Recently, my wife and I took our kids to a drive-in theater about an hour from my house. As I kid I remember going to the drive-in several times, seeing such classics as Jaws 3:D and Kenny Rogers/Diane Lane/Erin Gray vehicle Six Pack, but my kids had never had the experience. We saw Brave, which was substandard Pixar, and The Avengers, which was slightly better than all right. Anyway, in honor of the event it seemed like a fun idea to look back at the ten most memorable Drive-In scenes in the movies – at least memorable to me.
Retreating to Nantucket Island for the summer, to get over being a lousy basketball player, and also to create a story for his application to art school, Hoops McCann (John Cusack) makes friends with a young musician (Demi Moore), who needs help saving her grandfather’s house from the clutches of the oily bad guys – the bad guys are always oily in these films. To help promote one of her shows as a local club, McCann creates a bit of animation that they project on the screen of the local drive in, from the top of their van, while the ‘Let’s all go to the lobby’ promo was playing. Sure, the scene is not nearly as memorable as seeing the sports-car they turned into a speedboat, but since it’s pivotal to the film, there’s no way it can be ignored.
9. Twister, dir. Jan de Bont
This film doesn’t necessarily make the list because of its drive-in scene, in which a tornado rips through a drive-in movie theater while playing The Shining. Rather, it gets a mention because during the film’s release a twister tore through a drive-in theater in Ontario and it was widely reported the theater had been showing the movie Twister at that very moment. Of course, this proved to be an urban legend, as the IMDB and Wikipedia gladly report, but that doesn’t change the fact that most people think it happened that way. Anyway, didn’t John Ford teach us that when the legend become fact, print the legend?
8. Brokeback Mountain, dir. Ang Lee
After returning from his summer of love up on Brokeback Mountain with jack Twist, Ennis (Heath Ledger) takes a wife (Michelle Williams) and engages in nice little scenes of happy domesticity. One scene involves them on a date-night at a local drive in, where they see Hud. It’s a fleeting scene, where the wife takes Ennis’ hand and puts it on her belly, where their baby is surely gestating, and sweet, with the wife looking genuinely happy. Ennis, though, seems to have his mind elsewhere.
Trivia: Ennis and the wife see the movie Hud, based on the book Horseman, Pass By, written by Larry McMurtry, who wrote the script for Brokeback Mountain.
7. Christine, dir. John Carpenter
Christine is one of the films that paired a lesser Stephen King novel – I defy anybody to claim is as their favorite, or even in their SK top 10 – with a director far better than the property, who did what he could, but couldn’t spin gold out of a ridiculous story about a demon car and the evil hold it has over Arnie, its young owner.
Anyway, after Christine makes a change in Arnie’s attitude – before the car he was a nerd, after he is a greaser asshole – Arnie scores the babe, Leigh, and takes her to see the non-classic, Thank God It’s Friday, at a drive in theater. Of course they see the movie in the rain and of course the wipers stop working and of course Arnie gets out to fix them – I saw of course, because if none of that happens surely Leigh doesn’t start choking her burger the second an eerily appropriate song plays on the radio (‘You’re Mine’) and Christine can’t lock her in. Already half-way to bat-shit insane anyway, Arnie goes all the way over after this and, no surprise, he and Christine eventually bite the dust together.
The movie is ridiculous, the book is a lesser King entry, but at least it contains one of my all-time favorite laugh-out-loud lines, “She had the smell of a brand-new car. That’s just about the finest smell in the world, ‘cept maybe for pussy.”
6. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, dir. Michel Gondry
The drive-in sequences in Eternal Sunshine are necessarily fleeting, as they exist as memories in the mind of Joel Barrish that shall soon exist no more, as they are being systematically eliminated in an all night session by Mark Ruffalo and Frodo Baggins. In one moment we see Joel sitting in his car, outside the fence of the drive in, looking up the screen crying, in another we see him and Clementine in the same position, together, in much more joyous times. Eternal Sunshine is clearly the best movie of the past 30 or more years, for a variety of reasons, one of which is the philosophical questions it raises. Every time I see these two snippets from the film, of the drive-in, I’m reminded of the old question about a tree falling in the woods – if no one is around, does it make a sound? Only, in this case, if all memories of an event are deleted from those who have it, did it even happen in the first place?
5. The Outsiders, dir. Francis Ford Coppola
The idiotically named Dally (Matt Dillon) and Ponyboy (Ralph Macchio), along with their more conventionally named Johnny (C. Thomas Howell) sneak into a drive-in, where they meet Cherry (Diane Lane) and the inconsequential Marcia. Of course, because the boys are greasers and the girls are ‘socs’ this means some cross-cultural teenage hijinks has to ensue, leading to rumbles and bad blood and – somehow – Gone With The Wind. The movie they see? Beach Blanket Bingo with Buster Keaton.
Perhaps goaded into it by peer pressure from his buddy’s in his not-very-tough gang, the T-Birds, Danny Zucko (John Travolta) puts the moves on good-girl Sandy (Olivia Newton John) while seeing a movie in a drive in. Of course, because of her purity, and the fact that Danny is a pretentious asshole, she shoots him down, leaving him to sing a sad song of rejection on the playground, while hot dogs dance on the screen behind him.
(Incidentally, the theater I went to, had no playground)
After going in search of his bike in an adventure that leads him to riding the rails with hobos, meeting large Marge, and ultimately, the Alamo, Pee Wee finds his story adapted into a movie. In typical Hollywood fashion the truth in the story is scrapped and the movie-Pee Wee (played by James Brolin) becomes something of an international spy who winds up fighting ninjas. This being Pee Wee, the movie premiers at a drive-in.
Before he was a director, Peter Bogdonavich was a film programmer at MOMA. When Boris Karloff was left owing Roger Corman for two days work, Corman gave Bogdoanvich the chance to direct, but only if he used Karloff in the film.
The film itself follows two distinct stories. One is about an aging actor looking to retire from the movie business, the other is about a sniper randomly killing civilians, a la Charles Whitman. The finale of the film, and where the two stories intersect, takes place at a drive in theater, where Karloff is to make a personal appearance at the showing of one of his films. When the sniper decides to start taking out moviegoers from a perch behind the screen, it is Karloff who eventually stops the carnage, subduing the shooter with a couple of blows to the head – which has to be one of the most ironic endings, given that Karloff could do little more than hobble at that point.
Oh well, movie magic.
This is easily my favorite of all the drive-ins because it’s so absurd. In the old timey days of drive-ins, you’d normally turn up and get a double feature and, if you were in the south, you’d get some sleazy grind house pictures, the kind Herschel Gordon Lewis would make. In Polyester, a movie ripe with melodrama – read the Wiki summary if you need to – Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter) is the owner of a drive-in theater that shows art films and serves caviar, oysters and champagne. It’s all very shabby-chic.