Category Archives: theaters

Turner Classic Movies Is My New Best Friend

As a child I used to love to read movie monster magazines, especially Famous Monsters of Filmland. I used to look at the pictures of all the old horror movies and think how much I’d love to see them. Every Saturday night Chiller theater would play two or three old horror movies, and while I was always hoping for a classic, it seemed more often than not I got The Monolith Monsters.

One of the movies I really wanted to see was a black and white film called The Island of Lost Souls. It was an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. In 1977 Dr. Moreau was remade with Burt Lancaster and Michael York. I got to see that one when it hit HBO and even got to read the Marvel comics adaptation, but The Island of Lost Souls was still just a dream for me. It was even at one point considered a lost film due to the censorship it had faced back when the Hayes Code was in effect for movies.

Another string of films I really wanted to see, but that continuously avoided my viewing pleasure, were the silent film classics of Lon Chaney Sr. I got lucky enough to catch The Phantom of the Opera on PBS one time back in the days of their Matinee At The Bijou program, but never any of the other films that earned him the name “man of a thousand faces”.

About two years ago I started doing a podcast, Cinema Toast Crunch, ( http://www.cinematoastcrunch.libsyn.com )where I would get together with family and friends to watch a movie and immediately review it. It was a lot of fun even if our number of listeners never climbed all that high. After a bit I decided that I would like to try and do a second podcast on movies. This one would concentrate on the Oscar nominated best pictures from each year. As luck would have it, Turner Classic Movies was playing a lot of Oscar nominees and I was able to catch rarities like The Racket and The Crowd that had been nominated at the first Oscars. I also wanted to catch some of the films from this time period that had not gotten nominations just to see what the competition had been like. This required constantly checking the listings for TCM to see if any of these gems were playing.

One night as I was scanning through the upcoming films, a title jumped out and grabbed me. Turner was playing The Island of Lost Souls. The “lost” film from my childhood was going to be playing on my TV after a nearly 50 year wait. I sat my DVR with sweet anticipation and then also found that The Most Dangerous Game was also playing. It joined the list as well.

When I finally had the chance to sit back and watch the movies I was captivated by them. They were everything I had hoped for even if The Most Dangerous Game had never been as huge of a draw for my attention. I was so happy to have finally caught The Island of Lost Souls and scratched it off my movie bucket list. Then Turner decided to help me knock off a few more films by playing a Lon Chaney marathon. Here was my chance to finally see The Penalty, The Unholy Three, Laugh Clown Laugh, and several others.

As much as I love DVDs, and trust me, I love them a lot, Turner Classic Movies has become my new best friend. Many of the films they have offered are not available on DVD, and even many of the ones that are aren’t readily and easily available. The only problem is I don’t have as much time to watch movies now as I did in my youth, and sadly I have a harder time staying up and watching them without falling asleep. If only TCM and DVRs had been around when I truly had free weekends and a 3 months long break every summer. I might never have left my house at all.

Forgotten Films of My Teenage Years

I love movies. You don’t have a collection of nearly 8000 DVDs without having a major affection for the world of cinema. One of the things that still amazes me, however, is how a film can almost completely disappear from the public’s memory. Just the other day I was thinking about several movies that I would love to see again, or better yet pick up on DVD or Blu-ray. Remember these weren’t silent films that were truly lost or destroyed. They weren’t films that were held back or banned by the talent involved or the courts either. None of these were huge hits, but they all got fairly wide releases as far as I could tell.

Partners starring Ryan O’Neal and John Hurt
So Fine also starring Ryan O’Neal
Coast To Coast starring Robert Blake and Dyan Cannon
If You Could See What I Hear starring Marc Singer
Nate & Hayes starring Tommy Lee Jones and Michael O’Keefe
Die Laughing starring Robbie Benson
Americathon starring John Ritter

I would also love to once again see a couple of foreign films I saw at the old Plaza East Cinemas and one I saw at the old Capitol theater.

Shadowman
It’s Not The Size That Counts
Flatfoot

I think the Warner Archives may have a couple of these films and I actually found a region 2 DVD of Shadowman under its original title Nuits Rouges on Ebay recently but was unable to spare the money for it at the time. Of course I’m not saying that these films are impossible to track down. I managed to track down bootlegs of Beyond Westworld and National Lampoon’s Disco Beaver From Outer Space, so if I really wanted these films I’m sure I could find them. Heck some might even be on Netflix. But of those 10 films is there anyone else that remembers all 10 of them? Does anyone remember 5 of them? How about The Fantastic Animation Festival, 20th Century Oz, or The Legend of Hillbilly John?

