Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bond Is Forever: “Tomorrow Never Dies”

A British ship is deliberately sent off course into Chinese territory and sunk by a drill punching a hole in its side. Media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), having initiated the scheme, hopes that sparking a war between the UK and China will result in such political upheaval in the latter country that he will be granted exclusive broadcast rights. When Carver’s company, the Carver Media Group Network, runs stories with particulars on the attack, MI6 agent James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is assigned a new mission. He recovers a recently appropriated GPS encoder, while China sends its own agent, Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), to investigate Carver as well. The two work together to stop the megalomaniac and to prevent misguided retaliation from either side.

While GoldenEye (1995) was a financial success, it was not a wholly satisfactory film, and Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) is a notable improvement. The dashing and winsome Brosnan could play a role like 007 in his sleep, but he seems to have more fun with Tomorrow Never Dies, and he’s helped by a more engaging storyline and much more exhilarating action sequences. Judi Dench makes a welcome return as MI6 head M, and the always dependable Desmond Llewelyn is his typically charming self (and has one of his best lines in this film, spoken to Bond after the spy flauntingly masters a new gadget: “Grow up, 007!”). Bond’s gadgets include a heavily fortified car, a BMW 750, which can be controlled by a phone (resulting in an exciting chase, as Bond drives his car by remote, safe in the backseat from bullets and rockets). The phone also comes with a fingerprint scanner and an electric shock that can be emitted as a security measure. To be fair, China supplies its own agent with gadgets as well. Wai Lin has an earring with which she can pick locks and a grappling line that she can fire from a metal bracelet.

Tomorrow Never Dies
, however, does has its share of more languid points. While the film’s satire of the media is cleverly implied throughout, the suggestive dialogue is anything but subtle. It gives the impression that the studio and/or writers did not believe audiences were intelligent enough to comprehend dialogue indirectly referring to Bond’s sexual escapades. Carver, as portrayed by Pryce, is one of the least interesting Bond villains, and the fact that his power will be obtained by his control of the media (he explicitly states that words are his weapons) makes him seem less menacing than perhaps he was meant to be (one of his henchmen, Mr. Stamper, played by Götz Otto, proves far more dangerous to Bond and Lin). Likewise, Carver is too blatant and too literal, a bad guy stripped of any personality. He’s like a villainous salad without the salad dressing. In a rather tasteless scene, Carver fervently mocks Lin’s fighting style, an act which borders on racism and which squanders any redeeming qualities he might have had as a villain.

One of the strongest elements of Tomorrow Never Dies is Brosnan’s co-star, Hong Kong actress Michelle Yeoh. At the time of the film’s release, U.S. interest in the Hong Kong cinema was soaring, bolstered by Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx playing on American soil in January 1996. That summer, Dimension Films released Chan’s 1992 Police Story III: Supercop (titled simply Supercop), which had been Yeoh’s comeback film after fives years of cinematic absence. Yeoh was immensely popular when she retired in 1987 (to marry film producer Dickson Poon), but one could hardly tell that she’d been away from the big screen for all those years, as she became a huge star once again (and managed to steal the film from Hong Kong’s most famous and most bankable actor). Yeoh embodies the essence of the Bond films: savvy, proficient, honorable, and, as it happens, astonishingly beautiful. Wai Lin is much more active than most Bond ladies, making her an exceptional and endearing character. Yeoh is my personal favorite of all the female counterparts to Bond, and did I mention that she was astonishingly beautiful?

Yeoh is not the sole representation of Hong Kong films in Tomorrow Never Dies. A Hong Kong cinematic influence is prevalent in parts of the film. Some of the hand-to-hand combat, particularly with Yeoh, displays an obvious Hong Kong flair, but one can also see traces of director John Woo (who had just achieved American success with Broken Arrow, released the previous year, and Face/Off, released mere months before the premiere of Tomorrow Never Dies). At one point, Bond slides on a dolly as a means of escape (and to dodge gunfire), and both he and Lin, during a lengthy action scene, employ a gun in each hand. These are two distinguished components of Woo’s movies, as, for instance, Hong Kong star Chow Yun-Fat slid with his back against a stairway railing while firing two guns in Hard-Boiled (1992).

This was the first Bond film for composer David Arnold. John Barry, the composer for well over half of the 007 movies (including the first, 1962’s Dr. No), reportedly recommended Arnold to producer Barbara Broccoli. Arnold has been the composer for every Bond film since Tomorrow Never Dies. He also wrote a potential theme song for said film, titled “Surrender” and performed by k.d. lang. It was one of a number of songs considered for the opening song. Unfortunately, the studio opted for the rather bland title song performed by Sheryl Crow, but Arnold’s song did play over the closing credits.

Bond has his well known Walthar PPK for a good deal of the film, but he eventually picks up a Walthar P99, which he takes from Wai’s personal archive. The P99 became 007’s gun of choice until the most recent Bond entry, Quantum of Solace (2008), when Bond reverted back to the PPK. Likewise, actor Brosnan was armed with the P99 in movie posters for Tomorrow Never Dies and subsequent Bond films.The title of the film allegedly came about by a mistake. A suggested title, Tomorrow Never Lies (referencing the name of Carver’s newspaper, Tomorrow), was sent to the studio. Apparently, the title was misread and was so well received that it was retained. Look for an early appearance by Gerard Butler, who has a small role as a crew member aboard the British ship at the film’s beginning. Butler would go on to star in A-productions such as Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the Frank Miller grahpic novel, 300 (2007) and, more recently, The Bounty Hunter (2010) with Jennifer Aniston.

This was the first 007 film produced and released without Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, who had died less than a year after the release of GoldenEye. Tomorrow Never Dies was dedicated to the producer.

In spite of its flaws, Tomorrow Never Dies is one of the more noteworthy films in the 007 series. But I will admit that Michelle Yeoh is the main reason that I can watch the film repeatedly. During a chase with Bond and Lin on a motorcycle, the two agents are handcuffed together, and Lin must continually climb around and onto her British counterpart. It’s breathtaking in terms of action but also provocative. When she first sits on Bond’s lap (so that she can see behind them), Lin tells 007, “Don’t get any ideas.” But, of course, by the time she speaks the line, it’s too late.

Any thoughts on Brosnan’s sophomore effort as James Bond?

Bond Is Forever will return next month with Moonraker (1979).

Monday, September 27, 2010

What's Your Favorite Classic Movie Plot Twist?

Warning: The following discussion may include plot spoilers.

