Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Raised on the mother's milk of the Saturday Afternoon Matinee

When I was a kid, my mom and dad would take me and my brother to the drive-in to see movies like "Jailhouse Rock" with Elvis. I also remember my parents taking us to the Fox Theater in Redondo Beach, CA. to see the monster film, "The Monster That Challenged the World" where giant mollusk monsters attack coming up out of the sea. Since the Fox Redondo was situated next to the Pacific Ocean, I'll never forget my dread that we might see one of those monsters rising up out of the water on our way back to our car. 

On another occasion, my mom chaperoned me and my friend on a Friday night to see The Spirit of St. Louis" with Jimmy Stewart. What a great film. I felt like I was there in the cockpit with Charles Lindbergh as he was battling fatigue and an annoying fly buzzing around the cockpit.
If Hollywood films were my movie cradle, then Saturday afternoon matinees were my mother's milk, once my mom decided to let me venture out with my friends to the Park Theater on Crenshaw Blvd. in Gardena. She had to overcome the thought of me being run over by a car or beat-up by some neighborhood thugs. Those were the days when no one ever thought about their kid being abducted.

Our first stop was Sav-On Drugs where we could buy 3 candy bars for 10-cents, or 8 candy bars for 25-cents. Even then this was an amazing price and it was several decades before they downsized the candy bars. Even if you decided to buy candy from the theater snack bar, the price was more like 15-cents for a Butterfinger candy bar, and 25-cents for popcorn.

Today, you have to take out a loan to buy popcorn and soda at your local cinema. The matinees seemed to go on forever with movie trailers, Roadrunner, Bugs Bunny & Disney cartoons, shorts like The Three Stooges, and then a double-feature. This was before movie ratings, so you might see a Bob Hope movie paired with Paul Newman's "Long Hot Summer" which was definitely an adult film. But more often than not,  the films would be suited for kids with features like Francis, the Talking Mule, and the Absent-Minded Professor, or Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein paired with Michael Landon in "I Was a Teenage Werewolf."

My tastes were varied and I could just as easily enjoy "The Pit and the  Pendulum" starring Vincent Price and Peter Lorre, the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific, "Lawrence of Arabia" with Peter O'Toole, or Ben-Hur with Charlton Heston.

It was the Saturday matinees that started my love affair with motion pictures. In college, I traveled in my VW bug to see the student films at USC and UCLA. I saw the student films of George Lucas (before Star Wars' fame), as well as Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard (after his stint as Opie on Andy Griffith). I also remember an assignment in a college design course which required all of us to go to UCLA on a Thursday night to see Lawrence Olivier's Wuthering Heights, made in 1939 in beautiful b&w. It was BORING and I think I slept through most of it. But the accompanying feature awakened me from my slumber and made my entire trip to Westwood worthwhile: "To Kill a Mockingbird" with Gregory Peck. It too was in b&w but I could not have cared less. I was drawn in to the story of Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the South during the depression who decided to defend a black man. 

This film was so atmospheric. You felt the summer heat wave as Atticus walks in loosening his tie and wiping the perspiration off his forehead. For two hours, this film, told through the eyes of his daughter, Scout, made me feel like I was in the South during the depression and it gave me a glimpse into racism, fear, ignorance and hatred. This film was also the acting debut of Robert Duvall as Boo Radley.

I still have a love for movies and over the years have developed a taste for foreign films. I don't have any problems with subtitles. In fact, I prefer subtitles any day to a dubbed film. (Check out my Pinterest board of favorite documentary films.)

Finally, living here in Western Kentucky, I meet Christians all the time who never go to the movies, and never went to movies as a kid--unless it was a Billy Graham film, or something really gripping like "Thief in the Night." No offense cause I was "saved" at a Billy Graham Crusade and felt that some of the Billy Graham films were pretty decent and entertaining as well as presenting the gospel. I wish I could say the same for "Thief in the Night." But, if all you were able to watch were "Christian films" while growing up, I feel sorry for you. You missed some really great movies, some cinematic masterpieces, which for me personally, opened up the world and brought me face to face with some unforgettable actors in roles I'll never forget.

I am thankful that my mom and dad placed a quarter in my hand every Saturday so I could go to the matinee. It was money and time well-spent. 

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