Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cooler hands and heads.

I have never fired a weapon. Never had the desire or thought much about it.

But guns were part of our topic of conversation on Friday night, as we accompanied another couple to a nostalgic theater experience. We were headed for the historic Redford Theatre on Lahser Road in Redford, Michigan to see one of my favorite films, the classic, Cool Hand Luke. On the drive over, we couldn’t help but chat about the tragic slaughter at a Colorado Cineplex that had occurred the night before. But for just a few hours, we could escape to the past.

Built in 1928, the Redford Theatre is a priceless gem that has been restored to its original glory, and then some. Volunteers have even acquired vintage artifacts from other theaters, like remarkable, handcrafted chandeliers. Others have repainted beautiful graphic frescos on the ceilings and walls.

This movie palace dates back to a time when “talkies” were new media and the silent film was still mainstream. To prove it, they have the original organ that rises up on a mechanized pedestal.

The Motor City Theatre Organ Society, Inc. owns and operates the facility.  According to longtime, loyal volunteer, Bob Weil, Redford’s organ is one of the very few original theatre organs in America. The Fox Theatre in downtown Detroit also boasts one.

Buying a ticket outside at the box office and stepping into the lobby of the Redford Theatre is a journey back in time. All the features are classics, and the volunteer team that runs the place is offering an impressive lineup this season, from Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz to an Abbott and Costello double feature and North by Northwest.

Another Alfred Hitchcock chiller, The Birds, hits Redford’s big screen Friday and Saturday, September 28 and 29. And there’s a bonus. The star of the film, the lovely Tippi Hedren, will be there both nights to sign autographs. I remember seeing that very scary movie as a kid at the Warren Theatre in Detroit and never again looking at our feathered friends the same way.

If you plan to attend any movie at the Redford, be sure to get there 30 minutes before the start time to hear the organist perform. On Friday night, the musician and his instrument rose up out of the floor to the left of the stage.  The organist put on a show for 30 minutes. At the end of his act, the organ lowered again and Paul Newman and a cast of captivating characters soon graced the screen.

If you’ve seen Cool Hand Luke, you know parts are quite violent. But none of it is gratuitous. This movie is a piece of cinematic literature and the symbolism of the struggle between good and evil, hope and hopelessness abounds. It may be Newman’s best-ever role. His co-star, George Kennedy, won the Oscar for his performance as “Dragline”. Set in a hard-knocks, Florida corrections camp, the story features Newman as Lucas “Luke” Jackson, a decorated Korean War veteran. He ends up on the chain gang for destruction of public property. “Luke” got drunk one night and, for fun, he cut off the heads of the parking meters in a small town.

The troubled war hero’s magnetic personality, disarming smile and love for risk-taking make him the idol and savior of his fellow inmates. Of course, “Luke” becomes the devil incarnate to the guards and the Captain who runs the diabolical work camp. Hilariously innocent scenes counter harsh expressions of corruption and hatred to create a cinematic tension that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Sharp shooter, “Boss Godfrey”, played by Morgan Woodward, provides a chilling force that constantly lurks in “Luke’s” shadow. The boss guard is ever ready to fire his bolt-action rifle to take off the head of a snake or stop the heart of an escaped prisoner. His actions are cold, calculated and deliberate. He is the grim reaper in the flesh, poised to render justice and capital punishment, without a judge or jury.

I enjoyed munching popcorn at the Redford for $1.50 and my wife, Ellen, chose the sweet potato cookies from Sweet Potato Sensations bakery across the street from the theater. She saved one for me. Yum! The Redford even has intermissions and matinees. It’s truly a trip down memory lane and a great way to savor a film.

During the movie, despite the sometimes-brutal storyline, I never once thought about Aurora, Colorado, alleged gunman James Holmes or the dozens of people he reportedly injured and killed in that theater last week. For on one beautiful, summer evening in the Motor City, I was able to escape to a place where the organ rose and the story soared.

It was not at all about the rising darkness of the night.

For more information about the Redford Theatre and coming attractions, visit If you love movies, go to one show at the Redford and I guarantee you’ll become a fan forever.

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