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PCR #167. (Vol. 4, No. 23) This edition is for the week of June 2--8, 2003.
Mike's RantMike's Bust
Hello, gang.  Another list and a rare, yet always intriguing, reminisce on days gone by.  Shall we begin?

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This past week the American Film Institute announced its list of the top 50 motion picture heroes and villains of all time.  The top 10 in each category:

GOOD GUYS                               

1.  Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
2.  Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark
3.  James Bond, Dr. No
4.  Rick Blaine, Casablanca
5.  Will Kane, High Noon
6.  Clarice Starling, Silence of the Lambs
7.  Rocky Balboa, Rocky
8.  Ellen Ripley, Aliens
9.  George Bailey, It's a Wonderful Life
10.  T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia       


1.  Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Silence of the Lambs
2.  Norman Bates, Psycho
3.  Darth Vader, The Empire Strikes Back
4.  The Wicked Witch of the West, The Wizard of Oz
5.  Nurse Ratched, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
6.  Mr. Potter, It's a Wonderful Life
7.  Alex Forrest, Fatal Attraction
8.  Phyllis Dietrichson, Double Indemnity
9.  Regan MacNeil, The Exorcist
10.  The Queen, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs                                                    

Not bad choices, mind you.  Good to see that you can have both good and evil in the same films.  Other films that had one of each on the list include Schindler's List and Batman.  Some characters from different films in the same series also pulled the good/evil trick.  While Darth Vader apparently wasn't evil enough in Star Wars (his best evil apparently was in Empire), both Han Solo (#14) and Obi Wan Kenobi (#37) made the list.  The Alien in the original Alien placed #14 on the bad list.  The Terminator in Terminator 2: Judgement Day was the 48th rated hero, while the Terminator in the original The Terminator ranked as #22 on the villain list.  Of all of the various Bond villains over the years, only Auric Goldfinger, from Goldfinger, made the list, coming in at #49.

Other notable heroes:  Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (#12), Thelma Dickerson and Louise Sawyer in Thelma and Louise (#24), Superman in Superman (#26), Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle in The French Connection (#44) and Andrew Beckett in Philadelphia (#49).  Bad guys include Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II (#11), HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey (#13), The Shark in Jaws (#18), Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (#30........though a lot of people would consider Bickle a hero), Dr. Szell in Marathon Man (#34) and Hans Gruber in Die Hard (#46). 

The great response that has poured in on the cult movie challenge held a surprise for me.  That surprise was that when mentioning some of their favorites, the writers also remembered the movie theatre they had gone to.  This struck a chord with me.  A couple years ago I wrote a brief piece for the Movie Insider web site about how much more important film openings were in the 70's and early 80's, before there was a multiplex on every other street corner.  I have decided to revisit that idea, but base it around the various movie theatres from my youth in Tampa. 

When I moved back to the Kansas City area in 1996, the theatre chain I worked for owned one of the theatres I used to spend a lot of time at from 1979-81.  The theatre was called The Plaza and I can vividly remember the films I saw there like it was yesterday.  Approximately 40 miles from where I lived in Kansas, the VERY FIRST TIME I DROVE IN SNOW was the day I caught "Star Trek: The Motion Picture."  Also where I saw "All That Jazz," "Caddyshack" and "The Shining."  When I moved back out here, I mentioned these films to the current manager and he was surprised that I remembered what movie I had seen where.  I tried to explain to him that at one time movie going was an experience.  Your biggest complexes were four screens and because of that, you didn't have multiple prints at the same theatres.  Also, many of the theatres only played films from certain companies.  An example was the old Austin Cinema, where Matt worked.  The Austin pretty much played only films from Paramount, Columbia and Universal.  Same with the Britton, where I worked for a while before moving across the parking lot to Twin Bays.  In mid-1977, Twin Bays began getting the Universal films and the Britton started playing the films from Avco Embassy.   People you talked to couldn't understand why you would stand in line for hours just to see the first show of a movie you had been waiting for.  I had the extreme privilege of working at a great time in the theatre industry.  I'd like to take this time now to touch on some of the theatres that I still fondly recall in my memories.  Sadly, many of them are closed or not even standing anymore.  The Austin Cinema is now the Marriott hotel near West Shore.  When I was home in February, we visited the Britton and I was saddened to see what it had become.  Thankfully the memories are much happier.  In no particular order, except for the first:

