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Saturday, February 18, 2006


A Trip Back To 1938


When I look at a still like this, it’s almost as though I were staring into some alternate universe, a place that surely never existed, for the thrill of going there and seeing it for real would be just too delirious. Of course, other people feel that way about basketball tournaments, or NASCAR museums, so to each his own, but if this writer could indeed go back in time to any era or place, this one would be as good a start as any. Grindhouses, those lowly little theatres that opened early, and played late (if not all night), were a staple in every town of any size, and often as not, they’d load up the bill with at least three features, all of them second-run at best. Those projectors would grind through long days on a continuous basis --- no breaks or intermission --- that’s where the "grind" got its name. You could walk into one of these joints anytime, as it didn’t matter what was on that screen. Chances are you're there to get warm, or sleep off a three-day drunk, or maybe find a dark corner in the balcony to consummate a new relationship. That’s what the movies were for back then. Maybe it’s as well industry people, let alone the stars, never frequented such places. It would have been disillusioning, if not dangerous. I’ve always loved the idea of a grindhouse. They had absolutely no pretensions. Bookings were, for the most part, indiscriminate. Cheap rentals were the guiding light, and the bill changed every other day most of the time. That meant having to constantly rip down all those gorgeous posters. Most of the time you could return them for a credit, unless they were glued them to the board. In those days, with so many pedestrians on the streets, you had to grab their attention walking by, and hope that on impulse, they might walk in.


See this guy standing there with the bag? That’s me --- and it’s 1938. Seems I was able to sneak into that collector's garage, the one with Rod Taylor’s old Time Machine prop, and guess what? It worked. So here I am, and boy, I can’t wait to get in there and get started! Maybe I’ll get to see Death Fangs first. It’s only a 1934 short subject, but Flash The Wonder Dog is in it, and he always gives good value for your dime’s admission. First I need a little snack. Hmmm, that chili con carne might be good for ten cents, or how about that slap-down breakfast --- two eggs, bread, coffee, and orange juice for seventeen cents. Kinda steep, but it’ll hold me through a five-hour show, I guess. Man, these posters are nice. Wonder if the manager will believe me when I tell him they'll be worth a fortune in about sixty years? Better not. No need in getting beat up or arrested on my first trip back in time. That’s liable to happen in any case once I enter the dark environs of this place. Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten the nickel hot dog at that little place behind me. Say, didn’t they use real dogs to make the things back then? Folks were pretty strapped, after all . My stomach’s feeling kinda funny just thinking about that. Now, let’s see --- what’s on the program --- That Girl From Paris --- well, I sure didn’t come sixty-eight years back in time to see a 1936 Lily Pons/Jack Oakie vehicle! Okay, how about Sweetheart Of The Navy --- that’s 1937, only a year old, but Eric Linden and Cecilia Parker? Boy, that manager needs some of my expert guidance. Maybe I’ll tell the guy he should bring in a triple bill of Captain Blood, King Kong, and The Thin Man. Then again, maybe not. From the looks of him, standing deep within the recesses of that inner lobby, he doesn't seem the sort who’d be responsive to booking suggestions. Oh well, there’s always the third feature, One Way Passage, from 1932. Bill Powell and Kay Francis are in that one, and if it gets underway pretty soon, I can get back to 2006 in time to visit the emergency room and deal with that hot dog.

4 Comments:

Blogger Flickhead said...

Can I go back there with you?

7:41 AM  
Blogger normandie said...

John, I share your thoughts and desires.
I always wished I'd been born in the 20's. Today's world, despite all the progress, has something strangely lacking about it. Old Hollywood is my dream world. Oh, to be able to travel back in time.

7:54 AM  
Blogger East Side said...

I dunno, I think I WAS around then in another life. Way back in my youth (circa age 7), one of our local TV stations starting running the earliest black & white Warner Bros. cartoons -- you know, the ones that used "Get Happy" as the theme. I clearly remember seeing the Vitaphone logo and thinking, "Oh, that was an early sound invention." How the heck did I know that without even having heard of of Vitaphone then?

7:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would love to go back to the 20's to watch Keaton, Arbuckle and Chaplin on the big screen and in the settings that they should be watched in.

8:46 PM  

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