Let’s go to the movies…

As a kid growing up in Nashua, the words, “Let’s go to the movies” would always catch my attention and get me pumped up for an afternoon of fun. I grew up in a single-parent household as my Mom was a widow, so it was typically one of my sisters who were “assigned” to take me. Back in the day, our choices were pretty much limited to either the Daniel Webster or State theatres on Main Street, which were situated diagonally across from one another. The Daniel Webster was located where Martha’s Exchange now resides and the State sat next to what is now Ja-Ja Belle’s, both a short walk if you lived downtown. Another option was the Nashua Drive-In (which was technically in Merrimack on the DW Highway). But we didn’t have a car at the time, so that was out.

Contrasting the movie experience of then versus now, there are stark differences for sure. Most notably absent today, particularly at chain cinemas, is the iconic theatre marquee. It was a natural promotion tool for the movies and generated excitement, especially those that had flashing or tracer lights that seemed to shout at you to hurry in before you miss something. And on a hot summer day, the air conditioning was very refreshing. Back then, for a whopping 35 cents or so (children would pay less than adults) you saw two movies, typically a first run film and one that was, well, not so first run. You might see something known as “Short Subjects” or a Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello comedy. Also featured were “Coming Attractions,” where anticipation would build for such blockbusters as “Ben-Hur,” “Cleopatra,” “Snow White” or “The Ten Commandments.” You got your money’s worth, for sure. But there was always the risk of a projector having a malfunction or the film breaking at the most inopportune time, creating an unscheduled cliffhanger or prompting a complete refund.

Concessions were pretty much limited to popcorn, sodas and candy but still steeply priced. Seat room seemed to align with the size of most children or very small adults. Many of the flicks back then were in black and white, and there was no such thing as computer graphics. But some were filmed in color and what was at the time, a very high-tech process known as Cinemascope. It was somewhat the forerunner of today’s IMAX, where a movie was filmed with three cameras and those three images were synchronized to play in unison. Unfortunately, there were three black lines, evenly spaced from the top to the bottom of the screen, where each shot was separated. But, at the time, it was still pretty cool and you were transported to a different world, able to forget your problems and experience a short, though enjoyable, respite. And if you were wearing goofy looking white paper glasses, the movie was in 3-D.

Today, for anywhere from $5 to $8, and if you arrive at the movie’s scheduled start time, you experience about 30 minutes worth of commercials (yes, we now pay to watch commercials) and then about another 30 minutes of, “coming soon to a theatre near you.” You may also be able to take a stab at some trivia questions, but you will see only one movie. Concessions? Just as pricey. Today, there’s a choice of not only the standard popcorn, candy and soda, but nachos, hot dogs and even more at some theaters. Additionally, one can relax in a comfy padded seat with ample leg room or even seats that recline. Many of us now pay for the experience with a credit card. Unheard of back in the day of the Daniel Webster and State theatres, but evidence of today’s cost of entertainment.

Admittedly, I now often wait for the movie to get to pay per view and watch it from the comfort of my own home, where I can pop a large bowl of popcorn for about the price of a movie admission in the 1960s and enjoy a beer or two without having to drive. Not to mention not having to suffer through commercials and coming attractions. But for some, dinner and a movie is still the perfect night out and a chance to be transported to a different time and place. Two tickets for “Mary Poppins,” please!

Don Canney is a freelance writer and professional voice artist with over thirty years experience in Manufacturing, Quality and Customer Relations. He was born and raised in downtown Nashua with great interest in Nashua history circa 1950-1970. He now resides in Litchfield.