Ending a film with a surprising twist isn't as surprisingly as it was once was. In the last 20 years, there have a plethora of movies with twisty conclusions, to include: The Game, The Usual Suspects, The Others, Fight Club, Primal Fear, The Prestige, High Tension, and most of M. Night Shyamalan's pictures.

It wasn't always that way, though. In the classic movie era (silents through the early 1980s), twist endings were far less frequent and perhaps more potent. Why? With today's mass coverage of the film industry, it's hard to go see a movie without knowing it contains a twist. As hard I tried to avoid it, I already knew the plot revelations in The Crying Game and The Sixth Sense before I saw the movies. Contrast that to moviegoers who saw William Castle's Homicidal in 1961 with no knowledge of what was in store for them (other than a "Fright Break",  a typical Castle gimmick).

So what are some of your favorite classic movie twist endings?  To get the discussion rolling, I'll include a few of the most famous ones plus some personal faves:

Planet of the Apes - What Charlton Heston finds in the sand in the closing shot turns this sci fi adventure on its simian head.

Soylent Green - Chuck Heston again. This time, he discovers the real composition of  the "highly nutritious" food of the title.

Between Two Worlds - Passengers aboard an ocean liner make a startling discovery about themselves. Based on Sutton Vane's play Outward Bound and filmed earlier under that title with Lesie Howard--though I prefer to this Warner Bros. remake with John Garfield, Eleaner Parker, and Sidney Greenstreet.

And Then There Were None and Witness for the Prosecution - Two clever twists from the pen of Agatha Christie. The latter depends on the acting ability of a single performer--who pulls it off convincingly.

Psycho - Hitchcock's personally helped market the twist in this classic (his trailer is almost as much fun as the movie). But actually, there are two twists--the first one happening about 1/3 of the way through the film's running time. For those who know what I'm referring to, the same twist was used the same year in Horror Hotel (aka The City of the Dead).

Les Diaboliques - This 1955 French classic is the quintessential mystery in which nothing is as it seems. Remade (somewhat) in the U.S. as Games.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt - Fritz Lang's low-budget flick starts out as an indictment of capital punishment, but the twist puts it in a new light. Not Lang's best, but always interesting and the ending has been copied more than a few times.

The Sting - In a film created to capitalize on the charisma of its two stars, the twist is just icing on the cake...but still tasty icing.

There are just a few twisty samples, so what are your favorites? And would you call the climax to Hitchcock's Suspicion a twist or a just a case of a director changing his mind on how to end his movie?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Trivia Time - Part 52

I guess last week's TT was a little tougher than I thought! Here are the answers to unanswered questions:

Who Am I? #1: Dorothy Adams

Who Am I? #2: Hal Needham

1. The film is The Graduate, and the actors are Richard Dreyfus, Norman Fell, William Daniels, and Mike Farrell.

4. Dorothy Adams

6. Composer David Raskin

8. John Wayne and John Sturges

9. Rick got Eddie Albert and Diana Muldaur; still needed Clu Gulager and Colleen Dewhurst.

10(b). With Six You Get Eggroll

And here is TT #52:

Who Am I? I caused an international incident when I decided to stay in the United States during a brief visit. My wife chose to go back to our native land. In my short film career, I worked with Danny Glover, Viggo Mortensen, John McTiernan, and Patti LuPone, among others. I died at the age of 45 of "natural causes". Who Am I?

Who Am I? I was not an actress, nor did I want to become one. But I was pressured for more than a year by a film maker to star in his movie. After I finally agreed, I was sunburned to the point of blistering on the first day of shooting, injured my neck jumping out of a window, and was frequently suspended in harnesses in front of wind machines. My colleagues from my "day job" never quite trusted me again...from that day forward they viewed me as an "actress". I always felt that it had ruined my primary career. Who Am I?

1. This film was the first non-Disney film to be allowed to shoot scenes at Disneyland. Name the film.

2. Legend has it that this phrase from this John Ford film was the inspiration for a Buddy Holly hit. Give the phrase, the film, and the Buddy Holly song.

3. David Janssen had two TV series after The Fugitive; name them...bonus points for correct order.

4. This David Janssen film has a "Star Trek" connection; name the film and explain the connection.

5. What do these three films have in common: A Face in the Crowd, King Creole, and Fail Safe?

6. Name two future TV stars who had supporting roles in King Creole.

7. The director of this film originally wanted Frank Sinatra and Mitzi Gaynor in two of the main roles. It was one of the few American films ever rated "Condemned" by the Roman Catholic Legion of Decency and was initially banned from release in the state of Kansas. Name the film.

8. Which film features James Darren, Roger Smith and Dick York all in supporting roles?

9. During the making of this film, the female star, irritated by the male star's habit of French-kissing her during their love scenes, slapped him hard when the script called for a slap. The anger in his face is clearly visible in the movie....a true reaction to the wallop. Name the film and the stars.

10. What do these three films have in common: The Harvey Girls, The Valley of Decision, and My Friend Flicka?

Friday, September 24, 2010

I'll Have Some General Custer Grits, a Milkybar, and a Quickie Burger with My Movie

My wife and I are not global tourists, but we were fortunate enough to spend three weeks in Great Britain back in the 1980s--when airfares were cheap and our bodies were young. Armed with nothing more than our BritRail passes and backpacks, we trekked from London to Straford-Upon-Avon to York and deep into Scotland. The highlight of our trip was a visit with Leslie Halliwell, author of The Filmgoer's Companion--but that's another story. This one is about the movie theatres we encountered across the big pond.

We saw our first London film, Personal Services starring Julie Walters, at the Empire 4 in Leicester Square. A large urban theatre, the Empire sold tickets for 4 to 5 pounds, which was probably around $8. Patrons reserved seats on a computer (maybe that was done in NYC or L.A. back home...but not where we lived). The lobby included a bar--not just a snack bar, but one served that alcoholic beverages. There was a Baskin-Robbins in the lobby as well as a video gift shop. There were snacks aplenty, but with unusual names like General Custer Grits (I think they were pork rinds), Quickie-burgers, and Milkybars.  Interestingly, there were no loos (I mean...restrooms) in the lobby--they were located inside the auditorium.

The Empire 4 was a nice enough theatre...although 25 minutes of commercials prior to the feature seemed excessive (especially back then). The bottom line is that it was pretty much a big city movie theatre, not unlike, I suspect, what one would have found in Chicago, New York, or L.A. at the time.

