Monday, December 8, 2008

Drive In Double Feature: Sabata & The Bridge at Remagen

It was the summer of ‘71. I got my driver’s licence in ‘70 and now it was time to actually drive to that American institution , the drive in theater. And what a greater time than the 70's to sample what would soon be replaced with malls, corporate offices, and parking garages. It would be all over by the 80's but the drive ins were still cookin’ in the 70's.

We had the rural, at the time , highways dotted with these outdoor theaters. You had Morris Plains on Rt 10, Troy Hills on Rt 46, Union on Rt 22, Livingston on Rt 10, Totowa on Rt 46, Anthony Wayne on Rt 23, and others. Most were owned by the General Cinema chain of theaters.

Drive ins were outdoor grindhouses and played the same films. Sometimes they booked pictures that were completely at opposite ends of the film spectrum. Case in point with Sabata & Bridge at Remagen, a spaghetti western and a 1969 recycled war movie. We didn’t care, we just loaded the car with a couple of cases of beer and went to the Troy Hills Drive In for a night of viewing pleasure.

I was a big Lee Van Cleef fan , after seeing him in For a Few Dollars More, Good , The Bad, & The Ugly, Big Gundown & others. Sabata may have been his best role as “ The Man with the Gun Sight Eyes Comes to Kill!!” that’s what the ads said. Sabata was sort of a western James Bond. Dressed impeccably in black and armed with a bunch of deadly gadgets, Sabata decimates the army of killers that the corrupt town bosses send after him. Aided by some quirky characters, Carricha, a knife throwing drunk, Banjo, who keeps a rifle in his instrument, and Alley Cat, an acrobatic, silent killer, Sabata is never dull.

Sabata was the main feature and it started around 8;30. It was still light out, so you missed the first few minutes. Of course we were going to hang around and see it again. We had gone through one case of beer already and now it was time for the war movie. Bridge at Remagen was originally released in 1969. We had been seeing war films that kicked ass like , The Dirty Dozen, The Devil’s Brigade, and others. Bridge didn’t kick ass, it sort of sucked.

Based on a true story, Bridge at Remagen starred George Segal, Bradford Dillman, Ben Gazzara as a sergeant, and Robert Vaughn as a German officer. It was about the last intact bridge on the Rhine River and the view point was from both the American & the German side. After seeing guys like Lee Marvin, William Holden, Charles Bronson take on the entire German army, this was kinda boring. We drank more beer to make it interesting, but it wasn’t.

There were a lot of tanks in that movie. When you drink enough beer, the stupidest of ideas become intriguing. Someone starting talking about tanks and now Sabata was back on. The place was almost deserted except for couples too cheap to get a hotel room. This tank conversation took over until I decided that I was going to play tank and shut these guys up. I drove to the back of the drive in and started hitting the mounds between speakers at about 30mph. We flew about two feet in the air in my ‘63 Dodge Dart. These guys were bouncing of the ceiling and each bump rattled my teeth, but this was good , drunken fun.

They begged me to stop, so I parked and we finished Sabata for the second time that night. Admittedly , Sabata & The Bridge at Remagen were a weird pairing. Both films were released by United Artists. I would guess that action films were just hooked up with other action films, regardless of the genre. There were a lot of weird pairings back then. But none weirder than the 42nd Street double bill of Hells Angels ‘69 & Spirits of the Dead. But that night is a whole other story
42nd Street Pete

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