I started working there in October, 1976.  The very first theatre in Tampa I saw a movie in.  The film was entitled "The Second Gun," and was one of those cool documentaries put out by Sun Classics.  It dealt with the assassination of Robert Kennedy (I'm a huge assassination buff on both Kennedy brothers).  Many fine thoughts from when I worked there.  The building had three auditoriums.  On either side of the lobby was a 300 or so seat theatre.  In the middle was a beautiful 900-plus seat auditorium.  It had a high ceiling and great ambience and it figures so much in my memories.  What was cool was that the side theatres had small balconies.  The dividing wall between them was actually a hidden door that went from one balcony to the other, albeit in the shadow of darkness.  Unsuspecting customers would be smooching up a storm (or worse) with one eye on what they thought was the only entrance to the balcony.  Imagine their shock when the man in blue (the color of the General Cinema's blazer) showed up with his flashlight.  Among the movies that played while I was there:  Damien: Omen II, Slap Shot and Rollercoaster, which was presented in SENSAROUND!!  SENSAROUND was basically an over-abundance of bass (At 16Hz, as I recall.--tech-head-Nolan).  Have you ever been next to a car at a light and your windows keep rattling because the driver is blasting Dr. Dre through his system?  It was like that.  The special speakers were about 8-foot high and in the corners of the auditoriums.  On my break I would go and sit inside one and rattle along with the coaster riders on film.  Even after I moved over to Twin Bays, the Britton was a great place to go.  Many a Friday went like this:  school, the Book Nook, movie at the Britton.  Unless I was working.  Then it was school, the Book Nook and work.  Pretty easy schedule.  One major opening stands out in my mind.  June 16, 1978.  Two major films starting that day.  Jaws II at the Britton and Grease at the Austin.  If you've read enough of mine and Matt's work, you know where we were.  First show: 11:50 a.m.  Matt, Rick Sousa, Scott Gilbert and I in line:  10:00 a.m.  I remember Scott applauding with Matt and I when Roy Scheider's name hit the screen.  The place erupted when JAWS 2 came on.  Hell, the audience was so great that they were clapping for the costume credits!  Matt and I saw all five showings that day and another 4 on Sunday.  For a break, we went and saw Grease on Saturday.  5 times!

As much as I enjoyed working at the Britton, General Cinema didn't pay minimum wage, which at the time was $2.10, I believe.  They got away with paying what was called a "student" wage, which was 20 cents less.  As the theatres were basically next to each other, we had an open pass policy.  The Britton employees could have the manager call and go see a movie at Twin Bays and vice versa.  One day, one of the Twin Bays employees mentioned they were hiring and, even more important, that they paid minimum wage. So, on my break I walked over and applied.  Did I have experience?  You think I'm wearing a white shirt and black tie for my looks?  So, in April 1977 I moved to Twin Bays.  My manager, Jim Fullman, was a great guy.  Our assistant, Bob Wiggins, is still my idol in the theatre manager business.  For almost 20 years now, I have managed my theatres and, more importantly, my staffs, as Bob Wiggins managed us.  Sadly, Bob left us in early 1978.  Sorry, that sounds like he died.  Actually, he moved out to California where his nephew had just gotten the role of the grandson on the series, "Maude."  Bob went out to be his nephew's on set guardian.  He sent a few cards and letters but eventually we stopped hearing from him.  I remember that he was a HUGE Ray Harryhausen fan and that, as a goodbye gift, the theatre staff had chipped in and gotten him a bunch of photos and posters from The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.  Many nights after work we would sit along the railing and sing along while he played guitar.  Also, he vouched for me one night at Squires when I was drinking underage, telling the bartender that he knew I was 18 because he hired me!  My memories of Twin Bays include:  Smokey and the Bandit playing for 27 straight weeks, having to endure the song "You Light Up My Life" up to 15 times a day when the film of the same name played there, running such soft "X" rated films as The Story of O and Chatterbox as midnight shows and having to deal with an angry group of moms and dads when our projectionist, Lonny, accidentally put a coming attraction for the "X" rated version of Pinnochio on the front of The Mouse and His Child.  All I remember is standing in the rear of the theatre and hearing the words "It's Not His Nose That Grows" as the preview started.  Pretty funny!  Well, I thought it was.  We played Rocky for so long that the film started breaking at the end and we had to tell people as they were leaving who had won the fight. For Halloween we got the reissue of Carrie, and a woman who had never seen the film literally fell out of her chair at the movie's end. We were also one of the first discount/dollar houses in the country.  On the day before Thanksgiving 1977, we started running older films at a great price and business went through the roof.  I can't remember all four films we opened with, but I know that two of them were the reissue of Young Frankenstein and Oh, God!  These movies sold out almost every show the entire weekend.  For you younger readers out there, the only way you could see a good movie again was when they were reissued.  There was no video so if you didn't see it when it came out you had to hope that it was popular enough to rate being re-released a couple years later.  Also the first theatre I worked at that had it's own softball team.  I still have my "Twin Bays Tigers" shirt, though I can't ever remember wearing anything in a size Medium.  And, as Matt likes to allude to, the infamous Franco Harris incident took place there.  Last note:  in his cult movie list Nolan listed "The Incredible Melting Man."  Twin Bays was the only theatre that played it when it opened.  I can still remember the tag line on the trailer and poster:  "Alex Rebar IS The Incredible Melting Man...............Come Prepared."

Well, that's part one. Next week, I'll talk about my days at the drive in and try to explain why we stood in line for almost 3 hours just to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Plus, Superman the Movie, Rocky II and Matt and I are introduced to George Romero. Until then, have a great week. See ya!

"Mike's Rant" is ©2003 by Michael A. Smith. Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2003 by Nolan B. Canova.