Archive for October, 2022

A Cinema long gone – The Chequers at St Albans

This is a Cinema that I went to quite often when on holiday in the City – usually in summertime. I am drawn to this story mainly because of the films mentioned – ones that I know well.

The Cinema opened on Saturday 20th January 1912.

The entrance was between two shops and there was Tudor-style decoration above. With possible theatre use in mind, space was left for a stage and dressing rooms. The seating capacity was 799.

In January 1927 the Cinema was acquired by Captain Frederick A. Webb and renamed the Chequers Cinema.

Early in 1933 the auditorium was extended at the screen end into the space left vacant for possible theatre use. This increased the seating to 1,000.

In the 1950’s the Chequers Cinema was adapted for CinemaScope releases. However, in 1962 the cinema was purchased by a property company for conversion into a supermarket. The Chequers Cinema closed on Saturday 30th June 1962 after a week’s run of two re-issues, “Young at Heart” starring Frank Sinatra and Doris Day, and Guy Madison and Vera Miles in “The Charge at Feather River”.

However, permission for change of use was turned down, on the grounds that a redevelopment of the area was pending. So the owners granted a year’s lease (with an option to renew) to Panton Film Distributors, who, after redecoration and reseating, re-opened the Chequers Cinema on Saturday 1st December 1962 with “The 300 Spartans”, starring Richard Egan and Ralph Richardson.

Unfortunately, the cinema became starved of good, current product and had to rely on revivals and lesser releases. Finally, after the double bill of “Portrait of a Mobster” starring Vic Morrow, and “His Majesty O’Keefe” with Burt Lancaster, on Sunday 18th July 1965, the Chequers Cinema closed for good.

‘His Majesty O Keefe is one of my favourite films and one I saw at the Odeon in St Albans in the summer of 1954 – and to think that around eight years later it would be the very last film ever shown at The Chequers Cinema in the City – What a good film to go out on though !

Another Double Feature – another good one

In 1974 the building was compulsorily purchased by the council. The proposed demolition was delayed, and bingo returned for a while, but the building was adapted to form part of The Maltings development in 1983. The canopy and mock Tudor frontage were removed and three shops created. At the rear, two storeys of shops and business premises have been created.

Princess Diana officially opened The Maltings on14 April 1988

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Two Good Films

I did feature ‘Tanganyika’ quite recently but have just come up with this advertisement from that time

This was the Double Bill my brother and I saw when we were on holiday in St Albans in 1955

I don’t think that this does either of the films justice – they were both in Colour and looked good on the screen.

The film programme BELOW is much more colourful and appealing – however my own view would be that I would far prefer ‘Tanganyika’ and ‘Johnny Dark’

If you are into car racing films, then ‘Johnny Dark’ gives you plenty of high speed action of two racers flying throughout the open roads of 1950s America.

I am not at all into car racing but the scenery is worth watching and the actors are good with plenty of action

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Silver Lode 1954 – an excellent Western

I saw this Western for the first time yesterday and was really impressed by it – the Technicolor print that I saw was first rate with a crystal clear picture. This is the best Western that I have seen for quite a while and is not one I knew but once I started watching I couldn’t leave it until the final frames.

We kick off the action and get into the plot very quickly in the film

Silver Lode is directed by Allan Dwan and written by Karen DeWolf. It stars John Payne, Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea, Dolores Moran and Emile Meyer. Music is by Louis Forbes and cinematography by John Alton.

Dan Ballard ( John Payne) is a respected resident of the town Silver Lode, but on his wedding day so-called ‘Marshal’ Fred McCarty ( Dan Duryea) rolls into town looking to arrest him, accusing him of having murdered the Marshal’s brother. The townsfolk refuse to accept the charge and stand up for Dan. Dan loudly protests his innocence, but once suspicious mud is thrown it begins to stick and soon Dan finds some of the townsfolk are turning against him forcing him to take whatever action is necessary to prove his innocence.

John Payne and Lizabeth Scott starred ABOVE – this was very early in the film and they were about to be married when things began to change dramatically

ABOVE – the excellent Dan Duryea – as usual the ‘baddie’ and what a ‘baddie’ he is in this film

ABOVE – Dolore Moran

ABOVE – this time a wounded Dan Duryea.

