I’ve been trying to remember what could have been the first movies I ever saw. This was the early ’60s, long before there was any such thing as home video, so we’re talking about trips to the movie theater or drive-in. I suppose it’s possible I could have seen a movie on TV, but it’s not likely. My TV watching was exclusively devoted to cartoons, maybe some sitcoms, and kid’s shows like Shenanigans, our local institution Magic Toy Shop, and The Baron And His Buddies, the latter starring Mike Price as Syracuse’s own inimitable local TV vampire, Baron Daemon.
So , let’s say we’re looking around 1964, when I was four years old, or maybe even as early as three-year-old Carl in ’63. I remember occasional trips to The North Drive-In in nearby Cicero, piled into the car with family to see cartoons and a feature. There was a playground at the drive-in, right in front of the screen, for little ones like me to cavort ‘n’ frolic before the pictures started. I also remember wearing my pajamas in the car; the adults had a reasonable expectation that the kid would fall asleep long before the final credits rolled, so best be prepared to lift the li’l tyke outta the car and plop him in bed at evening’s end.
Although I remember all of the above, and I specifically remember seeing a Pixie And Dixie And Mr. Jinks cartoon at the drive-in, the earliest drive-in feature film I can specifically remember is The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night. But I am certain that was not my first movie.
I think I have the answer narrowed down to four likely choices, though there could have been another forgotten trip to the cinema that predates all of them. But I know I saw the 1963 Disney animated film The Sword In The Stone, and I know I saw Don Knotts in the 1964 live action/animation hybrid The Incredible Mr. Limpet. Simple chronology suggests The Sword In The Stone would have been first, but it’s also possible I saw that film on second run, so who knows?
And it’s for damned sure I saw the 1964 blockbuster Mary Poppins at the movies, maybe at the drive-in (predating A Hard Day’s Night). Everyone saw Mary Poppins in 1964!
The fourth, vaguely-remembered flick in this group has been difficult to identify. I recall being in a movie theater–possibly in downtown Syracuse–when I was quite young; I remember a talking snake; and I remember a woman on screen, laughing. That’s it. My only other recollection is of us leaving the theater as this woman laughed; I would guess that the scene on screen rattled precious little me, leading to a decision that it was time for us to go. Bye bye, snake. By bye, laughing lady.
A little internet sleuthing leads me to believe this film was probably 7 Faces Of Dr. Lao, a 1964 fantasy film directed by George Pal and starring Tony Randall. I’ve never seen the film in its entirety–nor at all since we presumably made our hasty retreat from the movie house in 1964–but while the description and YouTube clips of the movie don’t precisely match my hazy memory, they’re close enough for me to call it. The intrepid Tony Randall played the title role, and a talking snake, and a laughing, creepy Medusa, among other parts. Eerie ookiness achieved–7 Faces Of Dr. Lao was one of the first movies I ever saw.
(One other movie worth mentioning in this context is Cinderfella, a 1960 Jerry Lewis flick. I was born in 1960, so I’ll go out on a limb here and conclude that I probably don’t remember seeing Cinderfella on its first run. But maybe a second [or third] run, at the drive-in? That would make sense. Let’s call it a kookie quintet of feature films, all mixed together in a photo-finish tie for the coveted title of Carl’s First Movie.)
I’m not a movie buff. I’ve always liked movies, but I don’t go to see an awful lot of them, nor do I catch up with many films on home video or on demand. I’ve never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ve never The Godfather. I’ve never seen a Hitchcock film, other than seeing part of The Birds once on TV. I don’t say any of this for shock value, nor to be smug or iconoclastic or dismissive of the art of film. I’m not proud of the movies I’ve missed, but I’m also not specifically motivated to correct these omissions in my film-seein’ resume.
This sporadic series of Lights! Camera! REACTION! will look at some of the films I have seen, examine my history as a filmgoer, and just generally chat about my life at the movies. Grab some popcorn, and shhhh! The lights are dimming. I’m ready for my close-up.
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