When we were kids, going to see a movie at a theater was not a very common thing. It was considered a luxury that really was not at all necessary since we had television. It cost money that could be used on more important things, such as clothes and food.
However, every once in a while, a Blockbuster would come out that our parents thought was worthy of the money spent. I’m speaking of the ones that live in Movie history, such as The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, The Guns of Navarone, The Greatest Story Ever Told, etc. These are the ones that would be worthy enough of spending the money for a ticket. Naturally, getting a snack at the theater was “Highway Robbery”, to quote Mom, so we usually brought something from home in our pockets. No matter to us; we were in a theater and we were seeing an amazing story on the Big Screen.
I still have a vivid memory of Charleston Heston (Moses) parting the Red Sea. Amazing cinematography for the day…. Kinda’ cheesy by today’s standards, but to a little boy? Astounding.
There were two main movie theaters close to our apartment; The Greenwich and the Lowes, both in the heart of The Village. The Greenwich played Avant garde type moves, foreign films and the such. As a kid I rarely visited that theater. Later in life I began to appreciate it.
It was the Lowes on 6th Avenue that brought us the major Hollywood attractions as mentioned above, and my earliest memories of the aforementioned Blockbuster were viewed here. It was a beautiful theater, with real architecture, not the sterile 16 screen mega-theaters of today. It had a beautiful lobby and a real, honest to goodness balcony; the type of balcony one would find on Broadway. I entered another world when I walked in from the hot, humid summer air of the City to the Air Conditioned magnificence of the Lowes. Air Conditioning was also a major luxury, and just the feel of the cold air, coupled with the distinct aroma of popcorn put me in another world; The world of Moses or the world of the heroes of Navarone. The afterglow of a trip to the theater to see a major film lasted literally months for me.
Its funny however, that some of the fondest memories I have of the movies came at a classic drive-in in New Jersey; the Ledgewood in Lake Hopatcong. I’m not going to speak too much about Lake Hopatcong right now, but I am confident, if you are even casually following this blog you will hear much about it from Rob and I. In many ways, it defined our childhood and, in many ways, defined who we are today.
But, enough of the teaser campaign. For now, suffice it to say that as kids, Rob and I got to spend our summers in Lake Hopatcong, NJ. There, on the intersection of Routes 10 and 46, stood the Ledgewood.
It was as classic of a drive in as your imagination can conjure, so conjure away. Why we were able to enjoy the Ledgewood was a practical one. On Wednesday nights the Ledgewood would offer “Car Night”, IE; no matter how many you crammed into the car, you paid one price. Normally, you paid by the person, but not on car night. On car night, dad could take the entire family to see a movie for one set price. I honestly don’t remember what that price was, but it was amazing, it may have been as low as a dollar for the entire car.
So, on many a Wednesday evening Mom would get Rob and I in our pajamas, pack some snacks and off to the drive-in we would go. More often than not, our cousin Chris, Aunt Ruth and Uncle Vincent would join us. Hey, it was Car night and they had a Station Wagon! Do you know how many people you can fit into an old Ford station Wagon? Lots.
Damn, we were always excited about this night and to make it even more awesome, there were always two movies to watch! A good Ol’ double feature. I don’t think they have those anymore.
The first film was always the “lesser” of the two, with the second film being the main event. It was like the warm up band for a good rock show. Usually the first film started when it still was twilight, so you could never really get a good, clear look of the screen until the first movie was damned near over. It was summer after all, and it didn’t get dark until at least nine. However, after a quick intermission, when everyone ran from their cars to the restroom or the concession stand, the main movie would begin.
I can still hear the metallic, somewhat distorted sound of the “speakers” that the driver would place in the window of the car. Surround sound? HA! If you were close to the driver side of the car, and close to the front seat, you could hear pretty well, but if you were in the back seat of a Ford Station Wagon, well, you learned at an early age to lip read.
I guess when I try to remember the movie that stands out best that we viewed at the Legewood Drive in, it would have to be Von Ryan’s Express, starring Frank. (Sinatra for those of you who missed the Little Italy installment). It was the fictional story of World War Two Allied prisoners who staged a mass breakout from an Italian POW Camp and steal a train too make their getaway. When the Germans find out, they plan on halting the escape by employing an armored train and air support. For a young kid, the excitement was overwhelming. The last scene of the movie still plays clearly in my head and I will NOT share it here… because I think everyone should see Von Ryan’s Express.
Whatever movie we saw, Rob and I played it back over and over in our heads as we made our way home and, usually, we were asleep by the time we made it back. But, the movie?
Vivid forever in our Cobblestone dreams.
Much more on Movies to come….