Monday, March 19, 2007

It's Strictly a Laugh Affair

(NOTE: Inspired by the Oscars, I've decided that, once a week, I'm going to try to share a movie that has made a significant impact on me. If nothing else, this will expose you to some of my idiosyncrasies.)

I grew up in two small towns. During the school year, we lived in Texas. During the summer we lived in Colorado.

In both places, we only had one movie theater. And I have distinctive memories of each place.

The movie theater in Texas was named The Grand. It was very much like the movie theater idolized in The Last Picture Show (which was filmed in Archer City, 75 miles away from my home town). The Grand was probably built in the ‘30s and had a unique art deco feel. There were lots of sculptural relief plaster moldings, inside and out, with strong geometric lines. The Grand was the last (or first, depending on your perspective) commercial building on main street. Inside the lobby was the small concession stand, with the men’s room on the right and the ladies room on the left. The auditorium had a large center section, two aisles and smaller side sections. The theater also had a balcony, which until desegregation took hold, was where the blacks were expected to sit.

Going to The Grand wasn’t as much about the movie as it was about having something to do on Saturday. I would usually go with other kids that lived in the neighborhood or my big brother. First stop inside was always the concession stand. My favorite items were Charms® suckers – particularly blueberry – and “hot” Dr Pepper®, served in polystyrene foam cups with a lemon wedge. Some days, I had Milk Duds®.

In this small Texas town we only got what they call “second-run” movies. And for all the movies I saw at The Grand, I can't remember much about any specific movie. (In high school we’d go to the big city with dates to see "first-run" movies months before they’d ever make it to our small town.)

The movies at The Grand changed twice a week, on Sundays and on Thursdays. Family-oriented, or rather kid-friendly, movies ran Thursday through Saturday. Any movie that had a “more adult” theme of course only played Sunday through Wednesday, when kids were to either be in church or in school.

I’m not exactly sure how we usually got downtown, or how we got back home. I’m assuming a parent would drop us off, and we would later call them to come pick us up. Or we’d just walk. While my family lived close to the edge of town, it was less than two miles away.

Interestingly, it never seemed to matter when the movie started. If you got there during the middle of the movie, you’d just stay until you’d watch the first part later. And on Saturdays, there were always cartoons before the movie. Often, we’d sit through the movie long enough to watch the cartoons twice. I remember that we seemed to roam the theater, sitting in several seats. Sometimes we would sit in the balcony too.

In Colorado the movie theater was The Park, a large white wooden building with red trim and green neon lights. It sat across the street from the old post office, a block off main street. (Built in 1913, The Park is supposedly the oldest theater west of the Mississippi that is still in use showing movies.)

We rarely went to the movies during the summer. Instead our days were usually spent at the community swimming pool, playing baseball, or just hiking in the mountains. As kids, we were pretty much free to roam. In back of our house we had a large “dinner bell” mounted on top of eight-foot metal pole. You could hear it throughout the valley, and mother would ring it when it was time to come home.

However, it was here in Colorado, that I can distinctly remember seeing a particular movie. The movie was The Parent Trap.

I’m not sure what made this movie so memorable when I first saw it. Yes, it's funny; as its promotional themeline says: "It's Stricly a Laugh Affair." However, beyond the laughter, there are several themes in The Parent Trap that have greatly influenced me. Some positively, some negatively. Some clearly fictional, some based on reality.

Divorce Sucks

The movie never explains what caused Mitch and Maggie to get divorced or to make the decision that they’d separate the kids and raise them independently – with different last names – never telling them about their sibling. How did this happen? At the time, I didn’t know anybody that was divorced. It wasn’t until three years later that I actually had a friend whose parents divorced. However, I still have real concerns that kids get abandoned when parents get divorced. And in many ways, it still bothers me.

Kids-of-Privilege Live Differently Than Most (Duh !!!)

I’m sure that part of my attraction to this movie were things that I could relate to: horseback riding at the ranch, eating lunch at the country club, flying around the country going to summer camps. (Don't all kids do these things?)

However, this has generally been a very hard thing for me to deal with. Kids of privilege often have a very unhealthy sense of entitlement ... learning that you have to work for things you want doesn’t always come easily. Plus these kids are regularly labeled “snobs” without having any control over the circumstances. Real friends are often few and far between.

What's a worse slur on the playground? "Fag" or "snob?"

Being a Twin Has Unique Advantages

What can I say? I’ve been infatuated with twins since seeing this movie. (And there’s more than I can even begin to talk about here.)

You Can’t Keep Secrets from Your Domestic Help

If you remember (assuming that you also saw this movie), Verbena -- Mitch’s housekeeper/cook -- knew everything, including all family secrets.

I used to hide the first dirty magazine I ever had under my mattress. It wasn’t just a Playboy; it was hard-core porn. One day it disappeared. Nothing was ever said, but I’m sure I know who found it. Lesson learned.

