Two for the price of one: in my childhood and before that, every theater ran back-to-back movies, not to mention trailers, newsreels and cartoons. In the golden age of the movies (1930’s and 40’s), the palaces were packed daily, and if a house offered a double feature, both were usually first run. There was actually so much product coming out of Hollywood that Sam Goldwyn and his peers had classified new films as A or B, top of the bill or second feature. Casablanca, for example, was conceived and shot as a B feature.
But in 1976, the “buck fifty” (second or even third-run) movie house circuit revived the notion of “two for one.” The St. George was just such a house. While we were in charge, an A picture was a first-run film released two or more years earlier, such as Carrie, while a B picture could be even older, though it had probably been a major attraction to begin with. An A feature cost us a percentage of the house, usually 30 percent. However, a tired old B feature could be had for a flat fifty dollars. Once we tried to book two B pictures from two separate distributors — which would have allowed us to rely on candy sales for a living — but Warner and UA checked with each other and squashed our effort.
For a six-hour projection shift, we usually scheduled three films: A B A (the A picture twice, the B feature once). Other films that we ran together include: The Sunshine Boys and Harry & Tonto, Blazing Saddles and Smile, Lady Sings the Blues and Foxy Brown. Towering Inferno combined with Earthquake became our “Shake and Bake” special. Looking back on all of these, I find it difficult to tell in most cases which was the main feature, revealing how short of product the industry really was, especially on the buck-fifty circuit.
Double features faded away, along with scheduled baseball double-headers, but everything that goes around comes around. In addition to websites that help a movie-goer to exploit the times of various movies shown within a common plex, (AKA “movie-hopping”) thematic festivals featuring horror and kiddie flicks keep viewers in the lobby or near the candy stand. At home, binge-watching (three Mad Men in a row or five episodes of Girls) gives the effect of movie watching, almost.
Dean (my life partner and, in 1976, my entrepreneurial partner) recalls picking up the box office line early one evening at the St. George, when a sarcastic voice at the other end asked, “This Texas Chainsaw and Torso thing, these two movies, is the second one what’s left after the chainsaw?” Giggling followed and the line went dead.