Radio City Music Hall

1260 Avenue of the Americas,
New York, NY 10020

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VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 2, 2004 at 10:27 pm

I remember thinking the same thing but it was the only print I saw so I figured the movie was shot that way. Especially bad was the 70mm blow up of Tom Sawyer during Easter of ‘73 which looked washed out and dull on the huge screen. I kept thinking how did color get so bad when just a few years before in the late '60s it had still been so vibrant. Even 1776 didn’t look too good. I guess of the movies that I saw at the Hall the best looking outside of revivals was Airport. But that was Ross Hunter and the last of the old Hollywood big budget productions. The Todd AO didn’t hurt either.
So how much would it cost to rent out the Hall get some great prints of some terrific movies and use the Hall for something other than a glorified warehouse for current cultural debris?
King Kong, Swing Time, and North by Northwest are my first choices.

RobertR
RobertR on September 2, 2004 at 9:49 pm

I remember the 70mm print looking washed out and dull compared to the 35mm version. Making it widescreen and projected on that enormous screen just seemed to fade the otherwise brilliant colors.

Vito
Vito on September 2, 2004 at 8:28 pm

Vincent, I never saw any magnetic prints of “North By Northwest”
I played the film a couple of times and the prints were always
optical (mono).By 1959 the mag stereo prints had begun to get scarce.
Only the 35mm versions of 70mm roadshow pictures were coming thru in mag sound. In adition since “North By Nothwest” was filmed in VistaVision and shown as a reduction print, I don’t think it had stereo sound. Most VistaVision pictures were released mono with some Prespecta prints around. I also saw “Singin in the Rain” which was re-mixed in stereo and it didn’t sound to bad, The worst offender of the re-mixed tracks had to be the re-release of “Gone with the Wind”. What a disaster,especially the 70mm vesion. the surround track would simply go and and off, and since there was no real separation, just playing different parts of the dialogue and sound thru the surround speakers, well, it was awful The four track mag prints were of course just as bad. But it looked better in 35mm,
the 70mm prints looked all out of porportion. Lastly “Scrooge”,
I believe played RCMH in 70mm, hense the great sound.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 2, 2004 at 7:02 pm

Silk Stockings contains some of Astaires and Charisse’s best dancing so to have seen that at the Music Hall in cinemascope and stereo-well it must have been great.
Does anybody know if North by Northwest played there in stereo?
Concerning sound, when I saw Singin in the Rain there in ‘75 they utilizzed some sort of fake stereo and while I usually hate that sort of thing it was beautifully done. Those wonderful MGM arrangements came through with such clarity and impact and the movie has never sounded as good since.
I also remember the sound for the musical numbers of Scrooge being very good especially in the finale scene where one had a sense of surround sound as the various musical factions converged(this is what I believe happened as I haven’t seen the film since '70.)

Vito
Vito on September 2, 2004 at 6:18 pm

Well said vincent, I felt same way about the Roxy and Paramount, I went not only for the movie but sometimes just to melt away in the grandeur of it all, and in the 40s and 50s with very little air conditioning anywhere else, it was a great place to beat the heat.
As for RCNH and stereo sound, from 1954 till about 1960 most of the product from MGM and all of the product from FOX was available in four track magnetic sound.I believe all those MGM pictures, as well as some from Columbia, played the hall were in four track. The seperation did get lost at RCMH but there was no dening the quality of the sound. However, one had to sit in one of the mezzanines to notice the surrounds, which in the days before Dolby, were located in the ceiling. I believe RCMH management resisted placing surround speaker boxes all over the hall when 70mmm was installed, but when Dolby Digital came along surround speakers with gold covered speaker fabric popped up all the place, this of course, as ugly as they are, intensified the surround experience. Oh and yes Bill, I too remember “Today to get the people to attend the picture show” the great sterophonic sound song and dance number from “Silk Stockings”

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on September 2, 2004 at 6:16 pm

As so many of you are interested in the various widescreen processes, the projection ratios, the flat and curved screen, and what wide screen films premiered where, how, why and when, may I suggest you go to Widescreenmuseum.com. or widescreenmuseumlobby.com. It’s a great site and one that you will undoubtedly go and stay until someone sends a posse out to look for you.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 2, 2004 at 5:24 pm

