Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Savoy Theatre


 
In 1958 my dad drove me and my friend Paul to the Savoy Theatre in downtown Ferguson. We were both ten, and this was the first time our parents let us attend a movie without adult supervision. Dad let us off in front, making sure we knew when and where he would pick us up. The movie was “The Blob” and according to friends, it is was “really good” and “really scary”.
 It was the first show of the evening and a long line of kids stood waiting outside to buy tickets.  Paul and I went to the end of the line. Most of the other kids towered over us. Some girls standing next to us talked with each other excitedly and Paul and I noticed they smelled like perfume. Some of the boys up ahead looked dangerous, with hair greased back, short sleeves rolled up, shirt fronts partly unbuttoned and collars flipped up in the back. They were smoking cigarettes, talking loudly and pushing each other around.

The line in the lobby for snacks was long too, but we had plenty of time before the movie started. We bought candy, soda and shared a popcorn. I don’t remember what kind of candy Paul got, but I bought a big chunk of fudge, not the best choice for this particular movie. By the time we made it to our seats, the theater was nearly full and filled with the sounds of talking and laughter. A theater custodian patrolled up and down the aisles. As soon as he disappeared through the curtains and into the lobby, the air was filled with flying popcorn and crumpled candy wrappers. The concrete floor under our feet was sticky from spilled soda and under the arms of the seats were petrified wads of chewing gum.

The movie opens with a young couple necking in a convertible. It was Steve McQueen’s first movie role and he received $3,000 for his performance. The girl was Anita Corsaut, who would several years later play Helen Crump, Opie’s teacher and Andy’s girlfriend on the Andy Griffith Show. The couple notices a meteor cross the night sky and crash to earth. They take off in Steve’s powder blue 1952 Plymouth, to try to find it. But an old man, who lives in a cabin nearby, finds it first. The old man pokes the small meteor with a stick and it opens to reveal a small, round, reddish blob. He then pokes the blob and lifts it up to examine it. It now looks yellowish and oozy like a big disgusting glob of snot. When it jumps from the stick onto the old man’s hand, a collective gasp ripples across the theater. The old man tries to shake it off, but can’t. He stumbles out onto the highway and Steve and Miss Crump nearly run him over.

I watched parts of the movie on "you-tube" in order to write this blog-post, and compared to today’s horror films, it’s terrible. It’s poorly written, the actors definitely would not win any awards and most importantly, to today’s kids, it would not be the least bit scary. In the 50s “cheap teen movies” were made for the drive-in movie market. “The Blob” was released as a double feature along with “I Married a Monster from Outer Space”. But in 1958, the entire audience of kids, even the “cool” rowdy kids, were transfixed by the suspense, many hiding their eyes and scrunching down in their seats.

Paul and I voraciously ate the popcorn, drank the soda and I was working on my big hunk of fudge right when the blob oozed through the ventilation grates and into the on screen movie theater. I had to leave my seat, run up the aisle and out the exit to upchuck by the side of the theater. But I didn’t want to miss any of the action, so I ran back in and continued watching.

          No one could figure out how to stop the blob until a fire broke out and some of the fire extinguisher fluid accidentally sprayed it. When it recoiled, our hero, Steve, remembered it recoiling earlier from an open freezer door and put two and two together. Steve's teenage friends and the cops grabbed all the fire extinguishers they could find and were able to temporarily freeze it. In its frozen state, the blob was airlifted by an Air Force heavy lift cargo plane to the Arctic and sent parachuting down onto the ice. In the final dialogue of the movie, Policeman Dave says something like, “the blob is not dead, but at least it has been stopped.” To which Steve replies, "Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold." And if you’ve been listening to the news lately you’d know that the Arctic ice is melting at an unparalleled rate. Paul and I survived our first unsupervised outing at the Savoy. On the way out we noticed Hercules was coming next week. We could hardly wait.

The last film I remember seeing at the Savoy was “A Thousand Clowns” with Jason Robards.  It was the summer after I graduated from McCluer High School and my last date with Marley before entering the Army.


The Savoy Theatre opened on Christmas day 1936. In 1966 it was purchased by the Wehrenberg chain of theatres. The inside was completely gutted and remodeled to become the Crown Theatre and ran  newly released films. In 1993 the Crown closed and the building became the Savoy Banquet Center. 
 

 

3 comments:

  1. great recollection. I can still smell the stench of soggy popcorn today. Worse than the blob. Steve McQueen's career took a downhill spiral after the blob.

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  2. In thinking about your concern regarding the return of the blob as a result of global warming, I think it has already happened..... in the form of a president.

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  3. I saw a thousand clowns but never understood it. Like so many movies at that time there was some kind of big message that flew right over my head.

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