Dan did come to England on at least two occasions – first in 1953 to film ’36 hours’ and a decade later in 1964 for two films – ‘Walk a Tightrope’ and ‘Do You Know this Voice’

ABOVE – the very attractive Dolores Moran who, I thought was excellent in the film and had one of the best roles – she was well up to it. I am staggered to see that this was her last film = she just packed it in. She was certainly a very capable actress

John Payne on the run towards the final confrontation

John Payne on the run towards the final confrontation passing the church

John Payne and Lizabeth Scott – she did not have that big a part

ABOVE and BEOW – John Payne is wounded but has to go on as he is hunted by the townsfolk

ABOVE and BELOW – the final confrontation

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A Prime Minister comes to Television – May 1955

I just thought that after the turmoil we have just had in England politically it would be interesting to go back almost 70 years to 1955 and look at the comparison. At that time Prime Ministers and Cabinet Ministers did not appear on Television but on this occasion in May of that year they did

Anthony Eden took to the airwaves The Prime Minister, hosted a ground-breaking half-hour television election programme for the Conservative Party, pitting government ministers against newspaper editors in the first broadcast of its kind.

The style chosen by Sir Anthony evoked the first televised press conference, staged in the United States earlier the same year by the American president, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

ABOVE – Sir Anthony was flanked by four ministers: the Chancellor, Rab Butler, the Foreign Secretary, Harold Macmillan, the Health Minister, Iain Macleod, and the Minister of Labour, Sir Walter Monckton.

Looking at the above politicians one thing strikes me – they all served their country in Wartime – Harold McMillan and Anthony Eden were both wounded in the First War and Ian MacLoed wounded in France in the Second World War. The other two served in the Wartime Government. Added to this Anthony Eden lost a son in the Second World War.

They had all seen their fair share of conflict and didn’t want to see it again.

ABOVE – Sir Anthony Eden

ABOVE – Sir Anthony Eden in this long shot of the Studio is watched by his wife

BELOW – same era and same year – we turn to more light hearted matters – Billy Bunter with a dis-approving Headmaster Quelch

Gerald Campion played Billy Bunter and Kynaston Reeves was Quelch who I also remember being in one of my favourite horror films ‘Fiend Without a Face’.

‘Wretched Boy ! ‘
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Angela Lansbury has died aged 96

What a long Film and Theatre career Angela Lansbury had. ‘Samson and Delilah’ was by no means her first but it was hugely successful at the Box Office. I don’t think it would have enhanced her film career that much as she played, very much second fiddle to Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr

She played Samson’s wife.

After this her film career was quite uneventful. Over 20 years later she was cast in ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’ for Walt Disney playing opposite David Tomlinson who had had great success in ‘Mary Poppins’

According to David Tomlinson’s son, he did not enjoy his time on set with Angela Lansbury and had the impression that she was overawed by him and seemed to try to upstage him when she could – something that, with his experience and talent she was not able to do

When Angela Lansbury accepted the lead in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, she was almost three decades into a film career that had already yielded a number of Academy Award nominations. She was also an established theatre star who’d won Tonys for her lead roles in Mame and Dear World. But despite her track record, she was already starting to be typecast in dull supporting roles by Hollywood. She noted that she was being prematurely aged on screen, playing roles such as Elvis Presley’s mother in Blue Hawaii despite being just 10 years older than him. “I must stop playing bitches on wheels—and people’s mothers,” she joked. “One of these days I’d like to get my hands on a part in which I can hit many chords.”

Bedknobs and Broomsticks drew on her experience as a Broadway star – the role was initially offered to Julie Andrews, who was unsure about it – possibly because of the film’s similarity to Mary Poppins.

Angela Lansbury proved to be the right casting choice as Eglantine Price, a reclusive aspiring witch living in World War II–era Britain. Asked to take in three orphaned children, she’s reluctant at first but quickly bonds with them over their love of the magical arts she’s still learning. Eventually, they link up with the con artist Emelius Browne (played by David Tomlinson), and through use of an enchanted bedknob, they visit other dimensions, rob a cartoon lion, and do battle with invading Nazis using witchcraft. A crazy story to be sure !! but a very good film

A scene from the film

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Conquest of Cochise 1954

This film had a title that would help to pull us youngsters of the early to mid fifties into our local cinema. Plus it was in Technicolor.

