— Peter Bogdanovich, “Old Dreams,” in Silent Screens
“No one but no one...will be admitted to the theater after the start of each performance of Psycho.” Hitchcock went so far as to have this sign posted at all theaters where his epic thriller opened. Right then and there he re-trained the movie-going public to start at the beginning. And it wasn’t just the public; the movies of my adolescence that followed — Tom Jones, Cleopatra, Dr. Strangelove —were movies you didn’t want to miss the first fifteen minutes of.
By the time I walked into the lobby of the St. George Theatre, a 2,672-seat movie palace I was involved in running in 1976, the film was the thing, the whole thing. MovieTone newsreels had been gone since 1963, and cartoons, though sweet, cost an extra fifty bucks (as much as the second feature) to run.
Most of our patrons were grownups who didn’t care anymore about Bugs or Daffy Duck; they got their news from television. Our mid-seventies audience had come at the appointed time to see Taxi Driver or Carrie or Don’t Open the Window — whatever it was we’d advertised on the movie page that week.
They got a little surly if too many “short subjects” intervened.
We had several patrons who were almost Hitchcock trainees. Dean’s nickname for one particular guy was “Time Clock,” but box office staffers had another name for him, a middle-aged man (accountant?) fixated on the actual start time of any film we ran.
“It’s three minutes past eight o’clock,” he’d state emphatically, pointing at his wrist.
“Yes,” I said, “...and your problem?”
“The film is scheduled to start at eight; it said so in the papers, on your sign board, and in that infernal message I hear when I call the theater.” (We were proud of our answering machine, one of the first of its kind).
“Eight o’clock is eight o’clock! — it’s now five minutes past eight,” he said, checking his watch.
Over his shoulder and through the glass partition that separated the auditorium from the lobby, I could see the trailer package grinding away, nearly 11 minutes of COMING ATTRACTIONS, for films we mostly couldn’t afford.
“I think,” I said, “it’ll start in six, maybe seven minutes...”
And we were off.
“That is preposterous!” he ejaculated. “I paid good money for an eight o’clock movie! Truth in advertising! I want my money back.”
Dean appeared, shrugged and reached into his pocket for a dollar and two quarters, and placed the ticket price in the man’s small immaculate palm.
He stormed out the door.
“Who is this guy?” I wondered.
“Staff calls him Tic Toc, but I think of him as Time Clock,” Dean explained.
Tic Toc was not the only time-troubled patron. A mother surrounded by three children of various ages stood outside the box office one Saturday afternoon and, after purchasing four tickets, inquired when the main feature would start.
“It started only about five minutes ago,” Brenda responded.
Puzzled and disappointed, the narcissistic mother asked, “Well, could you re-start it? Traffic was terrible...”
Brenda actually stopped chewing her perpetual gum and stared at the woman. “No way,” was all she could muster.
I was getting my hair cut yesterday, so asked my stylist — a friend of many years and one of the most savvy moviegoers I know — if, when he was growing up in the fifties, he’d been in the habit of arriving late to movies. “Absolutely not!” he replied, “My whole family...we were always on time; it was important to us.” On time, and ahead of his time.