This would be a typical Saturday afternoon spent at our rough and tumble neighbourhood movie house for our group of kids in the fifties. The name of the place was the Bluebelle, later to be renamed The Gay. This was one of at least five theatres in Cabbagetown that were within a few minutes walk of my home. It was a run-down dump as were most of the others in the area. What made this one standout was the fact that it almost always showed Sci-fi B movies from the era at the matinee. These were never first run showings and quite often these movies had been playing elsewhere for months before we got to see them.
Round about noon every Saturday, off we would go with with our 25 cent admission fee tucked snugly in our pockets. Bobbing in and out of laneways and climbing a few fences, all the while picking up a more and more friends along the way before finally reaching the local movie house. There we would slap down the quarter and dash over to the candy bar to fill up on popcorn and drinks before melting into our seats.
What would happen this week? Last week our fearless heros beat the spaceguys and saved the world. Could they do it again this week? We all knew our heros would win in the end, but maybe, just maybe, the spaceguys would do us in this time. Could the giant monster stomp out the entire world or would the Mad Scientist unleash his secret weapon and destroy us all before our heros could bust down the door of his lab and punch him out. Naw, not a chance, bad guys just could't beat our good guys.
There was never an empty seat in the house so we had to get there early to make sure we got in. The anticipation would build as we sat there talking and waiting for that magic moment when the screen would light up. Horseplay, catcalls and harmless insults would usually echo off the walls during this time.
Some kid would scream across the theatre. "Hey Jimmy, you're a goof." "Shut up or I'll come over there and smack ya." Jimmy would shout back. "Yeah sure, a ny time you wanna try." Came the final reply before moving on to the next round of insults.
If any of the kids got a bit too spunky they were immediately tossed out the door. This was one of Toronto's roughest areas and to my knowledge this was the only Saturday matinee in the city to actually have a bouncer to control the rowdies. He'd just grab them by the scruff of the neck and the seat of the pants and run them out with their feet touching the floor maybe once or twice on the way up the isle. If there was any protest or he was called a nasty name by the ejectee, they'd get his boot across the ass. Whenever the film broke, and it did quite often , the kids would go absolutely nuts by tossing stuff at the screen, this caused the bouncer to run around shouting at the top of his lungs, "Smarten up or you're outta here, you too, smarten up." I always considered him to be in his glory when this was happening.
Finally, the house lights dimmed and Bill Haley stopped singing See You Later Alligator. A deathly silence came over the place as a distorted projection appeared on the curtains as they began to open. First on the agenda would be the trailers announcing what horrors would be gracing the screen next week. This would cause various gasps and screams throughout the audience. These power-packed vignettes had every special effect and scary scene that could be shoved into the two or so minutes they took to run. Quite often they were better than the whole flick. But that mattered very little since we knew we'd be back to see these ones too.
Then came the first of the two Feature Presentations. When everybody realized that the festivities were beginning, the place would erupt with hoots, howls, cheers and the odd ear piercing wolf whistle from a row or two back. This noise would soon die down as the last of the credits rolled past our eyeballs and the film began. We didn't care who was in the movie, we just wanted to see it. C'mon, cut the crap, bring on the monsters, bring on the flying saucers, bring on anything.
There we would sit in awe as weird and frightening sights flashed across the screen in a never ending parade of wonderment. Flying saucers from distant planets with names that all sounded sinister but somehow familar. Evil spacemen with ray guns that blasted people into a tiny pile of dust. Giant lizzards and other mutations stomping cars and buildings into the ground and snacking on a few dozen people. Tons and tons of army guys in tanks and trucks shooting thousands of bullets and shells at the invaders without success. Every sci-fi movie had to have the army in it no matter how useless they were. We usually had to wait till damn near the end when the Scientist dude or gal came up with some ingenious method to defeat enemy.
Yes, there we sat, cringing in horror when we knew a good guy was going to get blasted into oblivion the minute he went around that corner, or jumping up and cheering when one of our heros dusted an invader. We'd sit there knowing that sooner or later the Beautiful Scientist Lady was going to fall flat on her face while getting chased by the monster. This, of course caused ripples of laughter throughout the whole joint. Then in the end, when the Handsome Fearless Leader finally kisses the Lovely Scientist Lady, he would do so to a resounding round of boos.
Then the closing credits would roll and it was time for a few cartoons and maybe a movie serial. Then the second feature would play and we'd go through it all again. When we finally got out hours later it was time to critically discuss the films we'd just seen over a ten cent order of Frenchie's french fries. "Hey, did you guys see that guy get blasted by the ray gun?" I'd throw out there for anyone that wanted to reply. "Yeah, but you didn't, you had your eyes closed". Sez Terry. "I did not" Sez me. "You did so, I was watching you, you goof". Sez he. "Well, if I'm a goof, what's that make you?" I spit out fearing defeat. I did close my eyes but would go to my grave denying it.
"Ah C'mon, let's go over to the school yard." Terry suggested and away we went. Everything we saw that day, each and every one of those picture frames would burn its way into our memory banks to savor for bedtime. That's when the monsters and spacemen would jump back to life again. As soon as the lights were out and the night was quiet, we just knew that we were not alone in that room. Could that man from the ''PLANET X'' be lurking in the closet, or was ''THE BLOB'' oozing it's way down the street looking for a victim. We knew that pulling the covers over our eyes wouldn't really protect us, but it was somehow more comforting than staring into that foreboding darkness. Eventually we'd drift off to sleep and survive that Saturday night, but that just meant w e had to suffer through another week of school before being able to repeat the whole wonderful experience again the next week. I still love to watch those old sci-fi flicks from back then. As a matter of fact I have quite a collection of them. I may not sit there in total awe as I did then but I find them just as entertaining. To me even the bad ones are good. I've got a corn popper and the fridge is always full of drinks. The only thing missing is the good old Bluebelle/Gay theatre, and I miss that a lot.