In Bath, we found a movie house with much more ambiance: the appro-priately named Little Theatre. Its exterior, consisting  of whitish stone and old-fashioned framed movie posters, lacked the pizzazz of the ornate movie palaces. But it possessed its own distinct charm, helped immeasurably by its delightful fare of non-mainstream films. Of course, our movie-going experience may have been enhanced by the film we saw there: Claude Berri's tragic classic Jean de Florette. I'm glad to report that the Little Theatre in Bath is still flourishing today and has amassed 411 fans on Facebook.

I confess that I can't recall much about the movie theatre in Edinburgh where we saw John Boorman's Hope and Glory. I just remember that it seemed like the perfect film to see during our visit to Great Britain. When we returned to London at the end of our trip, we were lucky enough to catch Manon des Sources, the sequel (second half is perhaps a better description) to Jean de Florette. Again, the movie dominated its surroundings.

We didn't see a film at the Leicester Square Theatre, but I couldn't pass on the opportunity to snap this photo of its marquee with a statue of the Little Tramp in the foreground.
In the end, we didn't visit any elaborate showcases of cinematic splendor. However, we did get to experience watching a movie in another country, albeit one that speaks the same language. That left us with some great memories which come flooding back whenever we see those movies again. I haven't seen Jean de Florette in a few years, but just thinking of it makes me yearn for a Milkybar!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dial H for Hitchcock: North by Northwest at the to the public

When I was a little girl, the only director whose name I was familiar with was Alfred Hitchcock. Though I didn't see any of his signature films of the era in a theater - Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959) - I must've seen the trailers, because I was well aware that he made exciting, colorful and glamorous movies.

Psycho (1960) was the first Hitchcock film I saw on the big screen, and it was a far cry from his elaborate VistaVision/Technicolor creations of the mid- to late 1950s. I saw Psycho second-run (I was finally old enough) at the local movie house, the Ritz Theater, with a friend who'd already seen it. Pal that she was, she nudged me just as Arbogast reached the staircase landing and a figure with a knife darted toward, naturally, I shrieked long and loud ...

I was fortunate to be able to see Rear Window when it was re-released into theaters in 1984, but have seen most of Hitchcock's films on television. There's no question that his films come through powerfully on TV, but they were made to be seen on a theater screen.

This past July the Rafael Theater screened the silent version of Blackmail (1929). It was an incredible experience; the film exceeded my expectations in just about every way possible. I was surprised that it was so well-crafted and fluid and that it contained so many components that later became Hitchcock trademarks. Accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra underscored the action and added dimension. And it was thrilling to be surrounded by an appreciative SRO audience.

Six weeks later, at noon on Sunday, September 5, the Rafael presented North by Northwest free to the public as part of its quarterly "Everybody's Classics" series. At 11:40 a.m. the line was long, but good seats were still to be had. By show time Theater 1 was packed and anticipation ran high.

Then Bernard Herrmann's pulsing score began and Saul Bass's title sequence of crisscrossing lines filled the screen. North by Northwest was upon us and in just a few exhilarating moments I was whisked into the adventure.

Possibly Hitchcock's quintessential thrill-ride, North by Northwest incorporates many familiar themes and plot elements - an innocent man accused, a romance complicated by mistrust and betrayal, a double chase - the police after the innocent man and the innocent man after the true villain(s), a backdrop of international espionage...

North by Northwest has been linked to two of Hitchcock's earlier classics, The 39 Steps (1935) and Notorious (1946), but by 1959 the director, at the height of his powers, was in a position to control just about every aspect of his films, much more so than he had been 10 and 20+ years earlier.

He was able to get his favorite actor/star, Cary Grant, for the lead. And though he was unsuccessful in enticing Princess Grace back to the screen as his leading lady, he transformed Academy Award-winning method actress Eva Marie Saint into a stunning and complex femme fatale. James Mason, Martin Landau, Leo G. Carroll and Jessie Royce Landis rounded out his first-rate cast.

Bernard Herrmann, who by now had worked with Hitchcock on several films, was just completing the score for the pilot of "The Twilight Zone" when he began work on North by Northwest. Ernest Lehman wrote a sophisticated and witty script for which he earned an Oscar nomination. Oscar winning cinematographer Robert Burks, production designer Robert F. Boyle (also Oscar-nominated for this film) and others with whom Hitchcock had worked over the years joined the collaboration.

All of these ingredients plus glorious VistaVision and Technicolor added up to create one of Hitchcock's most successful films.

I've seen North by Northwest countless times. I felt like I knew the film well, but to finally see it on a movie screen was to see it with new eyes.

Cary Grant's starpower was almost overpowering - his screen persona was that commanding. What grace, what aplomb! It's not surprising that Bernard Herrmann adjusted his score to match what he described as Grant's "Astaire-like agility."

As for special effects, the crop-dusting set piece with its truck-explosion finale and the moonlit chase across the face of Mount Rushmore have long been legendary. Via the big screen I could almost feel the heat of the explosion and smell the night air of South Dakota. As I watched, I was reminded of how the crop-dusting sequence was echoed in early James Bond films...and of Steven Spielberg's homage in Close Encounters (1977) when he nearly replicated the set design of Hitchcock's night-time Black Hills.

Of course, the suspense seemed magnified, but I also noticed the film's humor seemed more overt and the seduction scenes between Grant and Saint more intimate and...erotic. The film was so precisely paced, with suspense building, then relieved with either humor or romance, then building again...

Afterward, I couldn't help wishing I'd been able to see North by Northwest back in 1959 at the Ritz. The young girl I was then would've thought she'd been on the greatest rollercoaster ride of her life!

Alfred Hitchcock has been widely acknowledged for his amazing ability to, with the artful use of various techniques, easily maneuver an audience's emotions and point of view. It's hard to maintain much distance from Hitchcock's best films. This could be why I often enjoy experiencing his films a bit more than I enjoy understanding them.

As with all Hitchcock films, North by Northwest has a a thing or two going on beneath its glossy surface. But on that Labor Day weekend in San Rafael inside a darkened theater full of laughing, sighing, cheering people, I was a kid again for a while. Happily immersed in a suspenseful, clever, sexy adventure, I didn't even notice that, from the first note of Herrmann's score to the final shot of a darkened railroad tunnel, we were all being swept along as if aboard a sleek 20th Century Limited under the command of a brilliant and crafty locomotive engineer.

The Secret Movie Star Game #4

The object of this game is to solve the identity of the secret movie star whose name is spelled vertically in the red boxes. To do that, you must fill in the horizontal rows with names of other famous stars based on the cryptic clues below. Here are some helpful hints to playing:

- There is no connection between the stars in the horizontal rows and the secret star in the red vertical column.

