The ABC Minors Club: A 60’s Experience Part 2: American Saturday Matinees
Last time, we left off with a discussion of the superiority of the snack bars at American kiddie matinees. Giving more points to Team America (note the clean-pressed, antiseptic interior of an American suburban cinema in the featured picture) let me get the most obvious question out of the way. Movies were much better at the American Saturday matinees.
Why wouldn’t they be, when the theatres had all of Hollywood at their disposal (doling out exclusive rights to a particular cinema chain, as went on in the UK, had been declared a violation of the Sherman Anti-trust Act in the 1940s).
Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Woody Woodpecker and Yogi Bear co-existed, if not in the same cartoons, at least on the same screens.
There were usually four or five cartoons, most of recent vintage, which the theatres ran in place of newsreel and short subjects on Saturday mornings. In addition, there was a serial sandwiched in somewhere among them. That is until serials went out of production and theatres added another cartoon. These were put between a double feature of current major studio kid-friendly feature films from any studio. Sometimes the second feature would be a year or so old, and for purposes of discussion, I’ll count American International Pictures as a major studio, even though it actually wasn’t.
Screenings at the ABC Minors Club, by contrast, led with one, maybe two cartoons of varying vintage (along with the Loony Toons, Tom & Jerry were frequently featured). This was followed by a comedy short (Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts were big, so were Laurel & Hardy), leading into a featurette from the Children’s Film Foundation (“C.F.F..”), an organization set up and funded by a special surcharge on all other cinema admissions to bring wholesome domestic cinema to all British children.
Ah, the Children’s Film Foundation: What can I say?
They meant well – they really did. But the technical side of C.F.F. films did suffer. When compared with Hollywood films, the tone of the films was rather patronizing. On the other hand, they weren’t too long and were so earnest. And the criticism of the child actors’ acting was completely unfair. They were usually trained for the stage, and had been taught to over-enunciate. Their mannerisms were “stagy” – as opposed to the way kids overacted in Hollywood films at the time – it just happens to be tough getting a kid to act naturally.
On the other hand, among the child actors in C.F.F. films were future greats of stage, screen, TV and pop music. These included Michael Crawford (seen on my Facebook page with Peter Butterworth in “Blow Your Trumpet”). Dennis Waterman (already well-known for his onstage performances in “Oliver!”. The London cast of “The Music Man,” seen on my Facebook page in “Go Kart Go!” and in a contemporary publicity photo). Francesca Annis (seen on my Facebook page with Jeremy Bulloch and John Pike in “The Cat Gang”). Olivia Hussey and Susan George (seen on my Facebook page together in “Cup Fever”). And finally, Phil (then Philip) Collins. Performing talent was very much present, but it was often streets ahead of the material they were asked to perform.
The C.F.F. film would be followed by the feature film. It was sometimes recent, sometimes not, often from Hollywood. Sometimes with several domestic contenders as well, or even an occasional release from the European continent or Japan.
The program concluded with a serial (variously, also from C.F.F., from a U.K. studio, or one of the ones from Hollywood). There was also a cliffhanger ensuring everyone would be back the following week to find out what would happen next.
So, compared side by side, there’s no contest. American Saturday Matinees had a better selection of films than the Minors Club. On the other hand, without your friends in tow, going to an American Saturday matinee was a lonely, empty experience. This was generally not the case at the Minors Club. We have discussed the ways the American Saturday matinees were better. Next time, we’ll start to see how the ABC Minors Club experience was different – and better.
In addition to the pictures mentioned above, check out pictures of other Minors Club memorabilia on my Facebook page. Look for my novel “The Bluebottle Boys,” coming out this autumn from Duvanian Press.
G. H. McCallum
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