My grandfather would often check in with my mother to see how I was spending my money. I saved most of it for college, but what I didn't stash in my savings account went on the Big Three: Books, Movies, and Music. it was while watching a favorite old movie the other evening that I realized I have several memories that involve a movie in one way or another, and I thought I would share some of them with you. After all, I know I'm not the only movie fan here!
I got my love of movies from my mother. She would go through periodic bouts of insomnia, and I remember being very small, tucked up in bed, and feeling safe and warm with the low murmur of voices and the grayish flickering light of the television in the living room of our tiny rental house.
On weekends I was sometimes allowed to stay up to watch the Late, Late Show, and I loved it when my favorite scary movie would be shown. To this day there are certain scenes in 1953's House of Wax starring Vincent Price that can have the hair standing on the back of my neck.
I had to be about ten years old, and it just so happened that House of Wax was going to be on the Late, Late Show. I wanted to watch it sooo badly, but Mom had put in a marathon day cleaning the house and doing the laundry and yardwork. She was exhausted, and all she wanted to do was go to bed. I probably got whiny in my insistence in watching a movie we'd both seen countless times. Even when Mom told me how tired she was and that all she'd do was go to sleep, I didn't care. I wanted her with me while I watched House of Wax. Loving parent that she was, we both took baths, got into our pajamas, and curled up together on the couch.
Mom went to sleep almost immediately, but that was okay by me. As long as I could have some part of me touching her, Vincent Price wouldn't be able to get me! I loved being scared and feeling safe all at the same time.
A favorite way for us to see movies back then was to go to any of the several drive-ins in the area. When I was a child, the drive-ins were still doing "Buck Nights"-- a carload of people could get in for a dollar (per car, not per person) If you popped your own popcorn and brought your own sodas, Buck Nights were really economical evenings of entertainment-- especially since they always showed two movies every night. If you had romance in mind, all you had to do was park in the very back rows where it was darker, or if you wanted to socialize, you could meet friends around the concession stand.
I have many, many fond memories of times spent at drive-ins. Most of them would be meaningless to you because you would have to know the people concerned. But others translate well. Like the time Mom and a friend and I went to see Steve McQueen in Nevada Smith. The movie had barely begun when fog rolled in. The fog got worse. And worse. And worse. Until we could hear the dialogue just fine but couldn't see a thing on the screen. We couldn't even see the cars parked on either side of us. Everyone got rainchecks, and I remember seeing many of the same people the very next night when we went back to see the movie. (Fog free.)
Or how about the time the drive-in had a special showing of Ben-Hur? Ben-Hur was about three-and-a-half hours long, so there was an intermission in the middle. Someone in the concession stand got on the loudspeaker to announce that we all had "ten minutes to hit the restroom!" (His emphasis, not mine.) The three of us ran but still got stuck in long lines. Nevertheless we made it back without missing a frame of the movie (barely)-- and we cracked up laughing the rest of the evening (and for many more evenings to come) about hitting the restroom! (Why do I keep seeing hammers?)
One of my favorite movie memories (probably because it's one of my favorite movies) concerns The Dirty Dozen. It's a World War II movie with a marvelous ensemble cast. We were in a friend's car that night, so I had to sit in the back seat, but I was used to it. Mom and I didn't have a car, so if we weren't borrowing one of my grandparents', we went to the drive-in with a friend.
Mom and I were lapping up every second of the movie. The Dirty Dozen has an explosive, bullet-riddled ending, and characters were getting killed off right and left. Mom and I were completely engrossed in finding out who was going to make it out alive... when our friend started up the car and left.
Frannie was the type of person who didn't like to get caught in the long, slow-moving line of traffic trying to leave the drive-in, so she'd take off before the movie ended. Since Mom and I were in Frannie's car, we couldn't say a word. But-- I still remember hanging out the car window trying to see the screen so I could see which characters survived. And Mom asking me, "Who made it? Who made it? Can you see who made it?"
Mom borrowed my grandfather's truck, and we went back to the drive-in to see The Dirty Dozen the very next night... and we didn't leave until the movie was completely over, credits and all!
By the time I was a senior in high school, Mom began taking night classes in a local community college. If I wasn't working and didn't have a ton of homework, I'd go to the city with her and shop, go to the library, and see a movie. Sometimes a friend or two would come along.
My best friend and I took Maria, a foreign exchange student from Colombia, to see The Godfather. When Maria arrived, she barely spoke any English at all, and she loved coming with me to see movies. It really helped her with English. On this particular night, I sat between Maria and Carol, and when that horse head in the bed scene came up, they both tried to jump in my lap at the same time!
Jaws came out the summer I was back home for a couple of weeks from college. My best friend Carol was married, her husband was gone for the weekend on National Guard business, and she had the whole thing planned. I was coming over to spend the night. First, we were going to see Jaws. We'd wind up the evening by watching Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster on the Late, Late Show.
The theater was packed for Jaws. Packed. Ill-behaved children were running up and down the aisles, but once the movie started, they stopped. I think they were too scared to move. I know most of the adults were. To this day, if you want to make me nervous, all you have to do is play that movie's theme music. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it! I actually remembered to look over at Carol once or twice, and she looked as stiff as a board. I think if I'd reached over to touch her, she would've shrieked and shattered into a million pieces. I do know that when we went to bed that night, she had nightmares. How do I know this? Because I woke up twice with her arms around my neck strangling me in her sleep!
When I moved to Phoenix, I got a job in a large shopping mall within walking distance of where I lived. It had two movie theaters, and it was the rare week when I didn't see at least one film. I remember more than one day off when I would go inside the mall, buy a ticket, go up the escalator, watch the movie, go down the escalator, buy a ticket for a different movie, go up the escalator.... But that was only on weeks when a lot of good movies had been released all at the same time.
One week I walked over on my day off to see Mel Gibson in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. It was the first showing of the day... around 11 AM or so, and there was hardly anyone in the theater. I like it when this happens. It's like having my own private showing. Well... this time, some strange guy decided to sit right next to me when there were dozens of empty seats. I thought the group in the row in front of me had run out of seats and that he belonged with them, so I didn't think much of it. He minded his own business, so I minded mine even though it was weird having a complete stranger sitting next to me.
The movie started, and I got wrapped up in another Hollywood fairy tale. I completely forgot about the guy sitting next to me... until this ice cold hand suddenly made contact with the upper part of my bare thigh. (I don't wear skirts much anymore.) This yanked me out of the movie so abruptly that without thinking I exclaimed, "What the hell?!?" I didn't even realize that the ice cold appendage belonged to that guy until he immediately got up and moved to a different part of the theater!
I'm going to bring an end to this long trip down my celluloid Memory Lane with my-- hands down, no doubt about it, absolute-- favorite movie memory.
When The Way We Were came out, I was living in Utah, not far from Robert Redford's Sundance Ski Resort. I'd seen that beautiful man in the flesh....
Okay, Cathy, focus! Focus!
Redford was already my favorite actor. I had most of the dialogue of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid memorized. You'd better believe I was standing in line for the very first showing of The Way We Were!
Once again the theater was packed. I had to sit farther back than I care to, but nothing was going to keep me from seeing Redford. Nothing.
What I will never forget is what happened during the break-up scene. Redford: "You push too hard! You expect too much!" And Streisand stands there, looking at that gorgeous man, and says, "Oh, but look what I've got...."
Every female in that crowded theater drew a deep breath and sighed at the exact same time. I've never seen or heard anything like it before or since, and it is my most cherished movie memory.
I hope you've enjoyed this journey, and I hope that I've reminded you of some of your own movie memories. They're special, aren't they?