conjuring her onscreen style: “Both created my film image,” she writes in her 1989 autobiography, Marlene. “I, spoiled brat that I was, merely had to slip into it and let myself be fawned upon.”
Pillow Talk (1959)
Starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson
Directed by Michael Gordon
Day’s costumes by Jean Louis
Pillow Talk was the first and the best of the “sex comedies” that would thrill fans of Doris Day and Rock Hudson with their combination of comedy and risqué dialogue. It’s notable that 1961’s Lover Come Back, also starring Hudson, and 1963’s The Thrill of It All, co-starring James Garner, also are included for free viewing on Peacock, but anyone desiring a Doris Day binge should start with Pillow Talk, no question. This comedy of love and war that starts with a party line represented a shift in Day’s career, less focused on her singing voice and more on her deft hand with comedy. The costumes by Jean Louis, meanwhile, are pretty terrific in how they showcased this moment in contemporary fashion as it transitioned into a new decade, from his great coat-and-dress combos to the now-iconic white gown Day wears at a nightclub, where her Jan Morrow first meets Hudson’s Brad Allen, who adopts the persona of “Rex Stetson” to ensure she doesn’t catch on that he’s the wolf-like neighbor who’s been dominating their party line. Pillow Talk is also worthy viewing for Thelma Ritter’s turn as Alma, Jan’s housekeeper, but if you’re curious about how influential the costumes for this film ultimately would be, watch 2003’s Down with Love, starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, a spoof not only of the Day/Hudson sex comedies, but also the great costume moments seen in those films.
No Man of Her Own (1932)
Starring Carole Lombard and Clark Gable
Directed by Wesley Ruggles
Costumes by Travis Banton
Years before they became one of Hollywood’s most legendary couples, Carole Lombard and Clark Gable appeared in their first and only onscreen pairing, 1932’s No Man of Her Own. This pre-Code story of a con man who hides out in a small town, and soon falls in love with the librarian played by Lombard, was made when the stars were attached to others: Lombard was married to William Powell, while Gable was in the midst of his second marriage to Maria Langhan, also known as Rhea. No Man of Her Own is also a perfect Depression-era film, thanks to Lombard’s quick ascent from librarian to society wife; the couple returns to New York, and soon enough she’s wearing a succession of glamorous Travis Banton gowns.
A famous anecdote tells of the wrap gift Lombard presented with Gable upon the completion of filming No Man of Her Own: a ham with his photo affixed to it. But years later they would circle back to each other — though she was divorced from Powell, he was still married to Rhea. But this time around, life imitated art, and the sparks flew; Gable and Lombard married in 1939, and were together until her death from a plane crash in 1942.
Imitation of Life (1959)
Starring Lana Turner, Juanita Moore, John Gavin, Sandra Dee and Susan Kohner
Directed by Douglas Sirk
Turner’s gowns by Jean Louis
This remake of the 1934 film starring Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers (based on the 1933 Fannie Hurst novel) decidedly amps up the glamour this time around. In the original, Colbert’s character enjoys some luxe gowns by an uncredited Travis Banton, but in this update, Jean Louis pulls out all the stops, designing a wardrobe befitting the international star that Lana Turner’s character quickly becomes. The 1934 film more closely follows Hurst’s novel, the story of two women who gain fame and fortune thanks to a pancake recipe (though in the book it’s the marriage of waffle and syrup recipes). Restaurants, waffles and syrup are decidedly absent in Douglas Sirk’s version, which portrays Turner as a struggling model and actress, Sandra Dee as her daughter, and Juanita Moore as the woman who organizes Turner’s life while also gaining a home for herself and her daughter, whose light skin causes her to try to pass for white. Both films explore a heart-wrenching mother-daughter dynamic, and both end with tearjerker moments (the 1934 version likewise is available for free viewing on Peacock).
Also earning a mention in the opening credits of 1959’s Imitation of Life is Laykin et Cie, the jewelry firm founded in Los Angeles in 1932, which quickly became a favorite of stars like Gloria Swanson, and offers an additional opportunity to ogle what are likely the genuine diamonds worn by Turner throughout the film.
The Lady Eve (1941)
Starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda
Directed by Preston Sturges
Costumes by Edith Head
This Preston Sturges comedy also is celebrated for another famed designer-actress pairing, as it’s the first time Edith Head designed costumes for Barbara Stanwyck, who plays the daughter in a grifter trio that preys upon the wealthy. As The Lady Eve gets underway, their latest victim is Henry Fonda’s Charles Pike, who’s just emerged from a South American jungle and is no match for Stanwyck’s allure. Or perhaps he is: She falls in love with him, but things go awry when he discovers her nefarious background. Switched identities, clever dialogue and plenty of slapstick — especially from the clumsy Fonda — make this a classic Preston Sturges picture, but Head’s costumes also would become integral to Stanwyck’s career. She fell in love with the designer's understanding of her body type and her ability to create high-fashion looks — so much so, the actress demanded Head’s services in many of her future contracts.