Part Two -- My Earliest Encounters I am quite certain my first exposure to a theatrical movie was in 1955 with the release of LADY AND THE TRAMP. I was five. The place was Lakeville, Ct., and the theater was The Stuart, an old local theater with wood floors long since gone to fire. It had been built about two-thirds up a steep hill and across from a converted railroad station. Standing in line to get in I was on an incline. After perhaps twenty minutes I was under golden light from the marquee, which brought into view the thousands of summer night insects and the outdoor posters for coming attractions. Finally, I was inside the door where the floor was blessedly flat. The ticket booth and concession stand were dead center inside, between the two theater entry doors. More posters for upcoming programs, all I am sure mouthwatering for a newbie at the cinema. This was all overwhelming for a six-year-old. I had no idea what to expect. My parents bought me a box of candy (which in and of itself was awesome), and we walked into the auditorium that was sloped toward the curtains that hid the screen. We sat about halfway down in a sea of probably 800 seats. People milled past us, filling in the spaces and talking quietly, even the many children who had come because...well...this was Disney, but it was an evening show, so they were all accompanied. I'm sure I grew restless pretty quickly awaiting the movie we came to see, but the lights eventually dimmed and the curtain opened. Previews probably came first, and I am sure I was mesmerized by the sheer size of the image. LADY AND THE TRAMP eventually started, and while I can't remember exactly what the sensations were, the only other movie experience I had had until then was on a small-screen black and white RCA at home, so this was an incredible widescreen bombardment of rich Technicolor that must have been like a drug to the eyes a young child. I do distinctly recall looking behind me to the projection booth windows to find out where the picture was coming from, and did it often enough to realize the light beams were changing back and forth from one window to another. What was that all about? The following summer, BAMBI had its second re-issue. Emotionally, this was devastating. Like so many kids my age. I was traumatized after Bambi's mother was shot and the shivering fawn was told, in a raging whiteout snowstorm by his father the great Buck, "Your mother can't be with you anymore." Boy, did that ever tap into a young child's fears of losing a parent! Then there was the fire... I was pretty upset by that as well. But the following night, I begged to be driven back to the Stuart so I could see it again (I was turned down...it would be seven years before I got to see BAMBI again). My love of viewing movies on a big screen was indelibly cemented. Yes, I remember every single film I was taken to during the summers of '55, '56,'57 and '58 at the Stuart, which was only two miles from where our summer home was (My dad sold this beautiful place in '59, which broke my heart). It was always magical, and special, to hop into my brother's Ford Woody or my dad's green Chevy with its fins on the way to another show. Attending movies was for me about as near to being in Heaven as I could imagine. MOBY DICK, THE EDDY DUCHIN STORY, THE ANIMAL WORLD, BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, HIGH SOCIETY...these and more were highlights of my idyllic summers otherwise brimming with walks on rocks up the creek or shucking corn on the lawn for a nickel or lighting those pellets in the driveway that turned into snakes of ash or capturing fireflies on sultry, fragrant evenings. I'm sure there were bad times during those summers, but damned if I remember them. Of the films I was privileged to see at the Stuart, I now own all but DUCHIN (which I don't especially like) and THE ANIMAL WORLD on Blu-ray. Watching them now not only likely improves on the quality of the images back in the day, it brings me right back to Connecticut and the comes near to replicating the fever dream of a whimsical childhood for a couple of hours. BAMBI and TRAMP have been digitally manipulated, but in the case of these two the lack of grain doesn't bother me, as the images are sharp and detailed. BAMBI still brings me close to tears. The rats in TRAMP still creep me out. THE ANIMAL WORLD was promoted as a dinosaur film (check the poster art) and, as such, was a must for kids. I was brought to see this and I was biting at the bit to see dinosaurs. I did see them, in a 9-minute sequence toward the beginning that was animated by Ray Harryhausen (whose name I would soon know by way of Famous Monsters Of Filmland magazine). At the Stuart, this sequence caused me to nearly get up and run from the theater. At one point during the sequence, a volcano erupted and an earthquake began, devouring screaming dinosaurs, and the screen went blood red. The whole theater was red. For a small child, the experience was terrifying. But, after this played out, the rest of the movie was documentary footage of animals all