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A Chapter in the History of Moviegoing: Twice in One Day

Very seldom have I seen the same movie at a theater twice in one day—but sometimes it happened for unexpected reasons...

As best as I can remember, I’ve seen four films at movie theaters twice in the same day. It seems that there should be more, especially having grown up in the 1960s and 70s, when theaters were lax about hanging around and seeing a second showing.

In late 1968, a friend and I went to the Theater 1812 in Philadelphia to see Mel Brooks’ The Producers, and laughed so hard that we stayed in our seats and watched it again. It’s the funniest film I’ve ever seen, along with Life of Brian (1979).

I still get extreme pleasure watching the production of “Springtime for Hitler” and recall how I became a big fan of Dick Shawn after watching the film. Gene Wilder was the biggest surprise. He had played a small bit in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), filmed a year before, but I didn’t see it until 1969.

I knew little or nothing about Zero Mostel. I hadn’t seen A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) until the mid-70s; then, again, Mostel hadn’t been in a movie since 1951 because of the Hollywood blacklist. How could I have known unless I followed theater and knew he starred with Burgess Meredith in Waiting for Godot and won a Tony for Fiddler on the Roof?

The Producers was Mel Brooks’ first film. I’ve liked a few of his films, especially Young Frankenstein (1974), but whenever he decided to star (High Anxiety) or appear (Blazing Saddles and Space Balls) in them, I found the work less appealing; less funny.

In the summer of 1969, another friend and I hung around for a repeat viewing of The Wild Bunch, but instead of sitting in the same place, we moved to the other side of the theater to get a different perspective. It was an amazing, shocking film, and has remained one of the most important films I have ever seen.

First, it made me a Sam Peckinpah devotee, reinforced three years later by Straw Dogs (1972). I had liked his early works, Ride the High Country (1962) and the flawed-if-not-studio-mangled Major Dundee (1965). Indeed, his westerns stand up to those of his mentor, John Ford.

The thing is, I had already seen The Wild Bunch twice before watching it two more times this one evening. I had noticed that several scenes from those early viewings did not appear in the version I saw that day! It turned out that the studio wanted cuts to trim the time, not the violence—which surprised me, given that the public had been calling for less violence in films and was served up one of the most violent westerns of all time. When the film was re-issued in the 1990s, it was slapped with an NC-17 rating for that very reason.

After I graduated from Penn State, I was dating a woman who still was attending the school. Then she suffered a psychotic breakdown one summer and I went to visit her at her home in Monroeville, PA for a week. During this time, we went to see The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974). I had seen it a month before but thought it good enough to watch again.

During the film, Walter Matthau periodically says “Gesundheit” to one of the subway hijackers, Martin Balsam, who has a cold. At the end of the film, Balsam absconds with the ransom money to his apartment,  where Matthau visits to ask a few questions. They’d had their perp tagged as a former, disgruntled employee. Balsam answers the questions and Matthau is somewhat satisfied and leaves. But just as he’s nearly out the door, Balsam sneezes, and Matthau says “Gesundheit.”

The door closes, and several seconds later it opens, and Matthau sticks his mug in and gives Balsam a look. End of movie.

I’m ready to leave and my girlfriend tells me she wants to watch the movie again. Why? She wants to see the parts of the film where Balsam sneezes. I try to reason with her. It’s getting late. She’d said that she had to have the car home at a certain time. She wasn’t budging. She had to see it. Had to. She would be very agitated if she didn’t see it again. I obliged her. I never saw her again afterwards.

The last film of this small grouping is Terminator II: Judgment Day (1991), another movie I had liked very much, and have watched many times in the last twenty years—to the point that it, along with The Terminator (1984), could be classified as a "compelling film" for me. However, on this summer day, when I caught an early show at the Pleasantville complex just off the Garden State Parkway, I watched it again at another theater, on the Ocean City boardwalk, a few hours later.

It’s an intense movie. One watches it for the levels of high velocity action and violence. During the first confrontation between the two Terminators, Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick—after they have left the shopping mall and are chasing after Edward Furlong through the spillways; at the point where Patrick has his truck bumping Furlong’s motorbike—a verbal altercation started behind me.

Apparently, a man going down the aisle stepped on a woman’s foot or heavily brushed against her. Her boyfriend uttered some threats. The man responded with a curse. He then moved down the aisle and retreated to the other side of the theater.

The movie action reaches a crescendo, Arnold blows off half of Patrick’s face (hardly the stopping the new-model, liquid T-1000), and I hear the boyfriend muttering.

“I'm going to kill that mother. I ought to go back there and plug him.’

I’m thinking the guy has a gun. He’ll start shooting in the dark. My luck, I’ll get hit.

(This isn’t the first fight I’ve witnessed during a film, but it had the same effect. I was in a Clifton Heights, P.A. theater, watching Monty Python’s And Now for Something Completely Different (1971) when a couple of bikers took some swings at one another. It was difficult returning to the movie’s highly comic mood, in great part, because a few minutes after, rank body odor wafted over the audience.)

A few minutes later the boyfriend is still seething, and at this point, I’m taken completely out of the movie. I’m waiting out the next hour-and-a-half for the boyfriend to make a move or for the man to return and have it out.

Before the end of Terminator 2, I’ve decided I’m going to watch it again.

Just not in Pleasantville.

Collingswood resident Bob Castle is an author, teacher, film critic, and playwright. In town, he is also the founder of the Collingswood Movie Club, which meets monthly in the public library for film showings and discussion.

Castle's writing has appeared in Bright Lights Film Journal, Film Comment, and The Film Journal. His plays have been performed during the Philadelphia New Play Festival, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and at the the Gone in 60 Seconds and "In a New York Minute" festivals.

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Ned Bulmash September 19, 2012 at 12:21 PM
I could never watch 4 movies in one day. My body would never be that stationary. There used to be 24 hour. theatres in NYC and Philly where you could literally live in the theatres The movies were B lists , nothing stellar.
Robert Castle September 19, 2012 at 03:07 PM
I only watched two movies in a day. I had seen The Wild Bunch twice before I had seen it twice in a day. I never watched more than two movies in a day at a theater.

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