I was dodging virtual raindrops one afternoon on the stormy side of the internet when I decided to catch a little sanctuary from the rain under the rooftop of a ticket booth at the local film house. As I wrung E-rain out my fedora and avoided the annoyed glances of the bored dame inside the booth, I felt a heavy stare on me from the shadows of the movie palace and turned, expecting danger at the worst, and a subpoena at the best.
What I got was the Czar of Noir, Eddie Muller.
“Here for the matinee?” asked Eddie, flipping a shiny silver dollar as he strolled out of the lobby. “You should grab some popcorn as well. It’s the best in the city.”
“No time,” I grumbled as I moved my wallet from my back pocket to my front. As far as I knew, Eddie seemed a straight-shooter, but there was something in the way that he flipped that coin that told me he knew his way around the grift. “Besides,” I said, looking at the dame in the ticket booth, “the atmosphere doesn’t seem too welcoming.”
“Don’t let it fool you,” Eddie said, buttoning up his coat and tipping the brim of his fedora. “Part of the deal is that vintage movies houses SHOULD capture the spirit of an earlier time, even as they adopt new technologies and such to remain viable. This place will treat you right.”
He nodded and made his way back into the streets of the Internet as I examined the movie posters. While I was lost in thought, Eddie called back to me.
“You dropped your wallet,” he said, tossing my leather billfold to me. I looked inside and saw that there was just enough left inside for me to catch the matinee and grab a snack. With a shrug, I slid a dollar into the opening in the ticket window, causing the clerk to put down her book with a sigh.
“Don’t forget the popcorn,” Eddie called from around the corner as I made my way into the lobby. “The popcorn always taste better here.”
The Hollywood Theatre (Portland, OR)
Located at the corner of 42nd and Sandy Blvd., the Hollywood Theatre in Portland is the crown jewel of a charming neighborhood that has grown around it. Built in 1926 by John Virginius Bennes and Harry A. Hertzog, the beautiful front facade of the Hollywood was modeled after the Baths of Caracalla.
Over its lifetime the Hollywood hosted vaudeville acts, silent films, and modern cinema. The theatre underwent a handful of renovations, as well as a successful Kickstarter campaign to restore the original marquee.
The theatre is currently a non-profit organization with a focus on community involvement. It hosts independent and educational films as well as grind-house flicks, film festivals such as Noir City, and movies in Hecklevision.
Classic movies are the bread-and-butter of the Hollywood Theatre, and the offerings are frequent and exceptional. Grab a slice of pizza or the best popcorn Portland has to offer and wash it down with one of the many local brews the Hollywood Theatre keeps on tap, all while enjoying a noir classic.(Photo: Hollywood Theater)
The Stanford Theatre (Palo Alto, CA)
A classic film palace that serves as the cornerstone for a vibrant, modern downtown, the Stanford Theatre is a marvel of Greek and Assyrian architecture that has endured since 1925 and is said to account for as much as twenty-five percent of all classic movie attendance in the U.S.
Serving as the town’s premier movie house, it was purchased by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and restored to its original, pristine condition.
Noir classics like The Maltese Falcon, Touch of Evil, and The Blue Dahlia have all graced the screen, with intermissions lovingly punctuated by the sounds of the “Mighty Wurlitzer.”
In addition to the theatre’s pipe organ, month-long festivals focusing on legendary actors and directors have built a huge audience following, and the theatre’s dollar popcorn and inexpensive candy keep them there.(Photo: Stanford Theatre)
The Castro Theatre (San Francisco, CA)
As much a star of the San Francisco scene as Alcatraz Prison or the Golden Gate Bridge, the Castro Theatre was built in the mid-1920’s as the new Castro Theatre, replacing its previous incarnation down the street. With its blazing “Castro” neon sign, it is a landmark of the community known world-wide.
Built in 1922, the Theatre was constructed by the Nasser brothers, local entrepreneurs who began their operation with a nickelodeon. Working with a local architect Timothy Pfueger, the Castro Theatre was built in the style of the great California missions, framed with large roof lines and great front windows.
The balconies are pure 1920’s and the twin staircases that flank the mezzanine are accented with old film posters. While the style is all classic style and ornate decor, the theatre itself hosts everything from sing-a-longs to live reviews.