Plus, if you don’t want others to know that you leave skid marks in your underwear, you had better wash your own clothes.

Blonds ARE Dumb

When I saw this movie again - over a decade later while in college - it struck me that this movie is very male-chauvinistic. Vicky, the young blond that is out to marry Mitch for his money, couldn't have been more stereotypical stupid and selfish. The infamous camping trip is a classic "dumb blond" joke. Even though it’s not politically correct, I still love it. (And Disney is supposed to be known for its tolerance!)

* * *
Memorable quote:

Verbena (Ever's Housekeeper): You didn't know what a good thing you had when you had it.
Mitch Evers: Huh?


Ps said...

I'm amazed that you mention parent trap.Both my kids LOVED this movie.I didnt know that it was first made in 1961.What i am talking about was 'parent trap' which was made in 2005.
The story line is like this (please don't read, if you havent seen the movie,as this might contain spoilers)

Hallie and Annie are twins; they met at a camp. At first they didn't like each other and played pranks on each other, until they both got punished. Hallie lives with her dad on a ranch with her dog and their butler. Like Annie, she is very good at poker and is allergic to strawberries. Annie lives in England, and her mother is a famous wedding gown designer. Annie lives with her grandfather and her butler in a big house. She likes oreos dipped in peanut butter, like her twin Hallie, and can speak fluent french.

Anyway, they meet and Hallie gets the idea to switch places. However, they have a few problems: 1) Annie has longer hair than Hallie and 2) Hallie has pierced ears, but Annie doesn't. To solve this problem, Hallie cuts Annie's hair and pierces her ears. After they successfully switch places, they run into a problem: Dad's getting... shhhhhhhhh-oops, don't want to spoil the surprise

Ps said...

I like the way you analysed various things in this post.And then dissected it and presented your views.

Lemuel said...

I also recall enjoying the Parent Trap as a young teenager. You do a good job with analysis. Sadly by then I knew about divorce - uncle, friends, but not my own parents. As for the life of privilege, it was something we saw on the screen and wondered if kids really did live like this somewhere or was it just made-up in the movies.

On a side note, I laughed at your recall of entering a movie in the middle and just staying through the feature (and the news and the cartoons) until it started again and got to the part at which we walked in. Then we would walk out. That seemed so ordinary then.

JustJock said...

I remember this movie for one good reason...Maureen O'Hara. It wasn't until "The Moon-Spinners" that I decided I liked Hayley Mills.

dbv said...

that's one of my favorites... in high school, we did senior wills, i didn't participate so the school newspaper did one for me that said david leaves his nose to (school name) because he can't get it off the gym ceiling... so i got snob and fag!!! as far as the housekeeper, ours found my baggie of roaches in my drawer and gave them to my mom who asked why i was saving cigarette butts... lol... althea rolled her eyes and gave up!!! and maureen o'hara is my favorite part of that movie!!! i think it was the tight dress and great cleavage... i've always been mesmerized by cleavage!!! great post, lots of memories...

mist1 said...

I can't wait until I find my long lost twin. We are really going to surprise our parents.

Paul said...

ps: The remake in the late '90s was just as fun as the original, but a little less male-chauvinistic.

lemuel: It WAS ordinary, can you imagine doing it today? I can't. I guess with age I've become too linear.

jock: Maureen O'Hara was definitely hotter than Joanna Barnes, the dumb blond. And she was sassy too! I liked that. ... I see you even honored Maureen in your St. Partick's Day post.

David: I'm assuming that since Althea was regularly in your drawers that you found a better hiding place. And that you two became best friends!

mist1 I'm sure she's out there. Separated at birth I assume.

Kevin said...

Let's get together, yeah yeah yeah ...

altmike said...

In the "Parent Trap" Maureen O'Hara's character talks about making Veal Parmigiana for dinner. I remember thinking at my early age, "That's an Italian dish and she's Irish!".
Now of course I can be completely wrong about this. It may have been "Miracle on 34th Street"....or just a dream.

Gawpo said...

There is only one Parent Trap, Paul. I saw it when you did. I loved that show. You called them shows too, I 'spect. You went to "the show." Not a movie, and certainly not a film. The show. Last Picture Show still leaves me holding the handfull of popcorn in front of my gaping mouth. I love when that happens.

Your recollections are for me similar collections. We had The Fox Theater. It burned to the ground many years after I left.

Remember the ushers? Their red-coned flashlights? Their policing feet on the backs of the seats?

Milk Duds. Sugar Babies. Red Vines. I must admit that I am still a virgin in the way of the hot Dr. Pepper. Sounds good. I'll add the lemon.

I will never forget Sandi Jorgensen turning me down for a date to see The Graduate "because you're too short." Hey. At least she was honest. But hey back, at least I'm tall enough to love after all.