- A star may be identified by his/her first or last name. For example, one of the clues in a previous game was was "June Allyson's husband" and the answer was "Dick" (as in Dick Powell).

- The object of the game is to guess the secret star, so I won't tell you if you got one of the clues correct. Still, you're encouraged to post them and help out one another...but only if you want to!

If no one guesses the Secret Star by on Tuesday night, I'll post the solution. This may be the last edition of the Secret Movie Star Game, so good luck.

1. Her sister had scenes with a smart pig

2. Character actor who had a starring role as private eye opposite Leslie Caron

3. Middle name of actress who starred with Brando and Grant

4. Two-time Best Actress winner

5. The doctor’s friend in big-budget musical flop

6. Mom wrote books, Dad was a big star, and sister was a nanny

7. Barry Manilow’s one-time acting coach

8. One of the owners of the Shiloh

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Trivia Time - Part 51

Great job last week, guys, you nailed all but one! The answer to Trivia Time Part 50, #1: Richard Loo's button in Road to Morocco says, "I'm a Chinese American".

Without further ado, here is Part 51. Enjoy!

Who Am I? My film career as a character actress spans over 40 years. Although I've appeared in several Oscar-winning films, including The Ten Commandments, The Greatest Show on Earth, and The Best Years of Our Lives, very few people know my name. Many of my roles were uncredited, even substantial speaking parts. Who am I?

Who Am I? I'm a stunt man turned director; in the movie mentioned in #s 7 - 9, I broke my back. Who am I?

1. This late 1960s film boasts one future Oscar winner and three future TV stars among the supporting cast; name the film and the actors.

2. The character Mick Travers appears in three separate films; who played him?

3. Name all three Mick Travers films, in order, and who directed each one.

4. What do these three films have in common: An Affair to Remember, Bachelor Mother, and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit?

5. Many film historians feel that this 1950s film has the first modern jazz score; name the film, the composer and the star.

6. What do these three films have in common: Forever Amber, The Bad and the Beautiful, and Capone (1959)?

7. Name the movie that has the line, "Get me out of here! I'm up to my ass in gas!"?

8. Who said the line in #7 and who was the director of the film?

9. Name the two main male co-stars and both female co-stars of the movie in #s 7 and 8.

10. Name the films that contain the following lines: (a) "Your eyes are bluer than Steve McQueen's!" and (b) "You heard your brother, it's a gopher!".

Love, American Style: Truer Than the Red, White, and Blue (Oooh...Oooh...Oooh)

Although Friday night has evolved into a network TV wasteland, there was a time when it featured some of my favorite shows: Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Twilight Zone, The AvengersThe Man from U.N.C.L.E., and...Love, American Style. To be sure, Love, American Style pales in comparison to the aforementioned Friday night classics. I recently viewed some episodes from season 1 and concluded that the series was more hit-and-miss than I remembered. Still, it was--and is--a pleasant show with some great guest stars, a catchy title tune, and a playful sense of humor.

Love, American Style offered a unique TV series format when it debuted on ABC in 1969. It was an one-hour comedy anothology complete with laugh track. Each epsiode featured three "playlets" connected by "blackout skits" (lasting but a few seconds). The playlets were always titled "Love and the (fill in the blank)" and featured that week's guest stars. The casting call for Love, American Style was certainly eclectic and included: Tony Randall, Dorothy Lamour, Julie Newmar, Milton Berle, Burt Reynolds, Sue Lyon, Tom Smothers, Regis Philbin, Christopher George, and others. Many guest stars appeared in multiple episodes (e.g., Stefanie Powers did five).

One of the best segments from season 1 is "Love and the Big Night," which stars Tony Randall as a married businessman who escorts his voluptuous secretary (Julie Newmar) to her apartment after a late night at the office. Eager to get home to his wife, Randall hurriedly tries to open a stubborn jar of mayonaisse and winds up covered with mayo. Newmar cleans his suit, but while it's's stolen. After a series of amusing mishaps, Randall finally gets back to his own apartment and creeps into bed with his wife--only to find out she's not there. It's a clever episode performed with flair by the two stars and includes a satisfying resolution between Randall and spouse.

The most famous segment of Love, American Style was "Love and the Happy Days," which chronicled a couple of teenage friends (Ron Howard and Anson Williams) in the 1950s. The segment was originally produced as a TV pilot, but didn't sell. After it was featured on Love, American Style, ABC expressed an interest in it and the TV hit series Happy Days was born. (It helped that George Lucas's American Graffiti was released around the same time, popularizing teenage nostalgia.)

I suspect many of Love's fans still harbor a special fondness for the blackout skits. These short bits were performed by the series' only regulars: Stuart Margolin (brother of producer Arnold Margolin), James Hampton (F Troop), Phyllis Davis, and others. Many of the blackout skits were silent visual gags, but sometimes they depended on a single line. For example, in the photo shown to the right, the woman states simply: "A penny for your thoughts, Lamar."

The perky theme song was performed by The Cowsills (the real-life Patridge Family) during the first season. Although never released as a single in the U.S., the recording is still included on the Best of the Cowsills album.

Love, American Style ran for four-and-half seasons in both hour and half-hour versions. ABC launched a daytime revival in 1986 called The New Love, American Style, but it was cancelled quickly. However, Aaron Spelling borrowed much of the premise--but interwove the playlets--when he created the long-running hit The Love Boat in 1977.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Bookery: A Place for... Movies?

When I was young, renting a video was a rare experience. My small city didn’t actually have a video store. All it had was a gas station that carried a few VHS tapes (you could get gas there, too, but we never filled up at that station, so it’s never been officially confirmed). It was in walking distance from my house, but my stepfather had to okay each rental, for financial reasons and presumably moral reasons as well. So most of the movies I watched on VHS were of the family variety or sometimes whatever my sister, the oldest of three children, wanted to see. Years later, a grocery store began carrying videotapes available for rental, and by then, I could rent whatever I chose so long as I didn’t develop bad habits (e.g., expressing an interest in butcher knives after watching John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween). I had a bike, and I could have ridden to the VHS-armed grocery store, but it was safer to go the back way than ride on the sidewalk and/or street. The back way was a set of railroad tracks, but trains made few appearances (and nowadays none at all), and when they did, they were slow and easy to avoid.

