Elmwood Theatre

786 Elmwood Avenue,
Providence, RI 02907

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BoxOfficeBill on July 30, 2005 at 9:25 am

If this theater hosted the first-run of “Lawrence of Arabia,” then that’s where I saw it in Spring of ‘63. My friend from college lived in RI, and we hung out at each other’s homes on seasonal breaks.

The film was not high on our must-see list. Bosley Crowther had given it a rotten review (“barren of humanity….just a huge thundering camel-opera that ends to run down rather badly”), and the sold-out reserved seating cum outrageous prices at the Criterion in NYC ruled out casual viewing in my home town. On the other hand, in Providence we phoned the Elmwood, learned that tickets were available and that the price was right, and so off we went.

The film (and the Elmwood’s presentation) overwhelmed me, and it remains one of my favorites, too. A few months later we saw “Cleopatra” (a.k.a. “Lizpatra”) at the Music Hall in Boston under similar circumstances, but with the opposite critical reaction (though I thought the presentation was splendid there too).

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 30, 2005 at 7:06 am

…and, small world, I too saw Sleeping Beauty here. It was on May 7, 1959, a matinee. That evening I went to the senior prom. I saw Ben-Hur here in July of 1960. Utterly spectacular presentation, as always during the Elmwood’s decade or so of glory.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 29, 2005 at 3:31 am

I agree with everything you say here and am just as sad. I missed Lawrence of Arabia here but I did see Around the World in 80 Days, South Pacific.

DickMorgan on July 29, 2005 at 3:24 am

I saw many films at this theater and always remember how great the 70MM projection and the sound quality was. The first time I visited this theater was in 1959 to see Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. What a wondrous experience to see this film showcased in a theater with the fine 70mm projection and stereophonic sound that the Elmwood had.

Unfortunately, I did not view my favorite movie of all time at the Elmwood, Lawrence of Arabia. Instead I had opted to see this magnificent film at the old Beacon Hill theater in Boston after it having moved from its initial roadshow hard ticket engagement at the Gary Theater. The Elmwood theater along with the old Cinerama theater on Hope Street were two of the finest theaters for acoustics, sound and projection in the Southeastern New England Area.

It saddens me today, that movies are no longer showcased in true 70MM projection. Shame on the public for accepting motion pictures which are presented in mall megaplex cinemas with inferior acoustics and smaller screens. Sadly, the golden age, when films like Ben-Hur, Spartacus, The Music Man and even the black and white The Apartment demanded the finest in sound and projection presentation, is long gone. Imagine screens that were 93 feet wide. Even some mediocre films such as the MGM 1962 remake of Mutiny on the Bounty were enjoyable due to its astonishing wide-screen presentation. What a tragic shame.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 3, 2005 at 3:50 am

A September 29, 1957 article in the Providence Journal discussed the installation of Todd-AO equipment at the Elmwood:

“The Elmwood Theater in Providence is experiencing a transformation now that would bring joy to [Mike] Todd’s showmanlike soul.

“All of the old equipment has been dismantled and removed. In its place a crew of more than 10 men is placing the brand new machines and materials to show Around the World in 80 Days which opens on a reserved seat basis on October 10. (…)

“All of this equipment cost the Elmwood Theater about $30,000, James Randall, theater manager, reported.

“‘We are going to make this as close as possible to a performance on the legitimate stage,’ he said. ‘No popcorn will be sold and soda will be sold only during intermission.’

“After installation is complete, a Todd representative will make a final check and have seats removed where the view of the screen is not quite perfect. The first five rows of seats have already been taken out.”

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 21, 2005 at 8:37 am

According to the Providence Journal 1980 Almanac, the two-screened theatre had the following seating capacities: I (340) and II (403). Owner-manager at the time was John Sellers.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 13, 2005 at 12:43 pm

The 1973 Providence Journal Almanac gives the seating capacity of the (single-screen) theatre as 724. It was listed as owned by Esquire Theatres, Inc.; Lawrence Johnson, manager.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on April 13, 2005 at 9:19 am

Here is a photo I took of the Elmwood in its current state.

brianmichela on April 11, 2005 at 2:58 pm

The Italian Film Society of RI at the Cable Car Cinema? Well, then, Gerald, on behalf of all the foreign film connoisseurs, let me thank you for carrying on the tradition. The spirit of the Art Cinema lives! Then, at the Cable Car. Now, through your thoughtful commentary.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on April 10, 2005 at 1:43 pm

Yes, I actually saw “Two Women” at the Art and I have that ad in front of me. It played in March, 1962 with “Fruits of Summer,” a French steamer with Etchika Choureau. “Two Women” also played the Strand downtown in a dubbed version. There is a powerful scene where Loren and Belmondo encounter a demented woman whose child has been killed in the bombings and the woman insanely offers her breast for milk. When she did that, some rowdy guy at the Strand shouted, “I’ll take some!” When I ran the Italian Film Society of R.I., “Two Women” was our first film on May 18, 1981 at the Cable Car Cinema.

brianmichela on April 10, 2005 at 11:32 am

“Clarie’s Knee”! I haven’t thought of that movie since I first saw it. It must have been at the ELmwood, too. When “Two Women” ended its long run there, it moved to the Art, where it stayed multiple weeks, another hit for that struggling cinema. The newspaper ad used the emotive image of Sofia Loren in a torn dress kneeling and crying.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on April 9, 2005 at 2:45 pm

I too saw “The Damned” there. In that decade they started doing some art-house type programming. I remember seeing Erich Rohmer’s “Claire’s Knee” there as well. De Sica’s “Two Women” premiered there, Germi’s “The Birds, the Bees and the Italians.” When they showed 70mm blockbusters, their 70mm projection and sound were stunning.

By the time the 80s rolled round, they were twinned and back to second-run shows here, which is what the theatre policy was when it had first opened as a nabe. Here is a photo I found in the Providence Sunday Journal Magazine, October 18, 1981, in an article about R.I. second-run movie theatres. It shows manager Al Leone at the entrance area of the Elmwood. He also managed the Holiday (Lafayette) in Central Falls. The photo is credited to John L. Hanlon.
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brianmichela on April 9, 2005 at 6:56 am

The Elmwood was one of my favorite theaters in the sixties. I loved the marquee with the theater’s name written across the top. It showed mostly first run and roadshow productions, often with reserved seating (!). They played for extended periods, and the ticket prices were considered expensive. The theater just seemed to have so much class. One of the last movies that I saw there was Luschino Visconti’s “The Damned”, a film about the decadence of the rich and powerful in Nazi Germany. My cousin fell asleep, and I had to nudge him when the movie ended.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on March 13, 2004 at 9:58 am

The Elmwood opened as a neighborhood theatre in the 40’s. In the 60’s 70mm projection equipment was installed, and in its golden era this theatre became a roadshow house for many films, including LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, SOUTH PACIFIC, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. A period of art house programming ensued, selected first run and second run. It was twinned, became a Spanish language theatre, and now is a Latino church.