The cast also – maybe not top stars – but we knew them all

This would be a ‘must see’ Western in those days – mind you I can’t remember seeing it at the time in all honesty.

Southern Arizona is the setting for this film that has action, good photography and a nice music score. The plot involves the U.S. Government’s attempt to forge a peace treaty between ancient enemies, the Apaches and Mexicans, the latter of whom the American troops are duty-bound to protect from Cochise’s raiders. Indian-hating Mexicans and trouble-making Americans stand in the way of peace and inflame hostilities on both sides of the border. The Comanches, at war with both the Americans and the Mexicans, hope to enlist Cochise and his Apaches as allies in their war against their enemies.

Robert Stack is the best-known name among a good cast of players who were veterans of many Western films.

John Hodiak is Cochise, and he brings a mannered, formal bearing as the Apache chief

Sam Katzman formerly of Monogram Studios probably could not believe the budget he had with Columbia Pictures for Conquest Of Cochise. Technicolor and location shooting. I bet that he could hardly believe it

 The film is mainly worth watching because of the insight into the Apache way of life , and of course there is a lady involved (Joy Page) we do see her actually kill an Indian in one of their raids. The colours are brilliant, they always are in films of Arizona, and that is an added plus for the film. It is one of the first major Westerns that take sides with the Indians or at least shows a deeper understanding and interest in them.

Robert Stack as the major is more standard military officer routine soldier, while it is the actions of Cochise that keep you engaged.

ABOVE – Robert Stack in an action scene

“Conquest of Cochise” is a competent Western from the team of producer Sam Katzman and director William Castle. shot in glorious Technicolor, against a back-drop of spectacular scenery.

What more could you possibly want

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The Kinema In The Woods – 100 Years Old

What a Cinema this is

Kinema in the Woods
Kinema in the Woods

The Kinema in the Woods is one of the most appealing and unusual Cinemas in the country if not in the world. It is situated in the beautiful town of Woodhall Spa in mid Lincolnshire.

In it’s 100 years life the Kinema in the Woods has had just three owners/managers; Major Carleton Cole Allport, James Green and now Philip Jones.

In an age of multiplexes, the Kinema is a mere minnow among the big chain ranks, but with four screens and the latest laser projection plus Dolby 7.1 sound in its most recently added screen, it’s technologically right up-to-date. Despite this the cinema retains its charm

The Kinema values its heritage with display cabinets of classic film posters and equipment including its original 1922 projector in the lobby along with devices to splice films. 

“It’s a year-round place to enjoy, but rainy days rather than sunny days are better in the summer,” says Philip. “It depends on the film releases, and I ultimately choose what to screen and determine the schedules for the four screens, but we tend to show what we know will be popular from experience.”

The first big release post-Covid was No Time To Die, and that was when the cinema started to be really full again, when it felt like there was light at the end of the tunnel.”

Philip Jones, Kinema in the Woods Manager
Philip Jones, Kinema in the Woods Manager

How are films shown at Kinema today?

Thanks to low roof trusses, Kinema remains the country’s only full-time cinema to rely in rear-projection. Opposite is the most modern film projector, which shone film onto a mirror which was when projected 90° onto a screen about 20ft in front of it. Films arrived in reels around 20 mins in duration and the Kinema staff had to manually splice them together and mount them on metre-wide spools which fed the 35mm film into the projector… until the entire industry went digital from 2010-2012.

Today, films arrive in the Kinema’s projection room, via an ordinary broadband internet connection. Commercial quality films are about 150-200 gigabytes in size. Cinemas purchase them from distributors along with a digital key which specifies how many times and on what dates they can be shown. Downloaded a week in advance, staff cue up adverts and trailers, then a computer sends the image to a digital projector, and the audio track via a Dolby 7.1 sound processor to about 20 speakers.

The digital projector’s Xenon bulb is between 2kW and 6kW, lasts 2,000 hours and costs £700 to replace two or three times a year. The Kinema’s newest screen, number four, has a laser projector, which is slightly newer and smaller technology.