I do remember those films playing at the Hall however at that point I had seen so many bad movies there that I couldn’t stomach any more. It was just one dog(or kangaroo) after another. There was an Easter movie called Mr. Billion that they had to pull after a couple of weeks and stick in a Disney film about mining ponies which I think I saw a part of. I also took no pleasure in the minimalist stage shows which took place on a bare stage containing only a few people. They themselves looked pretty embarassed.
The only nice thing was that for the price of a movie ticket you could actually enter the place and spend some time there.

EMarkisch
EMarkisch on September 2, 2004 at 4:35 pm

I too remember seeing “Magic of Lassie” at RCMH with Lassie on stage.
However, it was more memorable for one of the last big screen appearances of the late, great Alice Faye as the waitress in the diner.
I also remember “Matilda” What a super dud that was. They really scrapped the bottom of the barrel on that one.

RobertR
RobertR on September 2, 2004 at 4:13 pm

Vincent
I am also reminded of another total dog I saw at RCMH, do you remember “Matilda-the Boxing Kangaroo” with Eliot Gould? I could not believe the music hall playing an AIP picture. At the same time was the Film Vincent Minnelli did for Liza and Ingrid Bergman called “A Matter of Time”. AIP may have also released that. In spite of it all seeing even bad films there was still special. One of my happiest memories was seeing “Magic of Lassie” which I mentioned in an earlier post. Although I was already a teen it was still a kick seeing Lassie on stage in the stage show.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on September 2, 2004 at 3:38 pm

I remember some stereo effect with RCMH’s first CinemaScope fims, viz. “Knights of the Round Table,” and with others as well, notably the “Glorious Technicolor, Breathtaking CinemaScope, and StereoPhonic Sound” number in “Silk Stockings.” But the device never seemed to me as, um, pronounced as it did at other theaters, chiefly and memorably at the Roxy. Perhaps the auditorium’s vastness at RCMH diffused the sound? In all honesty, too, I remember a distracting echoic effect at RCMH, particularly when the house was less than full, as at the 10:30 am showings that my parents took me to as a kid. I hate to complain about the facilities at RCMH, because their grandeur certainly more than compensated for their recognizable failings. But sometimes other theaters worked as better venues for certain presentations. For “White Christmas,” I recall a wider frame (at 1.85 rather than the usual 1.66 that RCMH used for conventional projection) but still its flat screen, with the same for later VistaVision that I saw there, principally “High Society” and the fabulous “North-by-Northwest.” (I remember viewing the last one as a teen, from the third balcony where my friends and I could smoke cigarettes and anticipate going for a beer afterwards—NYC in those days!) As for VistaVision at the Capitol, I recall no special bally-hoo about it, and certainly no vast curvilinear screen as at the Paramount and Criterion.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 2, 2004 at 2:24 pm

When I saw 7 Brides at the Music Hall in the late 70’s the cinemascope screen seemed wider than any panavision or 70MM film I had ever seen there(and no seams.) It was great except for the Ansco color. Could I have been mistaken?
Also weren’t the MGM musicals such as Brigadoon at this point in ‘54 presented in stereo at the Hall?

Vito
Vito on September 2, 2004 at 12:00 pm

Do any of you very knowledgeable gentlemen know if the Capital projected Vertigo in VistaVision? I can recall RCMH and the Paramount having VistaVision projection, what about the Capital.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on September 2, 2004 at 1:20 am

