Last night TMC broadcast the John Ford classic She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. This early Technicolor production relies heavily on the majestic vistas of Monument Valley located on the Arizona-Utah border. You might even go so far as to say the setting steals the show, more like the scenery chewing up the actors instead of vice versa.
The film came out in 1949, right about the time television started to invade postwar households. Ford and his cinematographer Winton Hoch, who won an Academy Award for the picture, make heavy use of long shots that exploit the incredible russet beauty of the landscape but also render the characters antlike in the grand scheme of it all. Seeing it on TV barely hacks it, even now with our current technology. Imagine what would be lost watching it back in the day on a black-and-white 16-inch screen Zenith.
I remember first seeing the movie in the late 50’s with my parents, either at the North 52 or Flamingo Drive-in Theater. Until last night, all I recalled of the film was its invasive theme song and John Wayne’s character having conversations with his deceased wife at her graveside.
Those were the halcyon days before education when you could blithely curse the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Kiawah for having the temerity to wander off their reservations. You could innocently celebrate the replication of their genocide as arrows whizzed, rifles thundered, and stuntmen tumbled from galloping horses.
Going to Drive-ins offered working class families like mine a cheap night’s worth of entertainment. Kids under 12 got in free. My brother David and I would dress in our pajamas, Mama would pop popcorn at home, and we’d bring along our own Coca-Colas. Not only did we save money, but also my parents could chain smoke, which, along with the burning mosquito repellent, helped to diminish the chances of our contracting Malaria. Usually, David and I would conk out, so Mama and Daddy could engage in adult conversations without forking out money to a babysitter.
The Flamingo had been originally called The Ebony and catered to, as the ad says, “Colored Folks,” but it only lasted less than a year. Its next incarnation was as the Bonny Drive-In, which was actually integrated, but this social experiment ended in less than a month. It reopened finally as the Flamingo and had by far the coolest sign, a neon-tubed flamingo that lit up in progressive sections over and over again on the back of the screen facing the highway.
West Ashley also had its drive-ins, the Magnolia, located at 1500 Savannah Highway, the present location of Rick Hendricks Chevrolet. There were others as well, the St Andrews Drive-In, also on Savannah Highway, the 4-Mile Drive-In on North Meeting Street Road, but I don’t remember them, nor do I recall the Sea-Breeze Drive-In on Coleman Boulevard in Mt. Pleasant. (You can read all about those lost treasures at this site, Special Feature: Charleston Area Drive-Ins).
I do, however, remember the Gateway, where we went as teenagers, not so much to watch movies but to risk our lives making out in back seats, because as anyone knows who has ever seen a B-horror flick at a Drive-in movie, teenagers necking in cars are the number one target of monsters, whether they be zombies, werewolves, or radioactive mutated reptiles.
Later the Gateway specialized in porn films, which no doubt led to more than one auto crash as drivers tooling across overpasses caught glimpses of the screen as they exited onto 52, which in those days was called “the Dual-Lane.”
Rumor has it that some of my high school acquaintances sneaked into area drive-ins by getting into surf bags and strapping themselves on surf racks on the top of VW buses. Of course, it wasn’t Coca-Colas they were smuggling inside.
I can’t say I pine for those long gone days — in many ways they sucked . However, I wouldn’t mind catching another John Ford film at a drive-in, though like last night, I’d be pulling for the Indians.