With little access to VHS, I saw most films on TV. Sometimes I would stay up late to catch a film. There was no DVR or TiVo, of course, and we only had one VCR, which was connected to the 25” family television (aka my stepfather’s TV). Even if I’d been brave enough to touch the VCR and risk irking the iron-fisted owner of the machine and its corresponding TV, I still wouldn’t have been able to program the thing, which was not unlike HAL from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). When we finally got a VCR for my siblings and my movie-loving self, it was actually a VCP. The “P” stood for “player,” and the machine adamantly refused to record anything. Consequently, I would keep late hours with the hopes of seeing an obscure film. Normally, the TV networks would run horror films in the wee hours of the morning, which, not surprisingly, led to my fondness for the genre.

In 1990, we finally got a video store. The Bookery, operated and owned by a sweet, angelic lady named Jackie, began stocking videos to rent. The store had been around since 1980, selling used books (hence, the at-the-time appropriate name). Jackie expanded the business to movie rentals. At first, the selection was minimal, not much better than the gas station and the grocery store. But The Bookery quickly increased its inventory. Before long, I was riding my bike to the store and having to request a sack to carry six VHS tapes (my standard renting amount). Then I was taking a car, and if my brother had the car, I was convincing my mom, my sister or a friend to drive me over to The Bookery.

I never acknowledged my predilection for horror films until I became a regular customer at The Bookery. One day, Jackie made a comment that I always headed first to the horror section, which at the time was near the back of store, past the new releases (she eventually moved the horror films to just inside the front door, which I’d like to think was solely for my benefit). Jackie was right: as soon as I walked into the store, it was like a conveyor belt took me to my favorite genre. But even if I didn’t prefer horror movies, I still would have had a deep respect for Jackie’s horror selection. It’s where I first saw Bob Clark’s classic Black Christmas (1974), Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case (1982), Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) and Phenomena (1984, th
en with the U.S. title of Creepers), and even the hard-to-find The Carrier (1988). Jackie would have each film of a horror series, which, sadly, is not a common practice, as some outlets may have two or three films from a movie franchise consisting of at least seven sequels.

Jackie’s business was a family affair. It was not uncommon to see her mother, her daughter, or her granddaughter behind the counter. I remember once having a late fee on my account (which truly was a surprise, as I had a penchant for always returning movies on time, sometimes returning six 5-day rentals the very next day as an excuse to rent more videos). Jackie’s daughter told me about it, and I was willing to pay because I didn’t want to argue and destroy my Bookery rep. Jackie’s mother, however, refused to believe that I had returned a movie late, and she took the fee off my account, leaving me with a perfect record by the time The Bookery closed its doors. (Technically, my brother had already blemished my record years before, but Jackie kindly overlooked it, knowing who was responsible. Overlooked the blemish, as I had to pay for my brother’s VHS tardiness.)

Aside from my time away at college, I was a loyal customer of The Bookery for many years. In 2007, Jackie announced that she would be selling the business as soon as she found a buyer for her movies. Each of her videotapes and DVDs was for both rent and sale (I bought The Carrier) until another store offered to buy the remainder of her inventory. And then The Bookery was closed. Two years later, Jackie died, leaving a giant hole in my heart.

I miss Jackie and The Bookery dearly. I’ve been a member of a few online DVD rental sites, and while they offer a vast array of choices, it’s just not the same. I miss standing in front of a wall of DVDs and videotapes, scanning every single cover, even though I’d already seen them hundreds of times. I miss Jackie’s gray cat named Blue, who would wait patiently until someone opened the door, so that he could either leave or run back inside. I miss the creaky floors, the air conditioning vent near the new releases, the other cats who would sit on the counter while you were checking out, and Jackie letting me answer the phone when it got too busy. I miss horror films being held for me, even when I didn’t request them, and movie posters being set aside and which would eventually adorn my walls. Most of all, I miss Jackie’s smile that would shine brightly as I approached the counter, balancing a stack of VHS and/or DVD boxes. Her typical response: “That’s it?” I often took that as a criticism and would run back to grab three more films.

To many people, Jackie was the outgoing, considerate woman who you could usually find at the local video store. She preferred books, but she knew her business. You could ask her about almost any film, and she would know it, know if she carried it, and know if it was available. I once asked about Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond (1986), simply saying: “Do you have From Beyond?” With no hesitation, Jackie responded, “No, sorry.” Jackie was a little more to me than just a wonderful person and friend. She will forever remain a large part of my movie history. I’ve seen so many films and have forgotten quite a number of them, but Jackie is, simply put, unforgettable.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ornate Movie Palace? No - Just A Little Shop And Some Great Memories

Before Blu-ray, before DVD’s, before videotapes, when even cable TV was in its infancy, there was a new technology – the RCA high density video disk. For those who are old enough to remember, disks were the first to give the opportunity to rent movies and watch them at home. They came on the market in 1980. The players were big and bulky, and so were the disks. They were just like record albums, only heavy and thick. I finally found a picture that shows the player and the stack of disks beside it. To play the disk, you inserted the whole thing, cover and all, into the player. When you pulled the cover out, the record-sized disk stayed in the machine. Each disk could only hold about 90 minutes of movie, so a lot of movies required 2-3 disks. What a thrill that was – to be able to play movies you could pick out yourself any time you wanted. Now it is old hat, but then it was new and exciting.

My favorite store to rent video disks was Leon’s Lectronics, a little TV repair shop in my home town. Leon was one of my favorite people. He was a little guy with a shock of white hair that made him look like a mad scientist. He started renting video disks on the side, and I remember him saying he was very surprised to see the business they were pulling in. My boys and I were at Leon’s at least twice a week to rent movies, and we got to be good friends. After a while, when he realized what a rabid movie fan I was, he let me buy my favorites. I eventually collected about 30 video disks. The first one I bought was The Red Shoes, then Moby Dick, The Adventures of Robin Hood and many more favorites that had been released on disk. There were some modern movies too, and I got a couple that my boys wanted, but mostly classics. The selection was not large, but it was good. The covers, like the classic record album covers, were works of art. I miss that a lot – you just can’t fit that kind of artwork on the little DVD or videotape covers.  The one picture of a disk cover I was able to find, The Adventures of Robin Hood, is unfortunately black and white.  However, I owned that particular movie, and the cover was actually beautifully colored and adorned like a medieval manuscript.

Video disks didn’t last very long. Manufacture of the disks and players ceased in 1986. Following closely upon their heels were the videotapes, and they took over the market. The disks went the way of the dinosaurs, and soon there were none to be rented or bought. Leon kept my disk player running as long as possible, but eventually it needed parts that were no longer made, and if there were used players to be bought, I could not afford them. I kept my collection of disks for many years just out of sentiment. When I cleaned out the basement last year, that stack of disks had been collecting dust for a very long time. I knew it was time to let them go. When my now-grown sons were picking them up to throw away, they both remarked how incredibly heavy the stack was. Well, the dinosaurs were big and heavy too!

