In my movie childhood — which chimes with all my childhood because my life has been lived at the movies — one of our downtown theaters, the Roxy, often showed on Saturdays what they called reissues. Was the rest of the world calling them rereleases? Or was everyone saying reissues then?
Reissue was what the Roxy said in the “Current Week,” the newspaper column I lived for. Published in our Saturday afternoon newspaper, it listed what movies would be shown at each theater in the city during the next seven days. In my earliest discovery of the “Current Week,” I had no idea of the meaning of the word current. I don’t know how I even knew its pronunciation. In my life at the time, it meant my movie week.
My parents — I realize, now, always happy to have me out of the house — allowed me to see just about as many movies as I wanted to see, and I recall no concern about what I chose to see. And I had choices.
My beloved Roxy was the last theater, out at the end, on what my Dad always called the Main Drag. When I was a boy there were seven theaters on that same street downtown. Three of them in a row, right next to each other. Them was the days.
A poet’s heart leaps. My stomach did, when I would reach the Roxy at the end of the alphabetical list of theaters in the “Current Week” and find in parenthesis after the title of the next Saturday’s movie, the word reissue. I deliberately read through the theaters in order, saving the Roxy till last where it naturally stood until the St. Johns was added, making that the seventh downtown theater. The Roxy changed its program four times each week: A movie played Sunday and Monday, another on Tuesday and Wednesday, yet a different title for Thursday and Friday, then a film that played Saturday only. The Roxy’s ad for Saturday would read TODAY ONLY. Saturday was reissue day, when there was a reissue. Not every week, by any means. Oh, and the ad in the paper on Saturday contained under the title, in parenthesis, the word reissue when that was the case.
I don’t know why I was attracted to what was not new and preferred the Roxy’s Saturday programs. I remember Too Hot to Handle. I went to the movie already liking Clark Gable and Myrna Loy because my parents enjoyed them so much. And Red Dust. My parents loved Jean Harlow, too, though I confess that at the time she never looked real to me. The outside poster I remember best is Navy Blues. That was not a reissue, but my tender years did not prevent my appreciation of Ann Sheridan spread across a tavern tabletop. I also saw Algiers at the Roxy. Mom and Dad had Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow, but I discovered Hedy Lamarr myself. Argentine Nights, the Andrews Sisters’ first film appearance. (See blogs for 3/24/12 and 2/1/13.) Tugboat Annie. As a grade school-er I was incapable of realizing the wonder of Marie Dressler.
And there were the Capra masterpieces of the 30s. And Jezebel. But I can’t honestly give the Roxy Theatre credit for them. I absorbed those at another theatrical emporium, the Temple, reopened, off the Main Drag, after having been inactive for several years. This made the eighth theater, right downtown. Only one screen in each of these theaters, of course. First run houses showed only one feature, always. But others, including the Temple, had double bills. The Temple, in reality (reality?), was reborn into my high school life. That’s how those particular classics fit into my development — as opposed to those earliest viewings at the Roxy. The Temple alternated classic Hollywood with so-called documentaries. These were travel films, the advertizing for which, at least, titillated my adolescent loins (pun intended).
But those earliest days at the Roxy are the tenderest memories, and the brightest remains The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. Bright indeed, the first Hollywood feature shot outdoors in color. The photography is careful and quietly artful. There may be two brief mattes in the overall running time. The color is rich but never garish. Fred MacMurray and Henry Fonda and especially Sylvia Sidney compel us to believe this unbelievable tale of sentimentalized mountain folk from the popular novel by John Fox, Jr. which also became popular as a play. (See Pine note below.) There is just enough of a hard edge to the characters — and the playing — of Fonda and MacMurray to assist their credibility. . There is a surprising and even harder facet to June, the Sylvia Sidney character, a facet the actress grasps and delivers. She is a mountain girl who for years has had an understanding, as it used to be called, with Dave, a cousin (Fonda) — an understanding she has never fully accepted and from which she periodically frets and revolts. To their area comes the railroad, wanting their land. June finds herself attracted to their business representative Jack Hale (MacMurray) who is attracted to her as well but proves a man of mature responsibility, incapable of taking offered advantage. When June is given a chance to go the city, she is fierce in her determination to take it, a chance finally “to have my fancies.” As a small child, I somehow knew what she meant. She wanted pretty clothes and pretty things, which were her dreams. The background of the story is a Hatfield/McCoy-like feud. Here they’re the Tollivers and the Falins.
Fuzzy Knight has two memorable songs and they actually belong in the story. Marc Lawrence adds his dark luster to a feuding role. And while the viewer must suffer a supposedly cute Hollywood kid, at least Spanky McFarland as Buddie is not a smart aleck and does not even feel superior to all the adults around him. I always enjoy glimpsing Clara Blandick before she became Auntie Em, and she has a small role as a landlady.
Sylvia Sidney gave many outstanding performances during a long career. Well worth watching: Sabotage (Hitchcock), Fury, (both from the same year as The Trail of the Lonesome Pine); Dead End; The Searching Wind; Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams. She also had stage successes, one of which was the role of the governess in The Innocents, dramatization of Henry James’The Turn of the Screw.
Pine note: The novel was filmed in 1914; in 1916 (directed by Cecil B. DeMille); and in 1923 (starring Mary Miles Minter, Antonio Moreno and Ernest Torrence).
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
photography Robert C. Bruce & W. Howard Greene
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For northeast Ohioans: Kurtiss Hare at the Lincoln Theatre in Massillon tonight (9/26/14) at 7:00 for ReelMassillon, presenting Garrel’s Jealousy.
Next FRIDAY post, October 10
See you at the movies,