Me and the movies

[Originally published July 17, 2009]

Movie fans in Laie are happy again, what with the newly renovated Laie Palms Cinemas opening today (July 17, 2009) with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs on the bill. The initial screenings in the newly renovated twin theaters — which promise to use “real butter” on their popcorn — comes about a year-and-a-half after Wallace Theaters closed down their operations in the Laie Shopping Center.

The new owners, Don and Alicen Nielsen (they recently moved to Laie Point and she’s a BYUH student), say they will usually show the latest movies about a week-or-so after they first come out on Oahu; and will keep the prices competitive: The opening day rates were $7.50 ($5.50 for matinees before 5 p.m.), and $5.50 for seniors (60-and-up) — yes! (Most Consolidated Theaters on Oahu are now charging $9.50 for adults.)

I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve been a big-time movie fan ever since I was a little kid. My mom would often take us to the new movies on Friday night at the old Southeast Theater in Sugar House, Salt Lake City. Then the next morning, she would send me and my brother to the double-bill — usually at least one of them a cowboy flick. This was also back in the day when they had the serials: In fact, I can still remember the Flash Gordon ones.

Now days, my wife (Sally Ann McShane) and I take in all the best new movies — and even some disappointing ones, often on opening night, which usually means Friday on Oahu. In fact, we often drive to Koolau-10 in Valley of the Temples, or Windward Mall, that evening for a movie-and-dinner-date; then hit another one on Saturday in town, plus shopping. Sometimes we’ll even drive over to Kahala Mall, where Consolidated Theaters show some of the lesser-known, more arty films that used to play at the old Varsity Theater near UH (now gone).

Of course, back in the day, like many Church College of Hawaii students we were regulars at the old Kahuku Theater…when we weren’t working at the PCC: I always thought the Togo family were very marketing-savvy in changing the films frequently, not to mention all the language-films they also ran. And who can forget those metal walls and roofs: It seems like at least once a night someone would bang rocks off the roof when I was there, or the mosquito punk coils for sale along with the rather ono popcorn at the tiny snack bar, and then there were the RATS crawling along the floor and the open roof beams. Ah, those were the days.

When I first came to CCH the price was 75 cents at Kahuku, then it went up to 90 cents. The price was also just right for students who watched the free movies in the CCH Auditorium — many of them bringing pillows and blankets from the dorms to get really comfortable at the 9:30 p.m. screening. But I wonder if you were one of those who could never understand otherwise why the Samoans and Tongans hooted for the action, then laughed at the most inopportune scenes and moments: I mean, most of us could understand snickering at the on-screen smooches, but why when the hero got shot, or bust-up?

If we had transportation, we would sometimes drive to downtown Honolulu for the latest flicks at the old King Theater (long gone), the Princess (likewise), and Hawaii Theaters (now a restored theater for special events only). I can also remember taking in a few flicks at the old Wahiawa Theater, but that place could be down-right cold in the winter; or the historic Haleiwa Theater (redeveloped into a McDonald’s years ago).

Then there were the drive-ins: The one in Kailua was the closest, of course. And in my mind I can still hear the guy at the old Waialae Drive-In, just mauka of where Kahala Mall now stands, blaring out his announcement over those tinny speaker boxes in pidgin, “The snack bah is closing in 10 minutes,” annoying repeated over the movie soundtrack two-or-three times. And speaking of drive-ins, I remember when growing up in Utah that they were strictly a seasonal endeavor…until someone figured out a way to hand out a small heater along with the speaker box. The drive-ins were also great because kids got in free back in the 50s and 60s, and who didn’t sneak in somebody, either hiding in the back seat or even in the trunk?

Sally and I attended a memorable drive-in once in, of all places, Port Moresby, New Guinea, back in ’71, where you didn’t need a car: I’ve long-ago forgotten the film, but I can still recall the outdoor theater had a nice area set up near the projection stand with comfortable chairs and tables where lots of expatriate Ozzies would have dinner (plus liquid refreshment), then watch the movies. This reminds me that on that same expedition we went to a movie in Rabaul, New Britain, where we innocently sat with the kanakas, enjoying the film, only later realizing that most expatriates sat in a segregated section.

In Apia, Suva, and Auckland I remember you had to book your tickets in advance for main theaters. I don’t know if that’s still the case.

When I was a missionary out in the boonies in Samoa, we could only watch a movie as a zone activity, which would be shown in 16mm on a white sheet that would flutter in the breeze; although the office missionaries and APs could go to the Tivoli on Saturdays, partially because it was “in our area” and often because our mission president would take us.

During the year we lived in Bandung, Indonesia, because I was attached to the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta (about 120 miles away) but was the only semi-official civilian there, the Department of Defense commander ordered the Air Force contingent stationed in our town to make sure my wife and I were invited to all their weekly movies. The best part? The DoD guys usually received at least one new, first-run film each week…plus, they all lived in a very nice house: We would all sit in easy chairs, plus they always had pupu and they sold U.S. soda at PX prices (i.e. very cheap).

Yup, movies and the whole experience of enjoying them have come a long ways: I enjoyed them then, I still enjoy them, and now I can enjoy them in Laie once again — if I haven’t already seen them at Koolau, or Kaneohe, or Mililani, or Kahala, or Dole Cannery in Iwilei, or….


  1. A friend from Hauula emailed me that my blog story reminded her of how she and her brother used to walk about a mile each way to watch the movies back in her home town, which only cost 10¢ when she was a kid, and that she enjoyed the Hopalong Cassidy cowboy films.

    This reminded me that we also used to watch Hopalong movies. In fact, wasn’t he in the serials, too? And Rocket Man? It was always amazing to me back then how, in the next serial installment, the hero/heroine would get out of the impossible situation where they ended up in preceding one.

    In addition to cowboy movies, we loved the comedies featuring such stars as Francis the talking mule, Ma and Pa Kettle, Abbott and Costello, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, and the Marx brothers. Disney’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea was absolutely thrilling, but the 1950s version of War of the Worlds was the only scary movie I can remember giving me bad dreams.

    Like my friend, our local theater also only charged 10¢ (25¢ for adults). It was about a mile away, and we walked both ways many times. As my brother and I got a little older, my mom would let us ride the bus downtown (5¢ each way) where some of the larger theaters would have special Saturday morning kid promotions, like bring a milk carton and get in free, or prize drawings between features.

    I remember at one of these they called my number for a Chinese checkers game, but I was too shy to claim it. My brother grudgingly got it for me. Later, my older sister worked at our local theater and used to get me in free and treat me to popcorn.

    Finally, despite the fact that my mom was a big-time movie fan, ironically, my dad didn’t really care for them. Once in a while he’d go to something with a historical theme, or Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epics; but even then he would never go to a double bill.

  2. Here is the website for the theater: it has movie times, prices, and even previews for the current movies showing in the theater!

  3. I bookmarked!

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