Here’s a nice story from the trade paper Kinematograph Weekly which vividly conveys the sense of wartime cinema-going as a community activity, often imbued with emotional resonance way beyond that produced by the film itself. It comes from my favourite section of the magazine, the ‘Showmanship’ column, where cinema managers sent in accounts of their innovative and sometimes quite bizarre publicity and ‘showmanship’ activities. I used to work on a project around Kineweekly and saved a lot of these stories, which I’ll put up here from time to time. This one appeared in the magazine on 31st August 1944 (p. 50).
“Manager Fuller, of the Majestic (Odeon), Staines, brought off a coup which was as unexpected as it was successful. When big news occurs he always makes out a slide to throw on the screen. When the news of the fall of Paris came through on the 1 pm news on Wednesday last he made out the slide, sent it to the box and then entered the theatre to watch the result.
It so happened the film which was showing was The Great Moment, in which Margot in one of the scenes is forced to go on a stage and sing “La Marseillaise.” As Mr. Fuller entered the theatre he realised this scene was just about to be shown; he called a halt to the box, stepped on the stage and announced through the mike, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Paris has fallen.” and then the film proceeded with Margot singing the French anthem.
As Mr. Fuller remarked, had he sat down and tried to think of anything, he could not have done better.”
Returning to this story recently, I realized that I have a copy of The Great Moment (Preston Sturges, 1944), so I dug it out to have a look. I was most puzzled to find that no such rousing scene appears in the film. A search of the British Newspaper Archive website resolved the mystery – Fuller actually interrupted the film which ran as a second feature to The Great Moment across the Odeon circuit in August 1944 – a film called Gangway for Tomorrow (John Auer, 1943) which stars ‘Margot’ playing a French resistance fighter.
Here’s the advert for the screening from the Middlesex Chronicle (19/8/1944, p. 8)
The Majestic Staines, like many cinemas that the Odeon chain acquired in the late 1930s was nothing like the sleek modern cinemas we associate with Odeon – it was a small picture house built in the 1920s, which probably felt pretty old fashioned and a bit run down by 1944. An image on the Postcards Then and Now website shows how it looked in 1933. It’s since been demolished.