The Castro is home to the original Noir City film festival and runs on a steady diet of camp, independent films, and hard-boiled noir. While the theater has seen many renovations and upgrades to their screen, projection system and speakers, it is still owned by the Nasser family, proving that the more things change, the more they should stay the same.(Photo: The Castro Theatre)
The Ritz Theatre (Austin, TX)
Playing many roles during its existence, the Ritz Theater was built in 1929 by J.J.Hegman specifically for the new wave of talking motion pictures. In its time it saw use as an adult theater, music venue, and became a leading voice in American Punk Music before The Alamo Drafthouse announced they would be taking over the venue and re-opening it as a movie theatre.
With an emphasis on neighborhood, film preservation, and FUN, the Ritz, run by the Alamo Drafthouse presents classic movies in a great environment for hard-core movie fans. They have a no-tolerance policy for talking, cell phones, and unattended children. While it may sound a little strict, they balance it out with serving quality, freshly-prepared food and local breweries on tap, taking a tad bit of bitterness out of any noir flick.
The mission at the Ritz, as for any Alamo Drafthouse, is to build an audience for classic, foreign, and golden-age cinema. While the atmosphere is relaxed and casual, the attention to detail and the ability to present classic films in the way they were meant to be experienced is welcome.(Photo: The Ritz Theatre)
The Music Box Theatre (Chicago, IL)
Noir theater and Chicago go together like Speakeasies and bathtub gin and no one in Chicago does noir, or classic movies, for that matter, like The Music Box Theatre. Billing itself as a “year-round film festival” when the theater opened in 1929, Theatre Architecture Magazine said it represented a “smaller, though charming and well-equipped” movie palace, and they couldn’t have been more right.
The theatre was built with no stage, a rarity of its time, and designed for moving pictures. The interior design is based on a blend of Spanish and Italian influences and the blue ceiling has a twinkling-light effect with dark clouds to make you feel as if you are sitting under the night sky.
Once the movie starts, however, everything else fades away as the organist plays you into the evening’s feature. One of the highlights of the fall is Noir City, and while the setting is intimate, it is the perfect venue for a hard-boiled flick or noir classic.
And it goes without saying that any truly great theater has its own resident ghost. Make sure you save some popcorn for “Whitey.”(Photo: Music Box Theatre)
Alabama Theatre (Birmingham, AL)
With a Mighty Wurlitzer nicknamed “Big Bertha,” built to accompany the best silent films of its day, and a grand lobby that would turn any Hilton green with envy, the South just does it right.
Built in 1927, the Alabama was large for its time, seating 2500 people and was the first public building in the state to boast of air conditioning. The theater was constructed to host silent films, and unlike most on this list, are the proud caretakers of the Crawford Special Publix One-Mighty Wurlitzer, one of only twenty-five ever produced.
For years the Alabama served as a leader of the community, becoming home to events such as the Miss Alabama and the Mickey Mouse Club, where it fostered the largest Mickey Mouse Club in the world.
After undergoing renovation in 1998, the Alabama is once again the jewel of Birmingham. It hosts concerts, stage plays, and stays true to its history of noir by playing the classics regularly.(Photo: The Alabama Theatre)
Egyptian Theater (Hollywood, CA)
The Egyptian Theater in Hollywood is host to a classic film legacy and continues to play the lead in noir and golden-age motion picture.
Serving the dual role of a modern-blockbuster venue as well as a historic movie palace, the Egyptian was brought to life in 1922 by showman Sid Grauman as a part of his theater empire, along with downtown’s Million Dollar Theater on Broadway and the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
Influenced by the Egyptian fad of the day, the theater was built with a massive courtyard 45-feet wide and 150-feet long and was powered by Sid Grauman’s mighty imagination. Building a stage along the front of the screen, he presented a pre-film stage extravaganza that frequently presented some of the actors in the films. He also posted a soldier in Egyptian garb on the roof of the theater that marched around with a rifle and announced the start of a film.
While the theater is no longer as over-the-top as it once was, it still is a cinematic jewel dedicated to silver screen history and classic noir. The theater, after falling into disarray, was purchased by American Cinematheque for the princely sum of $1.00. They have since invested another $12 million bringing the Egyptian back to its original glory while making it the best place to see classic films in Hollywood.(Photo: Egyptian Theater)
Tampa Theatre (Tampa, FL)
Constructed in 1926 as one of American’s most elaborate and stunning motion picture palaces in the south, and like the Alabama, was the first to bring air-conditioning to the region. Priding itself as the most lavish and elegant movie house of its time, the Tampa Theatre was known for its Mighty Wurlitzer, elegant statuary and gargoyles, as well as the theater ceiling, which is regularly transformed into a night sky filled with twinkling stars.