over the world, narrated in stupid-joke form by a couple of idiots probably hired to temp down the terror of the prehistoric stuff. But those 9 minutes stuck with me, while everything else about the film dissolved instantly into oblivion. Although THE ANIMAL WORLD in its entirety is not available on Blu-ray, the Harryhausen sequence is preserved on the BLACK SCORPION Blu-ray and looks terrific. What modern viewers of this sequence will likely not realize is that those 9 moments were absolutely magnetic if somewhat horrifying for kids back in the day. The rest of the film is worse than meh. It is atrocious. Watch the Disney True Life Adventures, which this film seemed to be aiming to compete with, instead. MOBY DICK doesn't look on Blu the way I think I recall it from 1956, but I can adjust. I had a faulty memory of this: I swore years later that a harpoon rope had caught Ahab in a loop and whisked him off the boat and onto the whale's back. Didn't quite happen that way, though. I happen to own rather lovely 1080p copies of HIGH SOCIETY and AROUND THE WORLD (can't reveal where from). HIGH SOCIETY wouldn't seem to be of much interest for a 6-year-old, but I dug it. My dad had bought the soundtrack album in advance of the show I saw (The Stuart wasn't exactly first-run most of the time), and by the time I was sitting in the theater watching Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby getting plastered, I could mouth the lyrics for "Well Did You Evah" as they were being sung. I thought the movie was funny, and I wished that Grace Kelly was my mom (you know how kids are). AROUND THE WORLD was an awesome experience. The three hour running time did not cause me to fidget at all. And I thought the entire India sequence, which ran 20 minutes or so, seemed just perfect and that India was a place where I wanted to live. Wow! Elephants and tigers and dense, rich-green jungles. Plus, there was Princess Aouda. My first screen crush. I couldn't get her out of my head for months. Again, my dad had bought the soundtrack, and I just kept moving the stylus back to the beginning of the "India Countryside" track and spending more imagination time with that green-eyed goddess. Years later, when I discovered she was really Shirley MacLaine, my disappointment was palpable. Finally, I will single out THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. I was seven by then, but, although already inhabiting a type-A personality, I was able not only to sit fully engaged throughout a movie on a cinema screen, I often wished the longest ones were even longer (i.e. I did not want to leave the theater). KWAI for me was hypnotic. I had by this time (thanks to AROUND THE WORLD's India sequence) grown to love jungles, and that's all we got with KWAI. Plus, I kind of understood the dynamics of the psychological battle of wits between Colonel Nicholson and Colonel Saito. The suspense of the film's final thirty minutes just about did me in (in a good way), and I cherished every moment of this brilliant film. I was fortunate to be able to catch a reissue of this years later in Stamford, Ct., and loved it all over again. The 4K Blu-ray of this film preserves it beautifully and is a once-a-year event in my home. I never tire of it. But I must also say, 4K doesn't impress me as much as it does other members here. The previous Digibook Blu-ray looks just wonderful to my eyes. To wrap up this first essay, I just have to give a loving tribute to the old Stuart Theater in Lakeville, Ct., which introduced me to the power of the big-screen image and was the genesis of my love of cinema. I wish I had been able to find a photo of the theater on Google Images taken by someone who lived in the area in the 50's but who also had a camera and loved to document everything around him. But, like so many older cinemas of its day, The Stuart was strictly wood-built above the foundation and was really a disaster waiting to happen. All the old wood floors, wood seats, wood frames. One careless cigarette butt or lightning strike. Poof. An important childhood icon reduced to a heap of charcoaled beams. But this happened years after my dad sold our Lakeville cottage, and I only heard about it long afterward. The theater deserves a headstone and an R.I.P. on the original site that reads, "Here lie the remains of a place made special by the thousands of men, women and children who sat within it, enthralled by what was projected onto its screen. It had its own look, its own smells, its own atmosphere. Another just like it will never again occur." This could be said of hundreds of old and unique theaters nationwide that entranced their viewers, and especially the young viewers, drawing them into a immersive art experience that started with the physical theater structure and ended with the presentation of an image thrown upon a giant screen. The combination of theater design and the films it presented created wondrous memories which today (2000's) are forgotten by all except the elderly and the scholars. R.I.P. Film and Theaters of the 50's. More to come in Part 3.