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Sunday, December 01, 2013

Drive-Ins That Had It All


When Outdoor Theatres Were Home Away From Home

So what was the most important feature at a Drive-In theatre? I'm around to thinking it was the grill. Certainly not movies. Maybe that was part of my childhood issue with outdoor screenings. No one seemed there to watch, other than perhaps each other. Drive-Ins were a social beehive where folks mingled. In small towns especially where you recognized everybody by cars they drove, being parked among many was chance to hop out and visit neighbors while kids scampered to whatever funland or monkey bars management propped up to keep them out of parental hair. Trips I made to the drive-in saw patronage mostly walking to and fro on-site canteens and loading up sufficient to feed Moses' multitude. Apt analogy there, for how many meals could one pack into a single night out with The Ten Commandments?


The Trail Drive-In was located in Sarasota, Florida, opposite the airport, so their ad said. Query then: How high off the ground were those planes when they passed over Trail drivers? Would noise from air traffic distract from transistor-quality sound already a chore to properly hear? What if a pilot given to jesting "buzzed" the lot or did a just-for-fun swoop downward? Might have been fun watching ant-size autos vacating en masse from above, and to heck with seeing how It Conquered The World ends. To topic again of eating, on my mind as it's been three hours now since frugal breakfast, there was also the Trail's cafeteria service. This was no mere dogs-and-chips emporium. Drive-Ins like the Trail had pizza, seafood, steak sandwiches --- anything you'd fry on a grill or simmer in a grease tub. I'll bet there wasn't a family vehicle in the 50's free of deep-absorbed ketchup on seats front and back.


I like how the Trail brags over "The South's Largest Cinemascope Screen," yet here were four features of which none came anamorphic. In fact, the first three were flatties from before an industry went wide. I don't have a specific date for this program, but it's a cinch to have come at height of the Sputnik craze re late 1957 when theatres all over were making run on exchanges for every sci-fi they could book. What a hypo of bliss to do a fried food parlay with The Day The Earth Stood Still, War Of The Worlds, Invaders From Mars, and It Conquered The World. That was always the advantage of drive-ins: they'd dredge lakes for stuff gone from hardtops. Oldies I dreamed of would turn up routinely in grass fields no one would chauffeur me to (with one unforgettable exception). How I'd envy families loaded up kit-caboodle for sky ceiling shows. Review of the Trail's ad, by the way, sent me back to reliable and always fun reference of Glenn Erickson's Sci-Fi Savant, that peerless meditation on all pics fantastic. I recommended this book a year ago when it came out, and can report having consulted it many times since, in fact, every time I've watched one of many titles he covers so enjoyably. Do yourself a happy holiday turn by grabbing (and giving) the evergreen genre coverage that is Sci-Fi Savant.

3 Comments:

Blogger radiotelefonia said...

You managed to write your post when I just found this rare hand program for a Drive -In located almost outside Buenos Aires, dated Thursday, April 1, 1971. There were only a few of them, specially in such a big city. In fact, I remember going to one of them only once. I think they vanished just before the eighties.

http://mla-s1-p.mlstatic.com/publicidad-autocine-buenos-aires-mi-tio-benjamin-5867-MLA5007425090_092013-F.jpg

http://mla-s1-p.mlstatic.com/publicidad-autocine-buenos-aires-mi-tio-benjamin-5843-MLA5007428282_092013-F.jpg

http://mla-s1-p.mlstatic.com/publicidad-autocine-buenos-aires-mi-tio-benjamin-5843-MLA5007426433_092013-F.jpg

11:59 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

My earliest movie-going memory is from about 1959, going to a drive-in somewhere on Long Island that also had a walk-in showing the same feature as the one outdoors; in this case, "101 Dalmatians." I spent most of the evening running in and out of the walk-in, comparing the show outside to the one inside.

5:04 AM  
Blogger Brother Herbert said...

So what was the most important feature at a Drive-In theatre?

Why, the back seat, natch. ;)

While I can't speak for the Trail Drive-In, the drive-in of my childhood (Solano Drive-In in Concord, California, still open under the West Wind banner) was built a stone's throw northeast of Buchanan Field, a small municipal airport that housed a name airline or two over the years. My childhood recollection was that incoming or outgoing planes were never an issue, perhaps because after dark even during summer months the airport just wasn't big enough to be busy at night. The theatre was far enough away from the runways and the two screens were faced in such a way to minimize runway light contamination. There was another single-screen drive-in on the south end of the airport that predated the Solano and lasted twenty years before closing in 1977 (too early for me to really recall), so planes must not have been too much of a problem there either. (A bigger concern for the airport was its proximity to a big shopping mall -- google "Sunvalley Mall plane crash.")

Don't really remember too much about the concession stand, except that it was far bigger than any other indoor theatre and utilized a self-serve line, almost cafeteria-style, with pre-wrapped popcorn buckets and already-heated foods. My parents always brought our own snacks and drinks (one of the many awesome things about drive-ins), and the only times I ever ventured near the concession was to use the restroom or to get a refreshing blast of A/C on a hot summer evening.

6:18 PM  

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