Bijou Theatre

209 W. 45th Street,
New York, NY 10036

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Showing 1 - 25 of 29 comments

hardbop on October 17, 2013 at 3:23 am

I am in the process of reading a biography about Akira Kurosawa & Toshiro Mifune & stumbled across the Toho theatre. I had no idea that a cinema that specialized in Japanese fare (and owned by a Japanese film studio) even existed. The author spends quite a bit of time in the books talking about this theatre and its sister theatre in Los Angeles. I had no idea until I logged on to this site where the Toho Theatre even was. I think there was a third theatre in Hawaii. Toho had plans to built or start a chain of theatres that specialized in Japanese films, but they never came to fruition.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on February 19, 2013 at 10:27 am

As I posted nine years ago (omg!), I saw Freaks here about 1970 when I was a young teenager. My girlfriend and I came in more than half-way through the film, and the movie freaked us out so much (one of us, one of us…) that we fled at intermission. It was years later that I finally had the nerve to watch it again, and it was as distrubing as I remembered it. A weird little theater perfect for such a weird little movie.

stang119 on February 18, 2013 at 11:04 am

For a time this theatre was used to show TV pilots and tested with the public. I think it was the mid-60’s I went a couple of times. Only pilot I even remotely recall was some terrible comedy with Bette Davis as an interior decorator.

robboehm on September 16, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Came upon a theatre card for Mummenchanz at a garage sale. Had to have it as Bijou memorabilia even though, in black, white and orange (and not glossy) it’s not much to look at.

TPH on November 7, 2009 at 7:37 am

With all of the deserved attention given to the restored print of the Red Shoes, it’s hard to imagine that at the time art films had successful runs at venues west of Broadway. Am somewhat hesitant to see Red Shoes at the Film Forum – is that theater up to the task? Would much prefer the BAM.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on February 19, 2008 at 11:31 am

A couple of European films that played the Bijou:
Magnani, in 1947
Fernandel, in 1953

dongies on July 1, 2007 at 10:22 am

I was at the closing night of the Toho Cinema. The film they showed was Kurosawa’s Ikiru…To Live…with Takashi Shimura. A clerk finds out he is dying of cancer and builds a children’s park, to give something back. The movie ends with him on a swing in his park, humming a sad little tune, accompanied by the sobbing of 600 people in the theater, myself included. In the lobby were posters of the great Kurosawa films they had shown. The entire staff of the theater was in Japanese ceremonial dress. They thanked each person individually for attending. Auld Lang Syne was played over the loudspeaker. People were literally staggering, blinded by tears, clutching onto walls and railings. Years later I met someone who had been at the same performance. We agreed that seldom in our lives did we feel as close to suicide.

RobertR on October 4, 2006 at 6:16 am

In 1975 showing three Woody Allen films for $1
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kencmcintyre on February 14, 2006 at 1:31 pm

Here is an article about the “Great Theater Massacre of 1982”, which included the Bijou:

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 4, 2005 at 1:49 am

The Bijou became the Toho Cinema on January 22, 1963, with the opening of Kurosawa’s “The Bad Sleep Well.” The Toho Company of Japan decided to take a lease on the Bijou after some of its films enjoyed success there. The lease was terminated in June, 1965, after a 28-month period. During that time, the Toho presented about 30 Japanese movies in their American premieres, of which only 10 registered profits. The 299-seat house had a weekly operating “nut” of $2,800. The final film was a revival of “Ikiru,” which was the seventh and last booking of a Kurosawa Tribute that started in April, 1965.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 2, 2005 at 6:00 am

Starting in October, 1934 and for about a year until the novelty wore off, the Bijou was NYC’s first and only cartoon cinema, catering to “the very young and whimsical.” Presented from 11 AM to 11PM, the 75-minute programs included seven or eight cartoons, a live-action short about animals, and a comedy short featuring Our Gang, Laurel & Hardy, or Charlie Chaplin. Most of the young patrons were accompanied by relatives or nannies. Busy parents could bring their children and leave them in the care of “Mrs. Mary,” a retired actress who served as chaperone and seated them in a special reserved section. To regular patrons both young and old, the Bijou became known as “The Mickey Mouse.” Many stayed to watch the show a second time.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on August 31, 2005 at 5:58 am

