Nearly every Saturday afternoon during the 1950’s we were spread throughout the three sections of seats in the Roxy Theater in Pacific Beach, California, broken into groups of friends and co-conspirators as we waited for the curtains to part and the Matinee to begin. We all had made a preemptory pass by the snack bar and were busy feasting on sweets as we recounted the best of last Saturday’s matinee. We made bets as to how the star of the current serial had somehow dodged doom and was once more feisty and fresh for the upcoming battles with evil, as we then defined it.
I was a freckle-faced bowling ball boy, eager to roll down the alley towards the candy pins of the Saturday Matinee. I rolled a strike every time, though I was spinning furiously.
I had a pocket full of change from my paper route, destined to be spent on popcorn, sodas, salted nuts, Bon-Bons, Good and Plentys, candy bars, Jujubees, taffy, red and black licorice, Milk Duds, Red Hots, Jujyfruits, Sugar Babies, and, in general, a tsunami of all things tasty, including hot dogs. A 3-Musketeers candy bar was always accommodated.
The afternoon engulfed us in cartoons, serials, B movies, newsreels, snack bar ads. We were barraged with insistent requests that we all stay in our seats and resist the urge to shoot spit wads, make loud comments, park bubble gum under our seats, mumble incessantly or cause disruptions for little or no reason. Ushers with flashlights prowled in the darkness to ferret out the incorrigibles, which, when discovered were always given a chance to be quiet before being ejected outside and into the bright sun of the afternoon.
Such a fate almost never befell me, as I cherished the dark redoubt where friends and fun kept the realities of the world at bay.
As soon as the first cartoon hit the screen everything more or less calmed down as all eyes were riveted to the framed humor at hand. Hours passed in a flash, though our parents thought our absence both extended and refreshing. Newsreels gave us an adult perspective, series like Flash Gordon, Commando Cody, Radar Men from the Moon, Undersea Kingdom, Zorro’s Fighting Legion and a host of others ended every Saturday with an impossible cliffhanger that strongly suggested sure death for our heroes.
Yet, when we came back the following Saturday, we saw a slightly different version of the supposed demise and our faith was rewarded by a close call that turned the tide, if only for a few minutes, in favor of the protagonists. Those who would trap and torture us were usually dealt a smart slap, at least until the end of the chapter, where another cliffhanger was engineered to trap us in disbelief.
At the end of the double feature matinee we begrudgingly exited the Roxy, to be picked up by our parents or headed home on foot or by bicycle in packs of sugar laden kids, anxious to recount our many hours in the dark to our waiting families, who were lathered with incomplete sentences, canned fright, B movie madness and newsreels to times unknown. It would take hours for us to settle into some sense of calm, at which point our parents sighed in relief at the price paid for a few hours of our delirious transport at the Saturday matinee.
I was fortunate enough to have frolicked in the fun of movie Matinees at the Roxy and fondly recall many sweet nights at the local drive-ins. I lament the passing of both of these institutions, but look forward to the sequel series to Matinee at the Bijou. Though the Matinees may be delivered this time through television and the Internet, the emotional impact and travel back in time will be a soothing salve for millions during these troubled times.
© 2007 Lance Pugh
Along with Bijou and other preoccupations, Lance is a freelance journalist. We look forward to future Matinee and Drive-in musings from Lance.