I wish I had just one more picture to display in this little tribute. I don’t have a picture of Leon, which I would love to have just for myself. Leon died a few years ago, and I remember our time of fun and friendship with great fondness. Leon and his little shop gave a lot of happiness and entertainment to my boys and me.  We cherish that memory.

The Secret Movie Star Game #3

The object of this game is to solve the identity of the secret movie star whose name is spelled vertically in the red boxes. To do that, you must fill in the horizontal rows with names of other famous stars based on the cryptic clues below. Here are some helpful hints to playing:

- There is no connection between the stars in the horizontal rows and the secret star in the red vertical column.

- A star may be identified by his/her first or last name. For example, one of the clues in a previous game was was "June Allyson's husband" and the answer was "Dick" (as in Dick Powell).

- The object of the game is to guess the secret star, so I won't tell you if you got one of the clues correct. Still, you're encouraged to post them and help out one another...but only if you want to!

If no one guesses the Secret Star by on Tuesday night, I'll post the solution. This may be the last edition of the Secret Movie Star Game, so good luck.

1. Played an “Anna” in two of her most famous films.

2. Lied about her age to Ray Milland.

3. Quatermass creator.

4. British character actor in the Hitch flick with the “lying flashback.”

5. Danced in films with Gene and Fred.

6. Many thought she should have been Miss Doolittle.

7. Starred in the remake of the movie referenced in #2.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Trivia Time - Part 50

This week Rick has a free pass! Good thing, Rick, you'll need it!

Who Are We? Legend has it that this director borrowed John Barrymore's body from the mortuary for a few hours for a good-bye visit with which actor? Who Are We?

1. What does the button that Richard Loo wears in Road to Morocco say?

2. Who was the football announcer in the Jack Lemmon film, The Fortune Cookie?

3. Who played Boom Boom's dad in The Fortune Cookie?

4. Which future pop star/music executive had an uncredited bit part in the Jimmy Stewart film, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation?

5. Which two Warner Bros "stars" helped make Pismo Beach famous?

6. Who was the broadcast team for the FIRST season of ABC's Monday Night Football?

7. Who was the host of ABC's Wide World of Sports?

8. Who was the host of ABC's The American Sportsman?

9. Who were the emcees of the 1964 T.A.M.I. show?

10. Which act in the T.A.M.I. show scared the Rolling Stones so much that they locked themselves in their dressing room to discuss whether or not they were going to try to follow it?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Corporate Politics Take Center Stage in "Executive Suite"

I first saw Executive Suite in an unlikely setting: a broadcast manage-ment class at Indiana University in 1978. I don’t remember how the film pertained to the class (or if the professor just wanted to take a break from lecturing). But the film, an engrossing look at corporate politics, stuck with me over the years. I didn’t see it again until my wife and I discovered a copy at a local video store in the 1990s. This second viewing surprised me—Executive Suite was far better than I remembered.

The opening scene, shot in first-person, has business executive Avery Bullard entering a skyscraper, taking an elevator, and sending a telegram to his board of directors about a meeting at six o'clock. Bullard then leaves the building, hails a taxi, and keels over dead. It’s a terrific sequence, all the more effective for its lack of music (which is replaced by bells and street sounds).

We quickly learn that the 56-year-old Bullard was president of Tredway, the nation’s third-largest furniture manufacturer, located in Millburgh, Pennsylvania. After the death of his second-in-command, Bullard delayed in naming a successor. As a result, Bullard’s untimely death places the company in the hands of five vice-presidents with equal authority. Since Wall Street viewed Tredway as a one-man company, the VPs realize the criticality of naming a replacement to Bullard over the weekend.

Walter Pidgeon tries to reason with Barbara Stanwyck.
Loren Shaw (Fredric March), Tredway’s
ambitious VP of finance, quickly starts lining up the required votes to become the company’s new president. But his “profit first” approach clashes with the philosophy of board members Fred Alderson (Walter Pidgeon) and Don Walling (William Holden). They believe that investing in research and producing quality furniture will attract loyal customers and, eventually, generate long-term company growth. Alderson and Walling launch a frantic drive to find their own candidate capable of defeating Shaw. Blackmail, illegal stock trading, and a spurned lover all come into play before the board of directors finally selects Avery Bullard’s succesor.

I admit a penchant for movies where the plot builds to a event scheduled for a specific time (e.g., the assassination in Day of the Jackal). Director Robert Wise, one of Hollywood’s most versatile directors, expertly shapes Executive Suite into a “time ticking” film. As the clock counts down to the climatic vote, it’s fascinating to watch alliances shift and deals fall through. It’s equally compelling to follow the philosophical underpinnings of the decisions made (e.g., profit vs. quality, traditional methods vs. new ones).

It's all about profit according to March's Shaw.
The superstar cast includes Holden, Pidgeon, Barbara Stanwyck and June Allyson. For my money, the standout performances are delivered by Fredric March and Paul Douglas. After two decades as a leading man, March gave some of his best performances in supporting roles in the 1950s and 1960s (see also Inherit the Wind and Seven Days in May). He captures the ruthlessness and the impatient frustration that makes Shaw such a vivid character. Paul Douglas is equally good in a smaller role, as a confident executive who gets backed into a corner. It’s a nice change-of-pace for Douglas, who specialized in playing nice guys in comedies like The Solid Gold Cadillac and It Happens Every Spring.

Executive Suite is often compared with 1956’s Patterns, another boardroom drama that was adapted from a Rod Serling TV play. Most critics prefer Patterns, which we finally saw in the late 1990s. We find them hard to compare; they’re two very different films, each fine in its own right. Patterns may be the more realistic of the two, but Executive Suite offers an optimistic viewpoint that works better as sheer entertainment.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Movies Under the Stars: A Tribute to My Favorite Drive-in Theaters

I've known film buffs who would never consider watching a movie at a drive-in theater. They frown at the poor sound systems, damaged screens, unexpected bad weather, pesky insects, and extraneous noises (e.g., honking horns, loud teens, etc.). These distractions are all certainly legimate...and yet I love the experience of watching a movie under the stars. Ironically, my two favorite drive-in theaters are both named the Starlite.

