Many years ago when I was growing up in Los Angeles, my mother would take me downtown to shop the big department stores. There were few regional malls in those days.
We would get on the streetcar and rail our way to the big buildings in the center of town. Perhaps this was the beginning of my liking trains. Often, the streetcars would be two cars coupled together during busy periods. I tried to ride up front across from the motorman driving the train. This trip took about 30 minutes as I remember. Mom and I would leave the streetcar on Broadway, one of the main downtown streets. The trip would usually begin around 9 a.m. On arrival, we would head to the first intended department store, which was usually the May Co. There was a childcare room in the store where Mom would deposit me for an hour or so. I played with other children in my age group and I remember there were a lot of toys spread around the large room. Great fun!
Later, Mom returned with sacks of goods she had purchased and then we walked down the street to the Orpheum Theatre, which was one of the largest theaters in Los Angeles at the time. At 11 a.m. the entertainment began with vaudeville live on stage. There was a pit orchestra of about 14 pieces and for about 40 minutes there were singers and dancers and musical numbers, comedy and Broadway production style musical presentations. Often featured would be recording stars such as Nat King Cole, Al Jolson and others.
I was about 5 years old when Mom began placing me in the Orpheum for vaudeville and a movie. She would continue shopping while I was being entertained. Imagine putting a 5-year-old kid in a theater alone today? It was a very different time back then.
I always enjoyed the movies that were playing. Following the show, Mom and I would go to a cafeteria nearby for lunch. An organ played while we dined and I remember it well even today. We probably did this every eight weeks or so as I recall. What a treat it was.
I mention this because it started my love for the movies.
The year 1939 produced some of the best and most memorable motion pictures of my time. Among these were Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Gas Light, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as well as Stagecoach. The 1930s offered many fine movies. They are frequently shown today on the Turner Classic Movie (TCM) Channel and others. These are the films I cut my teeth on so to speak. The 1940s were full of World War II action movies until the later part of that decade when more love stories came back to the screens.
For some reason I also loved the old horror films. I remember Frankenstein, and the vampire films of Dracula, along with Wolfman. These were later spun off into quite a few cheap horror films starring Bella Lugosi, Boris Karloff and a few others. The 1943 production of Phantom of the Opera starring Claude Rains as the phantom frightened me most. I would have nightmares after seeing the film for months after. My mother would tell me not to see these scary movies, but I did. Even today, I love to be frightened in a movie.
In the 1930s and ’40s I would go to the movies on Saturday afternoons at my neighborhood theater, the Rialto. Here were shown two or three cartoons, a newsreel, one or two serials and then two feature movies. The popcorn and Coke were the best and usually a Hershey’s candy bar followed.
The theater was filled with kids of all ages and it must have been rather noisy at times. During intermission, the theater manager would come on stage with a microphone in hand and give away a bicycle and other prizes. I think they would read off theater ticket numbers, but I don’t really remember the details. I never won anything by the way.
My father would pick me up, along with a few friends around 5:30 p.m. and home we would go filled with junk food and the thrills of a great time at the movies.
The 1950s produced many fine movies. Production techniques were improving and this was the time for great star-studded films the likes of The Bridge on the River Kwai, North by Northwest, Some Like it Hot, On the Waterfront, Sunset Boulevard, All About Eve and so many others.
The 1960s were also filled with great films such as 2001, A Space Odyssey, The Graduate, Dr. Strangelove, The Hustler, The Big Sleep, Bonnie & Clyde, The Misfits, The Apartment, Midnight Cowboy — just to name a few.
Let’s not forget the Academy Awards presentation, which we watch on TV with great anticipation every year. It’s the best show on television usually and the stars, clothing and fanfare can’t be beat. I try to see all the films nominated for the year and then pick which one I think will win. Often I am right.
Last year’s The King’s Speech was tops in many classifications and won several awards. If you missed it, rent it or catch it on the movie channels if you have cable. It was more like the movies produced in the ’40s and ’50s when there was a real script with a great plot and fine actors. Wish we had more like it today. I understand the budget for this year’s Academy Awards presentation was $100 million and more than a billion viewers saw it worldwide.
The 1970s brought fourth a number of fine motion pictures which included The Godfather, Part 2, Chinatown, Annie Hall, Taxi Driver, Nashville, Apocalypse Now, Network, Jaws, The Deer Hunter, A Clockwork Orange, The Last Picture Show, and Patton — all outstanding films many of us remember.
In the 1980s, action films began the run for the more active audiences. Young and old alike purchased tickets to these films. We remember Blade Runner, Raging Bull, E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial, The Empire Strikes Back, Die Hard, Reds, A Room with a View, The Terminator and hundreds more.
The 1990s slipped us into more movie magic with electronic improvements. We enjoyed Pulp Fiction, Unforgiven, The Silence of the Lambs and Short Cuts.
More recent offerings — over the last 12 years — have given us more guns and bullets in film, which are not to my taste, but these films sell a lot of tickets to the general audiences.
I especially like films written and directed by Woody Allen. Who can forget Small Time Crooks, Bullets over Broadway, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Radio Days, Manhattan, Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose and so many others we have enjoyed. Woody is still at it and has released a new film recently.
If you didn’t see Bridesmaids, you missed a very funny and well-done film with many laughs.
Films today are so expensive to make that the studios are afraid to carve new plots and experiences. We are in the midst of tired ideas and old plots generally — look at the many part 2s, 3s and 4s being advertised for summer viewing. Please, give us good new ideas and well-written scripts. Forget the 100 guns and 50,000 bullets and 30 car crashes per film. We are now grown up!
As many of you know, I host KMOG’s “Rim Country Forum” weekdays from 9:05 a.m. to 10 a.m. and often I invite guests to join me in the studio and discuss films.