Classics, cults, catastrophes, and Christmas

V ictoria Theatre’s Cool Film Series will kick off on Friday, July 6, with a showing of the 1950 George Cukor film “Adam’s Rib,” starring the classic comedic team of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn as married lawyers who must face off in court. The film is the beginning of an exciting season for the […]

Victoria’s Cool Films series returns

There’s nothing cooler than the Griswolds in “Christmas Vacation.” (Beverly D’Angelo and Chevy Chase)

By David Nilsen

Victoria Theatre’s Cool Film Series will kick off on Friday, July 6, with a showing of the 1950 George Cukor film “Adam’s Rib,” starring the classic comedic team of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn as married lawyers who must face off in court. The film is the beginning of an exciting season for the annual movie series. Mechele Pritchard, director of contracts and licensing at Victoria Theatre and the woman who organizes the Cool Film Series, believes it will be one of the most entertaining line-ups in years.

The movies in the Cool Films Series are screened in the gorgeously restored main theater at the Victoria, and are projected on a full-size movie theater screen, most of them from original celluloid film prints.

“We are a 35mm projection house,” explains Pritchard. “We run reel-to-reel when we can. It’s getting harder and harder to find 35mm prints though because of the degradation of the celluloid over the years, so sometimes we have to use discs. However, only four will be projected from DVD or Blu-ray this year.”

Pritchard works for months behind the scenes to track down rare prints of these films. “The trick is matching up the film with the distributor. Every few years the distributors sell their prints, so it’s like playing hide and seek.”

In addition to classic era films like “Adam’s Rib,” this season will feature a number of modern-era classics like “The Princess Bride” (July 13-15) and “Die Hard” (August 10-12).

“We try to do a mix of old and new classics,” explains Pritchard.

The series will feature a disaster movie marathon in August, with “The Poseidon Adventure” (August 17), “The Towering Inferno” (August 18), and “Earthquake” (August 19). When asked about the choice of these campy but highly entertaining blockbusters from the 1970s, Pritchard’s answer is simple: “I wanted it! I said, ‘I’d really love to do a disaster weekend,’ and everyone said, ‘Okay!’”

The series will also include a Christmas in July marathon the final weekend of July, with a showing of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” on July 27, “Elf” on July 28, and “Miracle on 34th Street” on July 29. The marathon will coincide with Victoria Theatre’s Merry Makeover campaign, a fundraising effort to restore the display cases for the Christmas elves from the former Rike’s Department Store. For decades the elves graced the store’s holiday window displays in downtown Dayton, and are now a part of the Schuster Center’s Wintergarden.

The 10:30 p.m. showings of cult classics “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (July 14) and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (August 11) renew the program’s Late Night at the Vic tradition of screening quirky, off-the-beaten-path classics for an audience of nocturnal film lovers.

Despite being better known today for its stage performances, Victoria Theatre has a long history as a movie house. Built in 1865 as Turner Opera House, the theater first screened a moving picture in the early 1900s—a fight featuring legendary boxer Bob Fitzsimmons. The theater continued to show films regularly throughout the classic era of cinema.

“We were a Warner Brothers house in the 1940s and 1950s,” explains Pritchard. “Then we were a Disney house for a while.”

1977 saw the rebirth of movie screenings at the Vic with that year’s Summer Film Fair. Hot Times Cool Films kicked off in 1981 as the precursor to the modern Cool Films Series. The renovation of the theater between 1988 and 1990 restored the venue to its former splendor. Watching a film in the theater now is like being transported back in time to the glory days of grand movie palaces.

When asked which film she’s most excited about from this summer’s schedule, Pritchard hems and haws like any true movie fan before settling on the 1963 romantic comedy “Irma la Douce,” showing the weekend of July 20-22. The Billy Wilder-directed classic stars Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine and tells the story of an accidentally disgraced cop (Lemmon) who finds himself falling in love with a prostitute (MacLaine).

Pritchard begins the process of selecting films for the series in February by making a master list of both older and more modern classics. She takes this list to a programming committee, who add their own suggestions. The group also takes into account audience suggestions from surveys filled out at movie screenings the previous year. After the list is assembled, the group whittles it down to an eclectic final mix they hope will appeal to a wide audience. This year’s schedule includes comedy, action, drama, musicals, and family films.

Victoria Theatre’s Cool Films Series is an opportunity to revisit cinema classics on the big screen in a beautiful historic setting. Through the generous donation of the program’s sponsors, free soda pop and popcorn are available to be enjoyed in the lobby before each screening. Pick your favorite films from this year’s schedule and enjoy some Hollywood nostalgia this summer in downtown Dayton. Tickets are $6 for each showing, and a pack of ten tickets is $39.

“We would love for everyone to come out and see the films,” reflects Pritchard. “These old films need a lot of love.”

The Victoria Theatre is located at 138 N. Main Street, Dayton. For more information on the films and showtimes, or to buy advance tickets, call 937-228-7591, or visit victoriatheatre.com/shows/series/films/

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David Nilsen is a beer writer living with his wife and daughter in Greenville. He is a Certified Cicerone and National Book Critics Circle member. You can follow him at DavidNilsenBeer.com and reach him at DavidNilsen@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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