Drive-In Mr. Mikey

My love for movies outdoors makes me fond of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, TX. Each summer, their mobile projection booth and giant screen travel the U.S. on the Rolling Roadshow Tour, showing 35mm presentations of classic movies at the actual filming locations.

This past Sunday, in quite an expansion, Rolling Roadshow screened Sergio Leone's epic spaghetti western, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," in Almeria, Spain, on a spot which doubled for the Civil War era American west.

I was fortunate enough to see the restored uncut version of the production in 2005 at Atlanta's Starlight Drive-in (pictured above). It was the better, the badder, and the cuter.

And, as fate determined, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" was also the second movie I ever projected in a drive-in theatre, during my decades as a motion picture machine operator and bottomless free popcorn partaker.

The western was the second half of a double bill with the "Paint Your Wagon" musical on a Sunday evening in May 1970 at the South Expressway Drive-in Theatre, an impressive single screen venue near the Atlanta airport. It was a week or so before I graduated from high school. I had been an intrepid, seasoned veteran of projection rooms since age 11, but only inside hardtop cinemas.

That night at the drive-in was a major moment of truth in my life. I was being tested.

Oh, I knew I could run the show without difficulty. The question was whether I could stay awake until quitting time, three in the morning. I was still a kid, after all.

I did, but it wasn't easy. I caught myself sleepwalking and sleep-slipping into my jammies during one of Lee Marvin's song solos.

When Clint Eastwood sang "I Talk to the Trees," I donned my nightcap.

By the time Lee Van Cleef bit the dust, I could be heard mumbling, "The Lord is my shepherd ... and God bless Mommy ... and doggy...."

I made it to "The End," eventually -- and then I had to drive myself home. Kudos to Teddy Bear, excellent co-pilot.
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