Note the movies! (photo copyright by R. Armstrong). 
The Starlite Drive-in Theater in Elizabeth-town, Kentucky, suffered the same fate as most outdoor theaters:  It was torn down in the 1990s and replaced with the Starlite Shopping Center. But for many summers, my wife and I enjoyed watching double-features just a couple of miles from our house. Unlike many drive-ins, the Starlite was located in the city proper, which unfortunately made it more valuable as real estate than as a business venture.

During our first visit there, we were greatly puzzled to see that there were no carside speakers. We quickly learned that the sound was broadcast over a radio frequency. We turned on our radio as directed and then spent three-and-a-half hours hoping that the questionable battery in our Chevy Nova (metallic green....millions of them were manufactured) would start. It did--but, after that, we always took a little battery-powered radio with us.

We saw many movies at the Starlite for free since I was writing free-lance film reviews for the local newspaper in those days. For a young couple on a budget, the price was perfect and we had a grand time watching movies ranging from Trading Places to Fast Times at Ridgemont High to The Evil Dead. It was a sad day when the Starlite's closure was announced. The family that operated it owned another drive-in, the Knox, in a nearby town. The Knox Drive-in survived another decade, but was demolished around 2003.

There were just two drive-in theaters in Bloomington, Indiana: the Y&W and the Starlite. The Y&W, located on the way out of town (if heading to Indy), was probably the larger of the two. I went there a few times in college. A friend and I saw a double feature of Phantasm and Horror High (a teen version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde). At the concession stand, they offered Ghoul Brew, a mysterious beverage featuring lots of dry ice so that it'd look creepy. Anyway, it was free and we were thirsty and poor. All I can say is the stuff tasted nasty! My wife and I also patronized the Y&W as newlyweds (we thought we were the only adults at The Fox and the Hound until we met friends from the university office where I worked).

The Starlite Drive-in in Bloomington, IN, courtesy of
The best Bloom-ington drive-in—indeed, probably, our all-time favorite—was the Starlite Drive-in Theatre. It was located outside of town and appeared to be carved out of a forest. Dense trees surrounded it, blocking out any light from the road. As a result, the stars were brilliant on a clear summer night.

My first visit to the Starlite was probably when my friend Terry and I saw Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride. We were surprised to learn that Hammer Films, which quit making movies in 1976, had produced a new Christopher Lee Dracula pic. But once we start watching the movie, we recognized the plot as belonging to The Satanic Rites of Dracula (a 1973 Hammer film never released in the U.S.). Yes, the 1973 movie had been retitled and finally released in the States! Oddly, neither title made much sense in respect to the plot. My wife and I loved going to the Starlite, which is where we saw movies like Ragtime, The Watcher in the Woods, and Unidentified Flying Oddball (surely the bottom half of a doubleheader).

I'm pleased to say that Bloomington's Starlite Drive-in Theatre is still in business ( Long live the American drive-in! Do you have any fond memories of drive-in theaters?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Secret Movie Star Game #2

Last week, I think I did a bad job of explaining the rules. Fortunately, Toto was still able to figure out the puzzle! This is not a crossword puzzle nor an anagram. The object of the game is to solve the identity of the secret movie star whose name is spelled vertically in the red boxes. To do that, you must fill in the horizontal rows with names of other famous stars based on the cryptic clues below. Here are some helpful hints to playing:

- There is no connection between the stars in the horizontal rows and the secret star in the red vertical column.
- A star may be identified by his/her first or last name. For example, one of the clue's last week was "June Allyson's husband" and the answer was "Dick" (as in Dick Powell).
- The object of the game is to guess the secret star, so I won't tell you if you got one of the clues correct. Still, you're encouraged to post them and help out one another...but only if you want to!

If no one guesses the Secret Star by 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday night, I'll post the solution. Good luck!

1. Starred with Boris Karloff in a movie in which the principal shooting was completed in four days.

2. She knew how to whistle.

3. Joan Rivers co-wrote the theatrical film that introduced him to movie-goers.

4. A youthful regular on the TV series The Rifleman.

5. Love interest for Tippi Hedren and Doris Day in different movies.

6. Nominated for seven Best Actors Oscars, but never won.

7. Starting in 1951, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for four years in a row.

8. Dame that starred in a 1938 Hitchcock film.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Trivia Time - Part 49

Well, I'm back (sort of). I apologize again for the delay.

First, here are the answers to the questions in TT #48 that are still unanswered:

Who Am I? #1 (banjo player) = Jerry Van Dyke

#4. Character actor Leonid Kinskey (bartender in Casablanca).
#5. I was looking for Good Neighbor Sam, although clearly there were other possible answers.
#6. Jack Lemmon
#10. Believe it or not, Hedda Hopper was known as the "Queen of the Quickies" during the silent film era. (This one was tricky.... JoAnn came up with it)

OK, now for this week's TT:

Which film is this? Hedda Hopper tried unsuccessfully to have this 1940's-era Oscar-winning film banned.

1. Which two future TV stars played the Martin brothers in first season episode of Wanted Dead or Alive entitled "The Martin Poster".

2. One of these actors went on to make a feature film with Steve McQueen. Name the film.

3. Who was the director of the film in #2?

4. Which big star was offered the part of Dirty Harry before Clint Eastwood and turned it down?

5. What was the name of the MGM film that Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr made together before Affair to Remember?

6. Who once said of Margaret O'Brien "If that child had been born in the middle ages, she'd have been burned as a witch."?

7. What was the name of the movie in which Rita Moreno habitually "borrowed" the use of Les Tremayne's refrigerator just to store milk?

8. Who were the stars of the Warner Bros. TV series called The Roaring Twenties?

9. Which former child star turned musician/composer worked with Grace Kelly? Name the film.

10. Errol Flynn got his role in the film Kim because this MGM star turned it down. Name the star. (Becks, I expect you to know this one!)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Underrated Performer of the Month: Peggy Cummins

Despite her unique combination of sweetness and sex appeal, Welsh actress Peggy Cummins rarely got roles that allowed her to shine. When she got her chance, though, Cummins delivered a sensational performance as sharp-shooting bad girl in the 1949 film noir classic Gun Crazy (aka Deadly Is the Female).

Born Augusta Margaret Diane Fuller in 1925, Peggy Cummins made her film debut in the now-lost 1940 drama Dr. O’Dowd. After appearing with Michael Wilding in the British class satire English Without Tears, Cummins caught the eye of 20th Century-Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck.

