Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Astor matinees and Plaza nights

The cinemas of our youth ! Yes, some of them are still there. Growing up in a small town in Ireland we had 2 cinemas - and they were certainly kept busy in the 1950s and early 60s - television did not become widely available in Ireland until early 60s. 

The Astor was a big barn of a place, near the town's council estate (it has since been carved into a three-screen multiplex and still going) with just a raised area for the expensive seats - whereas The Plaza, at the more select end of town, was a much cosier place with a perfect upstairs balcony with its own sweet kiosk. It was somehow 'posher' going to The Plaza. Of course us kids began in the cheap seats and as we got older graduated the middle area, and finally to the Balcony ! Both cinemas ran movies for 2 nights, changing programmes 3 times a week, a mix of new, old, double features or a 'full supporting programme' of cartoons, newsreels, shorts and trailers - so one certainly got one's value. They certainly served the town's 3,000 inhabitants then. 

They followed the UK release system, with the Astor showing MGM and Warner Bros, and Columbia, while the Plaza was the home of 20th Century Fox, Paramount and United Artists. Both houses shared Universal-International and British Rank Organisation movies while the Astor also fitted in other British releases from British Lion and Anglo-Amalgamated - like those CARRY ON's. We also got  a smattering of European releases - I first saw Alain Delon in FAIBLES FEMMES at the Plaza, and PLEIN SOLEIL at the Astor, plus Sophia Loren in WOMAN OF THE RIVER, those SISSI films with Romy Schneider, Romy and Lilli Palmer in FIREWORKS and MADCHEN IN UNIFORM, and I remember THE 400 BLOWS at the Astor. 

I should mention (again) my movie-going began in 1954, aged 8, when I was taken by my parents, and graduated to being allowed to go on my own in 1957 - there were no worries about child safety in that more innocent time! Before that my father would take me to all those westerns and John Wayne or Bing Crosby (he liked Bing) movies, or dramas like TRAPEZE, while my mother and aunts took me to musicals and comedies - My mother liked Judy Garland so it must have been her who took me to A STAR IS BORN and a revival of MEET ME IN ST LOUIS - and we went to I COULD GO ON SINGING in 1963. It was a treat to sit at The Astor watching THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME with Gina and Quinn - or Sunday matinees there seeing revivals of BRIGADOON, ITS ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER or costume movies/actioners like MOONFLEET, HELEN OF TROY, ALEXANDER THE GREAT or QUENTIN DURWARD. We were also stunned by EAST OF EDEN, (I could just remember James Dean's death and all the fuss and magazines about him) - loving Dean and Julie Harris (little knowing that one day I would see her on the stage, write to her and she would reply to me). And then the rise of Elvis - particularly liking LOVING YOU, a Plaza favourite - as we got into all that 50s music;. and later those 50s dramas like SEPARATE TABLES or our favourite Susan Hayward in I WANT TO LIVE!  We loved SOUTH PACIFIC and FUNNY FACE at the Plaza, while the Astor had those Warner dramas and musicals like CALAMITY JANE and all those MGM favourites ...

One could in fact go to the movies there almost every night to a different show - and lots did - or as I did go both nights to movies like Loren's IT STARTED IN NAPLES and THE MILLIONAIRESS. A roadhouse epic like BEN HUR or EL CID would run for a week - with intermission and programme, and we would return to them more than once. We loved THE VIKINGS and THE BIG COUNTRY at the Plaza, plus THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and I vividly remember being stunned by seeing PSYCHO and SOME LIKE IT HOT there for the first time (Ireland did not follow the Certificate system - kids were able to see everything - but anything too risque was pruned to remove anything too salacious - that was Catholic Ireland for you! 

Plaza nights were marvellous watching all those 20th Century Fox items in Cinemascope - and I made some friends there too ... By the time I was 16 it was marvellous watching Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick in DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES at the Astor ..... little did I know that within a decade or so I would be meeting and talking to lot of my favourites like Lee and Dirk, or seeing Bette and others (NFT label) discussing their careers on stage - as it was nearly time to leave small town Ireland and move to the  Big City, which I did in April 1964, when 18, and just in time for the Swinging Sixties - but that will be a different story ...
Going back to the cinema there when on holiday in the late 60s was different - everyone now had televisions, the Plaza had closed (apart from special events and yes they did Bingo on Sunday nights) but the Astor solidered on and still does now. 


  1. Perfect nostalgia piece, you were fortunate indeed to see all those movies on the big screen initially.

  2. Very nicely written, Michael. We had 6 cinemas in Derry when I was a child; The Strand, The City, The Palace, The Rialto, The Midland (the only one on the Protestant East Bank) and St Columb's Hall (run by the Catholic Church). The City and the Palace were my favorites as they showed all the foreign (read, dirty) and art-house stuff and were owned by the same family. Nostalgia ain't what it used to be!

  3. Indeed. Now we are bombarded with what seems like half an hour of loud adverts followed by endless trailers while waiting for the main feature while the audience is encouraged to chomp and slurp while texting their friends and chatting ... no wonder I go to the early shows.