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I don't really remember the first movie I ever saw, though I'm sure it was age appropriate and probably one made by Walt Disney. I do remember that the Mary Poppins (1964) soundtrack album was always sitting next to the big piece of furniture which encompassed the record player, radio and TV console. However, I'm not really trying to pinpoint the first movie I saw anyway, merely the one that made the biggest impression earliest in my life.
We went to the movies as a family and I can remember sitting in a very big auditorium, the way it was before stadium seating. Curtains covered the walls at the front and sides and we'd enter from the back and then walk down the center aisle until Dad found a place for us to sit. The big curtain at the front would start to "magically" open only after a countdown sequence was projected on the screen "hidden" behind it. I believe it must have been a CinemaScope theatre, though I think we called it "CineScope". I can vaguely remember seeing Oliver! (1968) in a place like this, though it must have been during its re-release in late 1972, and can more vividly recall another epic that I saw was The Wind and the Lion (1975).
I remember that one of the first films I was "dropped off" with some friends to see (all by ourselves!) was Tarzan's Deadly Silence (1970) which featured Ron Ely in the title role and Tarzan losing his hearing ... totally forgettable otherwise. Then, I remember being old enough to be trusted to walk to the Esquire Theatre and spend my own money (made mowing lawns) to see Bank Shot (1974) with George C. Scott. Seems my choice in movies was pretty awful.
For one of my friend's birthdays, we were taken by his Mom to see Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976) which was the only movie I think I've ever walked out on. Later, during that summer, was the first time I ever paid to see a movie for the second time - The Bad News Bears (1976) - the phenomenon that, today, fuels the box office mentality that drives the major studios.
A few others I also still recall watching were Murder by Death (1976), which I think I would appreciate much more now that I've seen Bogart and the Thin Man films, and the first R-movie I saw which was Semi-Tough (1977), only because it was the first movie released around the time of my 17th birthday. However, I've digressed now from the reason why I started this post in the first place. Back on topic ...
In the spring of 1977 (before I turned 17), we moved about 5 miles from where we had been living and I got my own room upstairs away from my folks room on the main level. I got a little 9-inch B&W Sears TV for Christmas that year (it still works, I've got it in my home office) and so I was able to watch it late at night or on Saturday mornings surreptitiously. Of course, I watched everything I could regardless, developing a habit my wife now derides with "you'll watch anything" (for proof, read some of my obscure movie reviews). I remember watching a lot of Abbott & Costello and Bowery Boys movies on rainy weekend afternoons.
One Saturday, however, I saw King Solomon's Mines (1950) starring Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr. I remember mentioning it to my Mom and how she seemed to appreciate the moment with me, that movies were GREAT.* It's an adventure set in Africa which won Oscars for Cinematography (Color, ironically) & Editing and was also nominated for Best Picture. I was so captivated by the story that I was able to watch it through all the commercials and call-in contests from which I was surely besieged. All these years later, I believe I can honestly say that this film (and the fact that Star Wars (1977) was released in the same timeframe) was the seed from which my love for movies grew.
BTW, they say you can't go home again, and now I know why. I watched this film again several weeks ago and was struck by what a chauvinistic (even mildly racist) point of view it had, though it was still somewhat entertaining. The "special effects" are lame by any standards, though maybe not at the time, and I didn't find the story particularly compelling either, which wasn't because I'd seen it before since I'd obviously forgotten it 25 years later.
Although this post is largely a personal reflection, perhaps it will prompt some of you to make your own journey back to recall your movie roots. I found mine to be a pleasant one. I didn't try to recall or include ALL the films I watched in my youth, just the "firsts" and ones that immediately came to mind (for whatever reason).
* - This discussion led to my Mother to share a few stories with me about my Grandfather (her Dad), the fact that he had been a carpenter by trade who, among other things, helped to rebuild Pearl Harbor and, much later, worked on building the spectacular (Academy Award nominated) sets for the film Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) with James Mason.