Must-see movies … and seeing one at the old Alabama theater


A fellow toiler at the sewage purification plant where we work said–now get this–that she had never…seen…Casablanca. Egad! Zounds! You can imagine the shock this caused amongst her fellow workers.

Then, she compounded this rare display of ignorance by saying she had never even heard of the movie, Laura. Oh, the sorrow that filled my heart. And this is from a fairly well-educated, normal woman with  average walking-around sense.

Something is bad wrong with our educational system. What are y’all teaching over there?  Casablanca is considered by many critics to be the best movie ever made, this one, too (Laura)…almost. The Paris sequence weakens it just a tad…”Is that the sound of guns or the beating of my heart,” or something like that. Still, almost perfect, especially for the absolutely perfect casting.

Laura belongs on that same elevated plane, with Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb as perfect in their parts as Bergman, Bogart and Henreid in theirs.

There are, of course, many other must-see movies: The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile (yes, mainly to see if that punk guard gets his comeuppance), The Third Man (better to me than Citizen Kane), For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Wild Bunch and The Cross of Iron (both Sam Peckinpah movies), Out of the Past, State Fair, Mr. Roberts, The Wizard of Oz, and on and on.

The lady who has never seen Casablanca did have one bright moment in her movie-going life. She saw Gone With the Wind, not just on the TV, but at the Alabama Theater in Birmingham, a  bright spot in any movie-going career, I gotta ‘omit,’ as Cousin Artie used to say.

Not to be left behind, I had to remark that I, too, had seen a movie at the Alabama.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, six of us FFA boys each got a calf (white face) that would later be shown at fat stock shows. From the time they were delivered, straight off the range somewhere, and wild as a buffalo, we trained and groomed and petted them, taught them how to stand, how to be led. We fed them a special mixture, not the same thing the poor old, mostly Jersey, milk cows got.

And when it came time to show them, we polished their horns and hooves  and washed and combed them.There was a little show in hometown first. Then we loaded up the  pickups and rode with them to Birmingham…”Lookie yonder! You can see the tall  buildings!”

The show was held at Legion Field in conjunction with the Gene Autry Rodeo, to which we got free tickets. We got to see ol’ Gene wave his hat to the crowd as he made Champ walk sideways down the entire length of the stands. We kept our steers under the stands.

This was high living. To add to the show, so to speak, we decided to go to a movie at the Alabama Theater. We took the Birmingham Post, so we  knew  about the Alabama from the newspaper ads, but its grandeur and splendor  and general opulence was breathtaking, even fancier than the Lamar Theater (just up the street from the mule barn). Picture this: six of us country boys, probably smelling of cow manure, in this plush setting.

The movie was The Virginian, with  Joel McCrea, with its famous line, “When you say that, smile.”  I had never gone to sleep at a movie in my life, but the events of the past couple of days had worn me down. I went to sleep.

But, I had added another notch to my memory stick. I had seen a movie at the Alabama Theater.

Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note.


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