Jerry Walden is a long time movie lover, writer and an originating member of the Bogus Motorcycle Club.
Wednesday Afternoon at the Movies
By Jerry Walden
Well, it is Wednesday afternoon, and here I am again at one of my favorite places. Like some misguided bat I have sought out a big dark room where I can take refuge from the world, and rest for a while. My toenails were not built for hanging from the ceiling but this large room does have nice comfortable seats. It is an old theater and I must pick my seat carefully. Some seats have been mistreated and slope dramatically towards the floor. Selecting the wrong seat might result in spending the next 2 hours on the floor, studying ancient chewing gum wads from the viewpoint of a cockroach.
I have arrived early and have my choice of seats, for my private showing of today’s feature, “Night of the Hunter.” Center seat, row 10 looks good, for now. But, if or when others arrive, I may have to move to another seat.
I sit gazing up at the still photo advertisements of local realtors, chiropractors, day schools and the theater itself, hawking tickets for gifts or prizes. My mind calms and begins to glide into reveries, remembrances; and it cozies up to other warm thoughts. I was remembering that I had first seen “Night of the Hunter” as a first run when I was 18 or 19 years old. I was enthralled and completely involved for the 140 or so minutes of the film. Films had already become a fixture in my fantasy life. TV in the 50’s was still in it’s infancy and was not yet a threat to the motion picture industry.
I also recalled the job I had, just a year or so later, as a “tagger.” This takes a little explanation. In the 1950’s movie theaters had not yet congealed into a few national syndicates which controlled the marketing to the consumer. In the suburbs of Los Angeles most neighborhood theaters were privately owned. The better theater companies had a small number of theaters, 2 to 4 being very common. There were no multiplexes. A theater company would rent two films from a distributor, a top rated feature and a “B” movie. The operators would run these films at two or more theaters. Starting times would be staggered. “Taggers” were motorcycle messengers who carried one or two reels of a movie between the theaters.
Now pay attention, there may be a test later. In order to simplify this process let us only deal with a six reel feature film and two theaters. On each Friday and Saturday nights the feature film was shown once. The “B” movies were shown twice, before the feature and after the feature. Let’s pick it up in the middle. When reels 1 and 2 of the feature finish at theater A; a tagger takes these reels to theater B; which is showing the last reel of the B movie. The tagger usually sits on the aisle in the last row of the theater and watches the finish of the “B” movie and some or, all of the first reel of the feature. At this point the tagger gets the final two reels of the “B” movie and returns to theater A, where he watches a portion of reel 4 of the feature. Next the tagger takes reels 3 and 4 to theater B, where he watches the last portions of reel 2, and maybe, a little bit of reel 3, maybe. His next run gives the tagger the ending of reel 6.
Now, if the tagger was lucky he (or she) would see most of the movie over Friday and Saturday, but there may be pieces missing. The tagger will never know for sure.
None of this little gem of information has any significant bearing on anything I can think of. Perhaps some post-doc, future scholar at UCLA or USC might want to collect some tax payer money by writing a paper on the subject. I can’t think of anyone who would be interested in the subject, accept for me, of course, sitting in a dark theater, alone, hoping no one else shows up to disturb my enjoyment of the movie.
For me and most young Americans of that era; from the end of WW2 and the beginning of the boomers “Age of Aquarius,” the movies played a major role in our socialization. Movies were morality plays, adventure stories, love stories, flights of fantasy, and windows to the world, for teenage and young adult Americans. Movies suggested what was moral, just, and acceptable. Movies suggested ways to behave as adults, as productive workers and business persons; they suggested how we were to behave as parents, where and how to champion social reform, when to conform and accept the existing order. The movies introduced us to sex.
I was a tagger. There I was, becoming an adult, lost someplace in reel 3, wondering what I missed at the beginning of reel 2 which led to the events in reel 4; and, what in hell did anything in reel 1 have to do with anything in reel 6. Reel 5, did I see reel 5? Was that the reel where we were supposed to learn about sex?
The Coca Cola commercial has started and I wonder, could this be a partial explanation of why I have had so many different careers over these years? And then there’s the three marriages and three divorces? I wonder. Could all those missing reel 5’s have made a difference?
Finally, the trailers of future films have started. There are only a half a dozen other people in attendance, two couples and two loners, an old man and a weird looking young dude. None are sitting near me. Maybe it is something to do with the crash helmet and the black leather jacket I’m wearing. Or maybe it has something to do with me cleaning my fingernails with my boot knife. I don’t know. I gave up trying to figure people out a long time ago.
I settle into my seat, and wait, wait for the start of my weekly treat. Soon, I will be experiencing the beautiful photography, the unusual story and superb directing of Charles Laughten’s “Night of the Hunter.