As part of a much-publicized star search, Zanuck brought her to Hollywood in 1945 to star in Forever Amber. The film, based on Kathleen Winsor’s bestseller, told the story of a beautiful, impoverished young woman who uses men to climb to the top of society in 17th century England. Condemned by the Hays Office before it was even finished, the production of Forever Amber was fraught with problems. Otto Preminger replaced original director John M. Stahl. Zanuck then replaced Peggy Cummins with Linda Darnell. The official reason was that Cummins was “too young” for the part.

After appearing in a string of forgettable films, Cummins starred with John Dahl in the low-budget Gun Crazy. The tale of two young people madly in love with each other—and guns—flopped when originally released. By the 1970s, though, it had become a cult favorite with film noir fans who appreciated the sexual undercurrents and the sizzling chemistry between Cummins and Dahl.

After Gun Crazy, Peggy Cummins returned to Britain and made a handful of pleasant films, one of the best being Always a Bride (1953). She and Ronald Squire played father-daughter con artists out to dupe unsuspecting men on the Riviera. Her most famous film of this period was the horror classic Curse of the Demon (aka Night of the Demon). Although the film justifies its sterling reputation, Cummins’s role is a thankless one as the love interest of Dana Andrews’ investigator of paranormal activities.

Peggy Cummins retired from acting in 1960. She spent most of her time living in Sussex with her husband Derek Dunnett, whom she married in 1950 (she had several well-publicized romances prior to beau was allegedly Howard Hughes). She and Dunnett had two children. He died in 2000.

In 2006, when Elstree Film Classics screened Curse of the Demon as of the 50th Town Festival, Peggy Cummins made a rare appearance as the guest of honor. In her review of the festivities “A Night with a Demon,” Katherine Haynes described Peggy Cummins as looking “slim and elegant” and “nowhere near her age.”

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Carolina and the Winston: A Tale of Two Downtown Theaters

For the first nine years of my life, the only indoor movie theaters in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, were the Carolina, the Winston, and the Center. I never saw a movie at the Center. My dad said it was located in a “bad part of town,” though I have no idea precisely where that was. According to urban legend, the Center Theater had rats, which made it a pretty unappealing place to watch movies. I think Dad and my brother saw a revival of The Adventures of Robin Hood there in the late 1950s. Other than that, I know of no one who ever went to the Center.

The Carolina Theatre was a large, ornate theater located downtown. At one time, it was part of the ground floor of the Carolina Hotel, but the hotel was long out of business by the time I was old enough to go see movies. For most of its existence, the Carolina was the crème de la crème of Winston-Salem movie theaters. A sculpture of a woman, looking like a Greek goddess, protruded from the wall above the screen. She was flanked on either side by chariots. A humongous crystal chandelier formed the focal point of the lobby. The Carolina was the only theater in Winston-Salem to have a balcony, though I only sat there twice (during Flipper while attending YMCA Day Camp and with my sister during That Darn Cat!, probably because the theater was full).

The Carolina seemed to get most of the Disney films because it’s where I saw The Sword in the Stone, Those Calloways, and The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. It also ran “kiddie shows” with older movies and games on Saturday mornings and on weekdays in the summer. Briefly, it hosted weekend “midnight monster shows,” showing horror flicks while ushers in monster costumes ran up and down the aisles. I didn’t get to attend the monster shows and am sure I did my share of pouting.

Sadly, the owners of the Carolina let the theater run down during the early 1970s. They also painted the once-attractive lobby a hideous shade of lime green. During that period, the movies shown at the Carolina underwent a major change, too. Instead of Disney, it began to specialize in horror films, “blaxploitation” movies, and martial arts pictures. I still saw movies there with my sister and best friend Herb, such as Enter the Dragon, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, and Ssssssss.

During Terror in the Wax Museum (not one of Ray Milland’s better pics), Herb and I saw a patron singe a girl’s Afro with a lighter. At the same movie, a stranger ran up to Herb’s brother Johnny and told him: “There’s girl up there (in a row toward the front) that’s sweet on you.” The last time I can remember seeing a movie at the Carolina was when I was a senior in high school and convinced a group of friends to see Jimmy Wang Yu’s The Dragon Squad (this was during the kung fu movie craze of the mid-1970s.)

The Carolina was finally closed in the late 1970s or early 1980s, but its story has a happy ending. It was eventually sold, remodeled, and reopened as the Stevens Performing Arts Center, a venue for concerts and plays.

The Winston Theatre was located just a few blocks from the Carolina. It tended to show more adult fare; it’s where we saw Dr. Zhivago, Charade, The Great Escape, and Stagecoach (the remake.) However, it also showed family films. In fact, The Sound of Music played there for almost a year! It was an attractive theater with an aqua-blue interior, although the décor lacked the lavishness of the Carolina. It underwent minor remodeling in the early 1970s and became the first theater in town with Ultravision (a large slightly-curved screen).

The Winston's Ultravision screen.
Courtesy of my sister, I have very fond memories of the Winston. She worked there for a summer and, during that time, I saw every movie at the Winston for free! I would go with her when she left for work, watch the feature presentation a couple of times while she toiled at the concession stand, and then go home with her. It was a great deal and I saw two of my favorite films during that time: The Day of the Jackal and The Chinese Connection. In fact, I may never have become a Bruce Lee fan were it not for my big sister. When Bruce Lee’s first martial arts film, Fists of Fury, was released in the U.S., I snickered at the trailers because I knew him only as Kato from “The Green Hornet” TV series. But since I could see The Chinese Connection (his second martial arts pic) at the Winston for free, I did—and I loved it.

Unfortunately, as the suburbs of Winston-Salem expanded in the late 1970s, the Winston suffered a gradual decline and began to show second-run movies at a discounted price. My last visit was when some college friends and I were on spring break in 1979 and saw The Boys from Brazil (or rather The Bo s from Brazil…the “y” was missing on the marquee). Before we left for the movie, my father mentioned that couple of robberies had occurred recently downtown. That night, while we standing in line to get tickets, we heard the girl in the box office tell a patron: “We’ve been held up.” We looked at each other in shock—wow, my dad wasn’t kidding about those robberies! Later, we learned that that some employees had arrived late and caused some delays—that “held up” opening the box office on time.

The Winston Theatre in downtown Winston-Salem, NC.
I’m not sure when the Winston Theater closed, but the Hanes Mall Cinemas and other twin theaters (before the multiplexes) forced the closure of the largest movie theaters in Winston-Salem. There was no stopping the trend of building more screens with more movies (sometimes)—but the price was steep for those of us who got to experience the thrill of watching a film in a true movie palace.

(The photographs for this article are courtesy of the Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection. Additional historical photographs of Forsyth County, NC, can be viewed at