Some studio spent thousands or millions on these films and now they are nearly forgotten. Well here is my salute to these forgotten if slightly flawed gems. And let’s just throw out Squeeze Play while we’re at it. Now if I could just remember the name of the film about the young girl working her summer at a British hotel…

Last night I was depressed. My health was giving me problems, my finances were out of whack, and I had decided to just sit there and internalize it. I sat down for a few minutes before I went to bed and tried to work some of my issues out by writing about it right here on this blog. When I got up this morning I found out that my post had been chosen as a “Freshly Pressed” winner by Word Press. The funniest thing is that right before I found this out, I was thinking about how depressing the whole post had been and that I would have been better off taking the time to follow the one depression cure that has always worked for me.

I discovered a few years ago that if I wanted to feel better all I needed to do was watch Smokey and the Bandit.
Smokey_and_the_Bandit
There are so many reasons why this works for me. Smokey and the Bandit takes me back to the 70’s. I was a kid without a care in the world. The film tapped into the whole CB radio craze of the time and had an amazing cast. Burt Reynolds was the man back then. Jerry Reed was a singer turned actor that seemed like someone you could have a good time with. Sally Field was shedding the image of the flying nun and was incredibly cute and sexy without being overly sexual. Jackie Gleason was hilarious, which was a real eye opener for a 13-year-old kid that hadn’t grown up on The Honeymooners. And of course the icing on the cake was the presence of Paul Williams. Paul Williams wrote some of the greatest songs of my youth, created one of my all-time favorite soundtrack albums with Phantom of the Paradise (which he also starred in with Gerrit Graham and Jessica Harper), and played Virgil in Battle for the Planet of the Apes which had been my favorite film of all-time just a few years earlier.

So if I had only popped in the brand new Smokey and the Bandit Blu-ray that I got for Christmas last night, I probably wouldn’t have written the post that I did. Sure I might have felt better, but I would never have known the joy of being recognized for my writing. Well except for that one award I got several years ago for my ability to write quality porn for a now defunct web site.

They Don’t Make Movies Like That Any More

When I was a kid movies were a big part of my life. Mom took me to a lot of movies, I saw a lot of advertisements in the morning paper, and I caught tons of trailers on TV or in front of the movies we went to see. I don’t go to as many movies these days partly due to high prices and partly because I work 6 days a week. Newspapers don’t have the big ads any longer. Most of the ads, if there are any ads, either only list the movies by title or they list the theater’s web site. The only thing that has remained constant is that they still run trailers on TV and in front of the movies. Of course these days they also run trailers on the front of DVDs and on the Internet.

As much as the advertising of movies has changed, the types of movies they make have changed as well. When I was a kid there were several types of movies that were very popular that have almost all but disappeared these days.

1. The Car Chase Movie
The drive-ins and theaters were filled with these for several years. The classic formula was evident in films like The Gumball Rally, The Cannonball Run, Eat My Dust, and Vanishing Point. Some car chase movies tried to add a little more in the way of plot elements and took out some of the cars. This led to films like Smokey and the Bandit, Death Race 2000, and Race with the Devil.

There have been a few recent car chase movies, but they don’t have the heart that these movies had. The Fast & The Furious is more about showing off the cars rather than any actual sustained chase. The Death Race remake was more a Nascar version of a car chase movie.

2. Nature Documentaries
It seemed like every month there was a new nature documentary when I was a kid. Most of them were extremely low-budget and produced by some small independent company. Many of them were “four wall” pictures where the distributer would rent the theater (all four walls) for two or three weeks and keep all the ticket receipts while the exhibitor kept all the concession sales. These films were always advertised as being in town for “One Week Only!” until the week was over and then it was “Held Over For One More Week!”. Keep in mind the distributer and the exhibitor already knew that the theater had been rented out for that second week before the first day the picture opened. Films like this included Cougar Country, North Country, The Outdoorsman, and The Ra Expedition. The only recent examples that I can recall are March of the Penguins and a couple of Disney films. Of course Disney made plenty of these films back then as well. They called them True-Life Adventures and had titles like The Living Desert, The Vanishing Prairie, and The African Lion.

3. Sexploitation Films
These were a staple of the drive-ins of my youth. There were movies about stewardesses, cheerleaders, teachers, and in a subgenre all to themselves, women in prison. There was a wonderful book written about these films a few years back and Something Weird Video has rescued many of these films from obscurity and released them on DVD. I watched the Harry Novak classic The Pig Keeper’s Daughter on one of their double feature DVDs a few years ago. These movies weren’t much on plot or acting. There was the flimsiest of plots to keep the story moving, but there was always lots and lots of full frontal female nudity. The closest thing we have these days are made for cable or direct to video stinkers where the women are as plastic as the Mego action figures I grew up with. At least in the days of the drive-in they used real natural women.

Childhood Dreams

I recently found a box of papers that I thought had been lost in one of my moves throughout the years. It contained some small books from grade school book fairs that I had adored, some pamphlets from early trips to Illinois to visit my sister and her family, a paper bag from King’s Island when the characters on the bag were Scooby Doo, The Funky Phantom, Hair Bear, and Dick Dastardly, and other childhood treasures including a notebook full of old Virtue of Vera Valiant comic strips that I had clipped from the Charleston Daily Mail. The crown jewel in this box was my very first scrapbook.