Kinema's original projector from 1922
Kinema’s original projector from 1922

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Four Guns to the Border – 1954

The Four Guns To The Border – they are an outlaw gang headed by Rory Calhoun with George Nader, Jay Silverheels, and John McIntire as members. They’re returning to Rory Calhoun’s home town where he had been run out of a few years before by Sheriff Charles Drake.

This is a pretty good Western from Universal International with plenty of action , violent characters , thrills and lots of shooting . In many ways this is a B-Hollywood western mostly filmed on studio sets but backed up with gorgeous exteriors . An outlaw gang (Rory Calhoun ,George Nader ,John McIntire , Jay Silverheels) encounter a former associate Simon Bhumer (Walter Brennan) and his beautiful daughter (Colleen Miller), who’s drawn to their leader. As the band heads for the border after they have done a bank robbery, they unfortunately come to grips with a band of renegade Apaches.

The film is one of a long series of colourful , double-features made at Universal International studios in the Fifties . It has impressive action sequences with rousing attacks and spectacular shootouts not to mention excellent performances by the actors .The rough outlaw Rory Calhoun and Colleen Miller as the luscious daughter have one of the best scenes on a stormy night, when they get together . The supporting cast is pretty good , such as the good-looking George Nader , the eternal secondary Walter Brennan playing an old gunfighter who still has a fast draw and now planning to retire on a farm, Nina Foch , the veteran John McIntire , Charles Drake , Nestor Paiva , Mary Field , and Jay Silverheels as a half-breed

The film was well directed in style by Richard Carlson . Richard. In the course of the next twelve years, directed some better second features. He also wrote the occasional TV script, as well as contributing articles on non-fiction subjects to several magazines .

Directed by Richard Carlson
Starring Rory Calhoun, Colleen Miller, George Nader, Walter Brennan, Nina Foch, John McIntire

The ‘Four Guns’

Four Guns To The Border (1954) is an excellent 50s Western from Universal International and it is due to come out on Blu-Ray in December.

This picture gave actor Richard Carlson one of his few directing credits. He does a good job. Wish he’d done more. 

It also gave Jay Silverheels a feature film to act in – away from his Television role of Tonto – this film must have been made at the same time as ‘The Lone Ranger’ was being produced.

Four Guns To The Border has a great cast and is in Glorious Technicolor

Colleen Miller in Four Guns to the Border (1954)

Above Coleen Miller

Ray Cully (Rory Calhoun) and his outlaw friends are heading to town to rob a bank with Cully’s purpose to distract his old friend Sheriff Jim Flannery (Charles Drake) who having married Maggie (Nina Foch) has reformed his once wild ways. But before they get there Ray has become distracted by the flirtatious Lolly (Colleen Miller) the daughter of farmer Simon Bhumer (Walter Brennan) who whilst an old friend doesn’t take to Cully and his daughter getting intimately acquainted. After the bank job Cully and the outlaws find themselves being hunted down by a posse but come across Simon and Lolly in danger from apaches and rather than escape go to their rescue.

There is one key thing I mentioned in that brief synopsis of “Four Guns to the Border” and that is that Maggie has tamed the once wild Jim Flannery and that is the theme of this 1950s western. And it is not just Jim’s taming which provides the interest as there is also the relationship between Lolly and Ray. But their relationship is much more interesting and is steamy.

Rory Calhoun in Four Guns to the Border (1954)

“Four Guns to the Border” has many things going in its favour and it is a visually vibrant western with fantastic camera work and colour. In fact the quality of the imagery, the wonderful backdrops, the shading of scenes and much more make this western, a B-Western that seems ahead of it’s time.

“Four Guns to the Border” really benefits from having a truly fantastic cast who seem to know that they are not starring in just another Western. The old timers such as Walter Brennan and John McIntire bring wit and wisdom to their roles whilst you can sense things sizzling between Calhoun and Miller. Talking of Colleen Miller it has to be said that she electrifies every single scene she appears in.

“Four Guns to the Border” is all about the characters

Well recommend it is not only is it different but it is also beautifully made. Great credit to Richard Carlsson the Film’s Director

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