Friday, February 24, 2017

Oscars Time: Reflections on My First Grown-up Movies

It is Academy Awards time Sunday night, so naturally my non Trump thoughts are focused on the silver screen. This year’s host will be Jimmy Kimmel. I don’t have high expectations he will exceed or even match past enjoyment of seeing Billy Crystal emcee the gala event, but to be totally honest, I am probably too conservative, or should I say traditional, in my taste of comedic genius on Oscars night as I grew up watching Bob Hope host countless Oscars telecasts. I was disheartened when he lost his emcee spot back in 1969.

I’ve gotten over it. Though I see more flicks nowadays while sitting on the couch in our den I still enjoy the experience of going to the movies. Which brings me to the following question:

Do you remember the first films you saw in a movie theater? I don’t mean kiddie cartoons or even Disney full-length features, which in my case would be animated classics like Bambi, Fantasia and Lady and the Tramp. I mean the first grown-up movies you saw in a movie house, not on television.

The three movies that seem to be anchored in my memory as my first exposure to cinema are an eclectic trio. One is the 1953 comedy The long, Long Trailer starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as newlyweds who spend their year-long honeymoon driving a motor home trailer across the United States.

The second is Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 The Trouble With Harry. Starring John Forsythe and Shirley MacLaine in her film debut, the film is a comic mystery whodunnit and what-to-do-with-it when Harry’s body is found in a field of a small Vermont town.

The biblical epic Samson and Delilah starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamar round out my memorable threesome. Gilda thinks I saw this Cecil B. DeMille movie on television since it came out in my birth year, 1949, but I remember seeing it in color and our family didn’t get a color TV until 1962, so I’m sticking with my vision that I saw it as a re-release a few years later. Indeed, according to Wikipedia, it was re-released in November 1959 when I was 10.

I don’t believe either of our parents took me and my older brother and sister to these movies. I suspect our babysitter, next door neighbor Madeline, did, though I might have been taken to Samson and Delilah by our mother.

For sure she took us to see The Ten Commandments at Radio City Music Hall in 1956. Before the movie we ate lunch in a nearby Schrafft’s restaurant.

A year before or after, as our mother recuperated in a hospital from what I believe was gall bladder surgery, our father took us to see Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer, a taut English-language Israeli picture about doomed soldiers during the country’s war of independence.

As my brother Bernie is four years older, he had the unenviable burden of taking me along when he went to the movies with his friends. Back then a ticket bought you two movies. One double bill I vividly remember was Glenn Ford in Torpedo Run, a World War II submarine story, and James Mason in The Decks Ran Red about a mutiny aboard an old freighter skippered by Mason. Even more memorable to me at the impressionable age of nine was the coming attraction for Steve McQueen’s first movie—The Blob, about a red slime man-eating extra terrestrial.

The promo so scared me that I stayed away from sci-fi movies until the day I graduated eighth grade in 1962. Several of my classmates chose to go to the movies after we were dismissed at 1 pm. The nearest theater was showing a double fare of horror: Godzilla followed by Rodan. I’m still creeped out by the opening scene of Rodan wherein Japanese miners discover a prehistoric egg that hatches into a flying Pteranodon.

The theater had no qualms letting half a dozen 13-year-olds enter unchaperoned. Three years earlier, however, my 12-year-old sister had difficulty buying tickets for us to see Cary Grant and Tony Curtis in 1959’s Operation Petticoat. We were deemed too young to see this risqué-for-the-time comedy. Lee and I had to try several movie houses before one would let us in.

Not that they were great movies, but I recall only one other double feature that I believe I saw with Lee. The first movie was A Pocketful of Miracles starring Glenn Ford and Bette Davis in a 1961 Frank Capra remake of his Apple Annie 1933 classic Lady for a Day. The second feature starred Robert Taylor and Cyd Charisse in 1958’s Party Girl about a mob lawyer and the woman he loves.

For a more complete record of movies of my formative years, I have to include 1954’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Otherwise, as that was one of his favorites, my brother Bernie would label this blog as fake news (OMG, I just can’t get away from Trump no  matter how hard I try).

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