I hate to post-script my contribution, but I do want to register my crabby memory that in the early ‘50s the screen at RCMH had an annoying distraction: you could see the lines where its panels had been sewn together. I know that the much-E-Bayed Souvenir Pictorial of that time proclaims a totally seamless screen. But the truth was otherwise. The CinemaScope screen consisted of seven panels (each 4’ wide) sewn together horizontally, unlike the panels at other theaters that were joined vertically with less noticeable sutures. For its regular wide-screen format, the masking rose to reveal an eighth horizontal panel, even as the side maskings closed in for a 1.66 ratio (RCMH seemed always to have had a narrower ratio than other theaters, even when the format was 1.33â€"an optical illusion perhaps?). In any case, the black lines crossing the screen were maddeningly annoying. Every kid in the theater noticed it and would draw attention to it. Parents would shh us and tell us not to spoil the show. But the sutures remained. At some point in 1956, around the run of “Friendly Persuasion” if I remember correctly, RCMH finally installed a truly seamless screen, or so it seemed. Or maybe because I was older and perhaps going blind from teenage activities, I didn’t see the familiar old lines so acutely. To me in the early ‘50s, the most impressive wide-screen was at the Capitol. Gently curved and with barely perceptible seams, it was proportioned at 1.85 and it covered nearly the entire proscenium. It awed me in August ’53 at “From Here to Eternity” (with stereophonic sound, too, which RCMH did not offer until much later). Later the Capitol reduced the size of its wide-screen somewhat (in truth, its larger size probably invited graininess), but still used its flawless facilities for such films as “War and Peace,” “The Pride and the Passion,” “Vertigo,” and others of that era.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on September 1, 2004 at 11:58 pm

SimonL— Thanks for the notes about the program fillers in the ‘40s-'50s. They concur exactly with my memories. The Rivoli named its expanded screen “the Cycloramic screen.” I describe its use in this site’s listing for the Rivoli. Aside from the Destruction of the Temple in “Samson and Delilah” (December '49), I did not see it used again at that theater. In Summer '53, the Rivoli (like every other NYC house) installed its all-purpose CinemaScope screen, which it used until converting to Todd-AO in October '55. In my movie-going experience, RHMH used its Magnascope screen for the scenes described above, as well as for the sea storm sequence in “Plymouth Adventure” and the Busby Berkeley aquatic scene in “Million Dollar Mermaid,” in November and December '52 respectively. My parents told me that RCMH used it for the horserace scene in “National Velvet” as well. The Rivoli’s Cycloramic screen raised my seven-year-old consciousness to delerious heights, so whenever I saw it at RCMH, I snapped to attention. I expected that the theater would have used it for all its “big” pictures, and was chagrined when it didn’t. Except for the Esther Williams splasher, I recall it for no other MGM musical, including “The Great Caruso,” “Show Boat,” “An American in Paris,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” and a bunch of others that I saw there (the latter-day “That’s Entertainment” of course deployed the device for excepts from these films). I can still taste my disappointment when RCMH withheld it from scenes in such spectaculars as “Kim,” “Scaramouche,” and “Ivanhoe.” (You may gather correctly that I was a pint-sized nut about that projection device.) There would have been no concern about cropping, since the Magnascope screen was framed in the standard 1.33 ratio. With “Shane” in May ‘53, RCMH used it (now named “the Panoramic Screen” and still at 1.33 ratio) for the entire picture, in lieu of installing a new curved screen, and continued to do so until introducing its properly proportioned all-purpose screen the following December, in anticipation of CinemaScope. There’s a swell picture of the latter in the journal “Theatre Catalogue” (1954-55). I know of no other first-run B'way theaters that used Magnascope in the late '40s-'50s, or at least I saw none other used there or then. The Roxy, a candidate, did not, because it projected its films onto a black-bordered sheet hanging in front of voluminous, dimly-lit lavender curtains. For a picture of the remodeled (but still old-screen) Roxy in December '52, with its then shamefully draped proscenium, see the above mentioned “Theatre Catalogue” (1952-53).

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 1, 2004 at 11:43 pm

I don’t think that the Music Hall ever advertised or publicized its Magnascope. It was just something that they used to surprise and amaze the audience, and to make the theatre seem more unique, aka “showmanship,” which has all but vanished in the cinemas of 2004.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 1, 2004 at 11:26 pm

I worked as a front lobby doorman at the Music Hall during The Blue Bird.The only patrons the Music Hall had in the evening by this time were high school spring trips to New York. After sightseeing during the day they would come to the Music Hall at night. During this film the patrons would exit the auditorium in droves and hang out in the lobby until the stage show started(I never was able to sit through the entire film myself.)The stage show itself was pretty bad and its amazing the Music Hall was still able to limp along for another year or two as the only people going there were the few desperate tourists still going to New York in the latter 70’s. A very sad time which as far as the Music Hall and Rockefeller Center were concerned only got worse(unless of course you like watching basketball games in theaters and like shopping at Banana Republic.)

