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The Last Picture Show

March 2023
1min read

On the sweltering night of July 22, 1934. John Dillinger stepped out of the Chicago Biograph theatre, where, cooled by “iced fresh air,” he had been watching Clark Gable and William Powell in Manhattan Melodrama . Dillinger, America’s most wanted criminal and the object of one of the greatest manhunts in history, had gone to the movie with two women. One of them, Anna Sage, hoping to avoid being deported for prostitution, had told the F.B.I. that Dillinger would be at the Biograph that night. As Dillinger moved away from under the marquee a G -man stepped out from behind a lamppost. “Hello, John,” he whispered, and as Dillinger turned toward him a half dozen guns cut the gangster down.

Hundreds of people gathered in front of the Biograph to gape and dip their handkerchiefs in Dillinger’s blood. Ever since then, though, the theatre has had trouble drawing a crowd. Last July, nearly forty years to the day after Dillinger’s death, the seamy Chicago landmark closed its doors forever. William Durante, the last owner of the theatre, carried on right up to the end showing the classic films of the twenties and thirties on the Biograph’s original projector. But the people didn’t come. “The neighborhood theatre is dead, just like Dillinger,” Mr. Durante mourned. “The only thing that’s making it these days is skin and violence.” Mr. Durante lost a hundred thousand dollars trying to keep the Biograph alive. However, this serious reverse has not put him out of business; he also manages a highly successful chain of theatres featuring x-rated films.

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