Skip to main content

Halftime Show

June 2024
1min read

Hey Folks—It’s Intermission Time

produced by Mike Vraney, Something Weird Video, two volumes, 90 mins. each, $20.00 each. Vol. I: CODE: SWV-1 ; Vol. II: CODE: SWV-2

The year 1956 marked the zenith of that most American of inventions, the drive-in movie. Some five thousand outdoor screens were lighting up as night came on—but not just with Hollywood feature films. First would come a hectic anthology of brief animated announcements (“eight minutes to show time”; “seven minutes to show time”), interspersed with dancing popcorn boxes, soft-drink cups being filled, hot dogs, and candy bars, all, of course, available at the “refreshment center.” They returned during intermission, a good half-hour of visual jabber before the second feature began, and here they are again—hours and hours of those ephemeral little movies with their endless trumpet flourishes and the relentless avuncular bounce of the announcer’s voice and their gray-green airbrush idealizations of drive-in theaters packed with Chevy station wagons basking beneath fat, low summer constellations. The cumulative effect is oddly hypnotic and occasionally very funny, for what viands could resist photogenic treatment more effectively than the theater snack-bar staples of the era: the hot dogs a blazing, poisonous purple, the clay-colored disks of hamburgers wearing their hopeful dollops of radioactive relish, and pizza, when it came in, a particularly calamitous vision.

Volume II draws more on conventional theaters, and its offerings include dozens of the surprisingly elaborate seasonal greetings movie houses extended to their patrons. We visit a spanking new split-level ranch house in which bent old Father Time is packing his suitcase with souvenirs of 1953—the Korean peace treaty, a photograph of supersonic jets—as 1954 toddles in to kick him out. And as the decade wears on, we begin to see the snake in the garden. “This attraction,” reads one warning, “will not be seen on TV for at least 7 years.” Save free TV, says another: “Let your lawmakers see how you feel in the fight against pay TV and cable TV.” The years advance in volleys of stills announcing coming attractions— Journey to the Seventh Planet, Hell Is for Heroes, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, Bridge to the Sun, Cinderfella , starring Jerry Lewis, and Don’t Knock the Twist , starring Sir John Gielgud (just kidding: it’s Chubby Checker). The two tapes can wear out the most dogged viewer, but they are fascinating nonetheless, for these chipper, stuttering approximations of the cheerful, the welcoming, the tantalizing, and the ideal have a mysterious power to retrieve the decades that created them.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.