For months now, the person I have seen more frequently than any I share air with in this house is Ben Mankiewicz of Turner Classic Movies. Not because he’s my BFF, but because he introduces so many of the movies I’ve watched on TCM during this time.
Watching movies, particularly the old ones, has been part of what I do and who I am since I was old enough to turn on a television and switch the channel to the “Dialing for Dollars” movie. I remember pretending to be sick so I could stay home to see How to Marry a Millionaire, not so much for the blonde effervescence of Marilyn Monroe but for the droll and slinky Miss Lauren Bacall.
There have been times over this year, as the pandemic went on, that I would be on the sofa, wondering when and if I would ever get to see a movie again in a theater on a big screen the way they were meant to be seen. Could it be that the pictures had really gotten small, permanently, as Norma Desmond had said so many years ago in Sunset Boulevard?
A little more than a month ago, the email arrived saying that TCM was presenting The Ten Commandments with a 65th anniversary event as part of its Big Screen Classics series. A burst of adrenaline surged through my body as I mentally calculated if everyone at home could be fully vaccinated before the showings. With a little bit of luck, we could be.
When the second dose of Pfizer went in the arm of the last one of us who needed it, I knew we could catch the movie, even with the two weeks needed to get to fully vaccinated status. That’s when I felt safe enough to talk about it out loud.
Craig: TCM is doing 65th anniversary showings of The Ten Commandments later this month. Do you want to go?
Karl: I’ve seen it.
Craig: But it’s on the big screen.
Karl: I saw it on the big screen. 65 years ago.
Sometimes, I truly believe my husband lives to give me a hard time. He knew perfectly well that we were going, but he just had to make me work a little bit for it.
So last Sunday, I got up and prepared myself for the movie like I was going to church on Easter. I even gave myself a facial, spending the better part of the day getting ready. Karl shaved, showered, and dressed in less than thirty minutes.
Sitting at the breakfast table when I emerged from my ministrations, I cheerily asked how I looked as I crossed over to him to help with my necklace.
Karl: You’re wearing pearls to the movies?
(I trust that some of you will feel my pain.)
We got to the theater, took our seats, and waited for the movie to start. And there was Ben Mankiewicz introducing the movie, just like when I was at home sitting on the sofa. Except he was thirty feet tall. He was big. I knew then the pictures hadn’t gotten small after all.
The movie began in all its VistaVision and Technicolor glory. Charlton Heston spends a great deal of the first half of the movie close to naked, and Yul Brynner displays arguably the best legs in film history next to Betty Grable. I was in hog movie heaven.
But nothing is ever perfect for long, is it? As the movie progressed, a small group of three or four, socially distanced behind me by about the same number of rows, engaged in muted but intrusive conversation, punctuated by guffaws at inappropriate times during the movie. I began to get irritated and whispered to Karl how rude these people were being.
In due course, it became clear that the worst of the lot of cretins was laughing at the movie. Now, I will acknowledge that Cecil B. DeMille injected some humor into the proceedings, although I don’t think Anne Baxter’s playing Nefretiri like Eve Harrington on orange sunshine is part of the joke.
Following a particularly offensive laugh during the burning bush scene, a fellow on the other side of the auditorium hollered, “Knock it off!” I twisted around in my seat as a chorus of “yeah”s followed and shouted “Shut up!” at the offender—sort of a bookend to the first guy.
I turned around to hear the voice of God talking to Moses, while the adrenaline coursed through my veins. It was absolutely the best moment I’ve had at the movies in years.
Yelling those two words in a public space with all the outrage I could muster was cathartic. All the stupidity, incompetence, lies, hypocrisy, selfishness, and recklessness observed for all these months had, in that moment, found a target in a rude and rank stranger.Now I can hardly wait to go back to the movies to enjoy that experience of watching one of my old favorites with a crowd of people. Hopefully, it’ll be a comedy next time. How to Marry a Millionaire would work nicely.