My mom had bought me a large notebook at either Hecks or Arlens or G.C.Murphy. It featured a typical late 60s early 70s age of Aquarius design of the sun with the signs of the zodiac circling it. I had initially taken pen to blank paper and drawn a bunch of pictures in it. I must not have been too thrilled with these pictures because I soon began covering them up with movie advertisements from the Charleston Gazette. Many of these were ads for Disney movies that I had seen or wanted to see. There’s a cartoony looking drawing of Buddy Hackett staring lovingly at Herbie, the Volkswagen, in an ad for Disney’s new movie The Love Bug. Another ad touts “The Greatest Adventure Of Them All” over a drawing of a pirate attack from Walt Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson in Technicolor Panavision (Starts Wednesday at the Kearse).

There are lots of non Disney ads as well. Cougar Country (In Color) was Coming Soon one ad exclaimed. Another ad promised “The Greatest Hunting and Fishing Spectacular Ever Filmed” in an ad for The Outdoorsman (Now! at the Capitol). Yet another ad touts the “Authentic True-To-Life Adventure” of North Country (In Color). Apparently in 1971 it was still necessary to advertise the fact that your film was in color. As you can tell most of the movies I was interested in were about animals. I remember when my mom took me to see The Outdoorsman, she was afraid I would be upset about all of the animals that were being shot and killed by the big game hunters, but for some reason I didn’t pay any attention to that. I just liked seeing the big horn sheep and the bears.

Not all of the ads were for films that I got to see. I have an ad I clipped for K. Gordon Murray’s Rumpelstiltskin that I don’t recall seeing in theaters or anywhere else for that matter. There’s also a pair of ads for the double feature of Sssssss and The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (one for its run at the Valley Drive In and one for its run at the Trail Drive In). I loved monsters almost as much as animals, but there was zero chance of Mom taking me to see these movies even though they were both rated PG.

What’s amazing to me is the number of movies that you hear nothing about anymore as well as the number of theaters that I had forgotten existed. Browns Theater in Cabin Creek? Not a clue, but there it is alongside the Marmet (in Marmet) and the Roxy (in Clendenin) under the more prominent Kearse and Cinema 21 in another larger ad for North Country (Now Showing! One Week Only! In Color!). Does anyone else remember Hang Your Hat On The Wind? or Smith starring Glenn Ford? And where can I find a copy of Journey to the Beginning of Time with its “Authentic Re-creation of Prehistoric Times” not just in color but “In Full Color”?

Of course just like Facebook is not only pictures of cats, my scrapbook was not just movie ads. There were pictures of animals, celebrities I liked (or had at least heard of), obituaries for classmates that died way too young, and other items. There is a wonderful ad from Kmart for Halloween costumes during their “Million Dollar Discount Sale”. You could buy a pirate or a bunny for only 87 cents. If you wanted to dress up like Major Matt Mason or one of the Banana Splits however, it would set you back almost double that; $1.67.

The scrapbook also became the repository for the pictures off of my old Aurora monster models. I was keeping all of my old model boxes, crushed down flat and under my mattress. Mom thought I was crazy for saving them and they were starting to create a bulge in the mattress as well. She convinced me to soak the pictures off of the cardboard and glue them into my scrapbook. Eventually I gave up on trying to soak them off and just glued cardboard and all into my scrapbook.

Not only is this scrapbbook a wonderful trip down memory lane for me, but it reminds me of how much things have changed since I was a kid. They don’t make movies like Cougar Country, North Country, or The Ra Expeditions any longer. At least not with the frequency they made them back then. There are no more drive-ins and no stand-alone theaters in the area. There are more screens, but they are all located in four buildings. Newspapers don’t publish huge ads for new movies with artwork. Movie companies no longer try and produce art style posters for their films. Photoshop has killed the modern one-sheet in most cases. Figure models like the Aurora monster model kits are a thing of the past except for higher priced specialty kits from Moebius and other similar companies. And if you want to buy one of these kits, you won’t find it in your local Walmart or Target. Even the hobby shops have a very limited selection if they have any at all.

Of course one other stumbling block to a scrapbook like this is the slow death of print media. The Gazette and Daily Mail are both still around, but they just aren’t the same as they were. I miss the old days when I would wake up on a cold morning, crawl out of bed in my footie pajamas and plop down in the living room floor in front of our gas fireplace with the morning paper and a bowl of cereal. I started out just looking at the movie ads, but I soon started reading the comics. By junior high I had ditched the footie pajamas for pajamas and slippers and had started reading James Dent’s column The Gazetteer along with Ann Landers. By high school I was actually reading the news as well. I loved to read, and much of that was thanks to the morning newspaper, a family that read to me as a baby, and comic books (which is a topic for another post).