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 1, 2004 at 11:14 pm

The Rivoli Theatre had the same type of Magnascopic screen as RCMH. At the Rivoli for “Samson and Delilah,” it was only used for the climactic scene of the destruction of the temple. The Magnascopic screen was a combination of an enlarging lens on the projector and changing the “masking” around the screen so that the screen was large enough to accomodate the bigger image. At the end of the scene, projection would be switched to an ordinary lens and the screen masking would return to normal.

RobertR
RobertR on September 1, 2004 at 10:30 pm

Look at what we used to get when we went to the movies. A theatre to die for along with a movie, stage show and the organ. We were fortunate to have it until 1979, I dont think any other theatre had this policy after the 1950’s did they?

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on September 1, 2004 at 10:22 pm

Absolutely. Here’s the deal. The idea was to give patrons approximately 3 hours of entertainment. The stage show portion would run anywhere from 22 minutes (with a 2 hr 30 minute film like “The Greatest Show on Earth,” or “The Nun’s Story,” or “Sayonara.”). If the film was only 75 to 90 minutes or so, as with many of the films during the 1930s, the stage show could run up to an hour. The balance of the screen time would be filled with either The March of Time (18 minutes), the newest Walt Disney cartoon, or one or even two 10 minute shorts, and a newsreel(their own compliation). Sometimes all were included in the program, added or removed during the course of the day, depending on where the management needed to fill or gain time. Only The March of Time or the Disney cartoon would ever get credit in the printed program. The organ breaks would also be used to fill time (to the great joy of the patrons). Sunday morning was the best time for an extended organ concert, as the house opened almost an hour before the feature began, and the organist would often play for a half hour.

RobertR
RobertR on September 1, 2004 at 10:16 pm

I was looking through the programs I saved from RCMH and forgot all about “The Blue Bird”. Does anyone remember that one? Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner. It was billed as the first US-Soviet co-production. George Cukor directed it. I have never seen this film again on tv or video.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on September 1, 2004 at 10:12 pm

To Will: In 1970 I can remember seeing a short subject with “The Out-of-Towners” , and a trailer for the scheduled next attraction at the Music Hall, “Darling Lili”, playing with “Airport” (even though it wasn’t the next attraction. “The Out-of-Towners” was. Don’t know what happened there – maybe “Darling Lili” wasn’t finished on time).

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on September 1, 2004 at 10:00 pm

When RCMH was presenting stage show and feature, were there short subjects and/or trailers?

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on September 1, 2004 at 9:59 pm

As a regular patron of the Music Hall during the late 1940s and 1950s, (and an usher in the 1950s)and going regularly as a subscriber (reserved seats) with my parents, I have no memory of the screen enlarging for climactic scenes (something that would stand out as special)at any of the films that played there. Yes, the screen enlarged after the credits as when such films as “Shane,” and a few others played there (that didn’t last long), notwithstanding all the wide screen films after “Knights of the Roundtable,” that otherwise made no fuss in presentation over the the film that was shown in wide-screen format. But getting back to the Rivoli, that theater was always at the forefront of presentation. I especially remember “Samson and Delilah” (which played day and date with the Paramount)being shown on some new type of screen (anyone know what that was?,) as well as a special surround sound going back to “Portrait of Jenny.”

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on September 1, 2004 at 9:57 pm

I thought that Magnascope was simply an enlarged screen. Was there cropping involved? And how much?

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 1, 2004 at 9:50 pm

I don’t know if they used it for big musical numbers, because it would tend to cut off the feet of the dancers, a problem that became very apparent with the introduction of CinemaScope. I recall seeing Magnascope used only twice at RCMH, during the animal stampede in “King Solomon’s Mines” and the train wreck in “The Greatest Show On Earth.” But I never attended RCMH prior to 1950, so I can’t speak for previous decades.