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YouTube: the home of great movies…

We’ll happily spend substantial amounts of time there (more time than we initially intended, usually) chain-watching cat videos, comedy skits, makeup tutorials and assorted other forms of short-form video debris, but something about watching films on YouTube sounds a bit wrong. YouTube is a grainy distraction, a working-hours time-waster, its best bits shared and disseminated via email and social media – but would you specifically sit down before it of an evening and press play?

It’s a more viable option than some of you might think. Many a young, broke or at-wit’s-end cinephile without access to specialist subscription streaming services or swanky Blu-ray reissues has turned to the world’s biggest video-sharing website to find vintage films, both classic and obscure. The picture quality may be variable – though often no worse than some of the cheap, unrestored DVD transfers available as alternatives – but when the films are easily, legally accessed and free, it’s not hard to understand why some deem it worth a bit of murk.

At any resolution, there can hardly be a better video on all of YouTube than the full version of Howard Hawks’s delicious, hyper-verbal 1940 screwball comedy His Girl Friday. I may have seen it a half a dozen times and own it on Blu-ray, but somehow knowing that I’m seconds away from its dizzy verbal ping-ponging is oddly comforting while I’m using the internet to more humdrum ends. I admit I’ve clicked to it as an instant pick-me-up before.

Ditto the black-and-white champagne sparkle of the quicksilver Carole Lombard farce My Man Godfrey (1936), which popped up as a tasty option in YouTube’s sidebar of suggestions, or the still exquisitely timed slapstick of Buster Keaton’s The General, another gleaming, accidental find in the haystack. As per

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