Now Showing: Xmas 70 Years Ago

This goes under the heading “fascinating snippet” rather than “shameless plug” and although it does refer to one of my books and is outside my normal bailiwick of the 1960s I thought you might be interested in what was showing at a provincial town – rather than New York or London which got the movies months ahead of anywhere else – seventy years ago, December 1952, long before, outside of White Christmas, anyone was making movies that targeted Yuletide as a subject.

Paisley, about 12 miles outside of the much larger Scottish metropolis Glasgow, had eight cinemas in 1952 with 13,000 seats to serve a population of 93,000. Six of the picture houses were devoted to first run and two to second run. If I say so myself, one of the delights, apart from the 120 illustrations, from the book – Paisley at the Pictures, Part III: 1952 from which this information is drawn – is that the appendix lists every movie shown, month-by-month cinema-by-cinema.

Only two of the smallest cinemas, the West End, in the town center, and the New Alex, about a mile away, and which often shared product, were screening what we would reocgnise today as Xmas pictures. Despite being animated features from Disney, the epitome of the holiday movie, neither program ran for a full week, in part because that was rare at these particular houses but also because a movie aimed at kids depended on matinee business and often turned off the adults venturing out in the evening.

The first three days (Mon-Wed since films didn’t show on Sundays) were devoted to Cinderella (1950), supported by Tim Holt western The Mysterious Desperado (1949). On the Thu-Sat portion of the week it was Alice in Wonderland (1951) backed by another Tim Holt western in the same series, Riders of the Range (1950). While this represented a repeat showing for Cinderella, it was the first screening of Alice in Wonderland.

Modern exhibitors would be shocked at Disney pictures being allocated not just such a short run but also not being snapped up by the town’s biggest houses, but Disney was far from the distribution powerhouse it is today.

So, neither was regarded as the top film over the two-week festive period. That honor went to pictures showing at the town’s biggest cinemas, the Kelburne, Regal, Picture House and La Scala, all except the first running along the main thoroughfare. Films here ran for a whole week mostly with a supporting feature.

Biggest attraction of the season, courtesy of the fact it was simultaneously playing the La Scala and the Regal, was Gregory Peck nautical number The World in His Arms (1952) directed by Raoul Walsh. This was supported by the fourth in the popular series Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair (1952) starring Marjorie Main.

The Kelburne was screening comedy western sequel Son of Paleface (1952), with Bob Hope and Jane Russell re-teaming, but considered strong enough to be presented as the solo offering, no supporting feature ensuring more screenings. Although having what you might expect to be an out-and-out winner, the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn comedy Pat and Mike (1952), the Regal covered its back by supporting this with John Huston’s critically-acclaimed The Red Badge of Courage (1951). This was despite Tracy being on a box office roll following the success of Father of the Bride (1950) and its speedy sequel Father’s Little Dividend (1951).

The following week audiences were offered interesting choices. The La Scala played it safe with British romantic comedy Penny Princess (1952), rising star Dirk Bogarde billed below top-billed American Yolande Donlan. Crime adventure The Whip Hand (1951) directed by William Cameron Menzies provided the support. The Kelburne presented comedy Dreamboat (1952) with Clifton Webb and Ginger Rogers plus, surprisingly, a French-made film Let’s Go to Paris (1950).

The Picture House was fanning the flames of the sci fi boom with a double bill of Red Planet Mars (1952) and German “shockumentary” Strange World (1951), forerunner of Mondo Cane, while the Regal had John Wayne battling Communists in Big Jim McLain (1952) with B-picture film noir The Secret of Monte Carlo (1951).

It might also come as something of a shock to find the cinemas not overwhelmed by one, or two, big movies as would be the case today.

I’m sure you’ve all already bought Paisley at the Pictures Part III: 1952 so there’s no need to plug it, and I’m sure you’ve done enough Xmas shopping to last a year, but just in case here’s the link.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

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