Every now and then, if there is a movie worth going to see, we take in a matinee at one of the big box multi-theatre’d cinemas. Doesn’t happen that often any more because frankly Hollywood is geared to a younger audience, particularly young men and boys. Today’s Tinsel Town film guys have found more ways to blow things up than Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite. But occasionally along comes a movie made for adults. Just about a week ago, among all the movie line-ups at Dayton theaters there was actually one such movie appealing to mature audiences.
The ‘house’ was virtually filled with fellow senior citizens when we arrived, intentionally late, mid-way through the never-ending fifteen-minute string of upcoming movie previews. My hearing is not what it used to be (just ask my wife), but for whatever reason, the theatre cranks up the audio so loud it causes white caps on my soft drink. Maybe it’s designed to cover the sound of the popcorn munching going on. But I’d prefer it if they’d just hand me the list on paper to take home to read.
We also have a problem with the prices. Last week it cost us $18 for two senior matinee tickets and another $14 or so for a small popcorn and drink. I thought about how expensive things have become, not only when I emptied my wallet at the concession stand, but later recalling my boyhood 25-cent movie-going days back in the early 40’s. Matinee prices were even less. And the day’s popular movie snacks were 10 cents or less: Jujubes, Raisnettes, Goobers, Milk Duds, Sno Caps, some if not all of which still beckon from today’s glass concession cases; but I guarantee you, not for 10 cents. Try $2-3 bucks a box or bag, and you’ll be closer to the truth and deeper into your entertainment budget.
Back to yester-year. We had four single-screen theatres in our northeastern Ohio steel town, which all tolled would be roughly eleven or twelve less movie screens than each of the big theatres offer patrons today. In 1940, the downtown Strand Theatre, probably seated, at most, around 100 patrons.We rarely went there, and I guess that was the case for most folks, because to entice us to come, they had a drawing – “Dish Night” – on Wednesday’s for a set of dinner dishes.
Doesn’t sound like much of an incentive these days, but coming out of the depression, that was a pretty big deal. I clearly remember that because I worked at the Carnegie Library shelving books, and one of the older librarians would have me sneak downtown on Wednesday afternoons to purchase a ticket she never used. Just wanted to be eligible to win that set of dishes. As far as I can remember she never won. And not all of the returned books got shelved that day either.
A few blocks away, the Morrison, just up the street from the bank, was fancier, with a long curving carpeted staircase leading to the balcony, and fake potted palms around the lobby. The seats were plush and velvety. But nothing to compare with today’s soft leather lazy boy type recliners. We liked the Morrison because in addition to the movies they offered two or three movie ‘shorts’ – always a continuing series (equivalent to today’s TV shows) like the “Golden Mask” or Charlie Chan. And occasionally a film of one of the day’s big bands or other popular performers.
Uptown, adjacent to the college campus, was the Mt. Union Theatre where I first saw ‘Gungadin” (the classic set in British India about a native waterboy who gives his life to save some British soldiers), featuring Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. And later the epic celluloid of Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War-based “Gone with the Wind.” Not necessarily a flick for a young boy to grasp, but easier than trying to read the book whose weight itself was in the class of one of General Sherman’s cannon balls. Which causes me to remember the old joke about two billy goats enjoying lunch in the lot out behind the Selznick studios. One of them was munching on Gone With the Wind film cuttings from a can. The other stopped his own snack long enough to ask: “How’s that taste?”
But my favorite theatre was the Columbia, on the street by the same name, also near downtown, where one Saturday afternoon (between reels of his latest hit western) Tom Mix, the real ‘live’ movie cowboy himself, making one of many public appearances in little theatres around the country, rode on to and across the stage on his famous horse, Tony. “Wow! Cheese & crackers.
Well, I have to tell you that was some terrific 25-cent afternoon of pure joy; remembered long after the last Goober had disappeared. Actually, never to be forgotten. Honestly, I’m not quite sure what all of this means, if anything, to you, but I will tell you I didn’t come away from last week’s $32 matinee with even half a Raisnette’s feeling that I felt that day some 70 years ago. Sure, last week’s movie itself was wonderful. The popcorn, not bad. Coulda used more butter. But, the star never rode out on the stage in her Ferrari. And there was no dish drawing either. Okay, okay. I did like the recliner.
Mel Grossman is a local resident and guest columnist.