The Tampa Theatre is one of the best examples of America’s Grand Movie Palaces and has been used as a backdrop for movies, ads, and music videos. The theater is lovingly cared for by the Tampa Theatre Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that stages over 600 theater events a year, including classic noir movies and hard-boiled thrillers.
To be transported back in time, as well as a chance to experience the best projection equipment in the region, an evening at the Tampa Theatre is a sure bet.(Photo: Tampa Theatre)
AFI Silver Theatre (Silver Springs, MD)
With a personal referral by Eddie Muller, calling the AFI Silver Theatre “truly a state-of-the-art venue with one of the best projection booths I’ve ever been in,” the Silver Theatre lives up to its bonafides. As a stop for the annual Noir City film festival, they have become one of the best places in America to see the genre.
Just a few blocks from the nation’s capitol, the Silver Theatre is run by the American Film Institute and its mandate is to honor and educate the public of the history of motion picture arts. Built in 1938 by noted architect John Ebersonin 1938, the theater was renovated with three screens, each outfitted with the most up-to-date projection equipment available.
As a unique marriage of modern and historic, the Silver Theatre distinguishes itself among the best film theaters in the US, and a leader in classic film cinema.(Photo: AFI Silver Theatre)
Museum of the Moving Image (Astoria, NY)
A futuristic venue with a classic pedigree, the Museum of the Moving Image is located in Astoria, Queens, prompting the most common question concerning the museum; Why is the museum located in Astoria, Queens?
The reason is that the museum is located on the grounds of the historic Astoria Studio complex, built in 1920 by Famous Players-Lasky, later known as Paramount. The studio was taken over by the US Army to produce war pictures and was later operated by the American Museum of the Moving Image in the early 80’s.
The museum itself is a bit paradoxical, being both futuristic and stylish while paying tribute to some of the best classic cinema of the last century. Despite this, or even perhaps because of it, the museum is lovingly devoted to the craft and is one of the best places to watch noir in America.(Photo: Museum Of Moving Image)
Ohio Theatre (Columbus, OH)
Known as the “Official Theatre of the State of Ohio,” the people of the Buckeye State couldn’t have made a better choice. Built in 1928 in the Spanish Baroque-style, the Ohio Theatre was designed to be the most lavish building in the state. From the 21 foot chandelier to the breathtaking proscenium and orchestra pit to the Robert Morgan theater organ, the opulence of the Ohio is evident everywhere. Over a million dollars was spent on the décor of the theater, more than the actual cost of the theatre.
In 1969 the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts put out a call to “Save the Ohio” and raised more than $2 million dollars. Purchasing and renovating the theater, the CAPA spared no expense in bringing the Ohio back to its prime.
Today the Ohio Theatre hosts the Ohio Symphony, live concerts, and also great classic films, ensuring it will continue as the “Official Theatre for the State of Ohio” for years to come.(Photo: Ohio Theatre)
Mainstreet Theater (Kansas City, MO)
Classic movie houses and the Alamo Drafthouse chain are no strangers, and this list proves it. As a pit-stop for the traveling film festival that is the mighty Noir City, the Mainstreet Theater in Kansas City is not only the perfect place to enjoy a hard-boiled noir classic, but also the place to pair a Pinot Noir with it.
Built in 1921 in a French Baroque style, the Mainstreet Theater, sometimes known as the Empire, was a lynchpin of the community, and the first in the city to offer a nursery run by a trained nurse for children of the audience members.
In a separate but equally important community service, it was also rumored that a tunnel connected the theater to the hotel across the street, allowing bootleggers to escape across the street.
The theater was sold during the late fifties and saw hard times. It was split into four screens and eventually closed in 1985. In the years that followed, the theater fell into disrepair. Bricks fell from the building and trees took root on the roof.
The City of Kansas City bought the theater in 2009 and began renovations that included cinema suites, digital projection, a lobby restaurant, and one of the most advanced sound systems in the world. In 2009 the theater was recognized for its achievements in preservation, and in 2009 Mainstreet Theater operations were taken over by the Alamo Drafthouse.(Photo: Mainstreet Theater)
While you’re waiting for the feature picture, why don’t you skip the newsreel and cartoon and grab a copy of the Noir Blockbuster THE STANDING EIGHT! You’ll also get the on the newsletter list for the best of hard-boiled fiction, noir stories, and pulp goodness.