As a roadshow at the Bijou, “The Red Shoes” was projected only 17 times per week, so that might have saved some wear-and-tear on the print.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on August 31, 2005 at 5:13 am

I wonder in general how many prints an individual theater with a long booking would use. In this case, The Red Shoes is so lovely in Technicolor I would hate to think of seeing it with scratches, splices, fading, or any of the other wear and tear problems that come with frequent unspooling.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on August 31, 2005 at 12:25 am

I have no idea how many prints were used, but given that the distributor was Eagle Lion, which was having financial difficulties at the time and eventually folded, probably the absolute minimum. The same road show policy was used for “The Red Shoes” throughout the USA in its initial release. I don’t think that there were ever more than about 50 such engagements running simultaneously.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on August 30, 2005 at 4:12 pm

How many prints would be used during the course of a two year run?

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on August 30, 2005 at 9:49 am

As a cinema, the Bijou is probably best remembered for the American premiere engagement of “The Red Shoes,” which opened in October, 1948, and ran for more than two years (110 weeks!). In its first year, the Technicolor ballet musical (made in England and released in the USA by Eagle Lion) attracted 503,684 patrons, and grossed $906,631 on a reserved-seat, road show policy. There were two performances daily M-F, four on Saturdays, and three on Sundays and holidays. Matinees were priced at $1.20, $1.50 and $1.80, and evenings $1.20, $1.80, and $2.40. At the end of its Bijou run, “The Red Shoes” opened on the RKO circuit on January 31, 1951. Despite a running time of two hours and 13 minutes, it was supported by a second feature, “Strange Bargain,” an RKO “B” made in Hollywood.
Many people probably walked out on that one.

Benjamin on March 21, 2005 at 4:13 pm

Caro: Thanks for the confirmation on “Mummenschanz,” especially the specific date.

Re: faded beauty of Broadway area theaters

There was a time when it seemed most legit Broadway houses had, like you say, a very faded beauty — even without peeling paint, etc. I think one reason for this is that a lot of theater owners seemed to paint over all the decorative low-relief plaster work — with some kind of non-descript grey, or light blue paint. It was kind of reminiscent to me of the look of the hallway in a run down Bronx apartment house (I’m from the Bronx), but minus the circular florescent light fixtures. Two theaters that particularly come to mind are the Eugene O'Neil (where I saw “She Loves Me”) and the Broadway (“My Fair Lady,” “Purlie,” and the “Wiz”), both of which I vaguely remember as being disappointly very drab. (Please don’t hold me to all of this, since I’m talking about ages ago — but these were my impressions.) If I remember the correctly, the Broadway had actually been renovated in the late 1950s early 1960s, and even so the interior of the auditorium was drab (although the lobby areas were a bit more glamorous).

I think the Shubert Theatre Organization (the owner of the most theaters in the area, although I’m not sure if they own either the Eugene O'Neil or Broadway) more recently went through an enlightened renovation policy, where they actually hired interior decorators to redo their theaters (including the auditoriums) right.

spikewriter on March 21, 2005 at 3:22 pm

Benjamin: one of the live shows to appear there was indeed “Mummenschanz,” which I saw there over Thanksgiving 1977. What I remember of the theater is that it felt extremely intimate, and also had a faded beauty that I associate with most of the theaters I saw on that trip (except the Alvin — then running the hit “Annie”, it was kept in top condition).

It wasn’t that paint was peeling or anything of that nature; it all just looked somewhat as if people didn’t really care for it any more and were letting it slowly fade away.

MJB on March 21, 2005 at 2:59 pm

My Great Aunt Amelia swilley Bingham was supposedly the manager of the Bijou Theater in it’s early days. Can anyone give me any info regarding her affiliation with the theater and the Shuberts?
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Harold Warshavsky
Harold Warshavsky on March 20, 2005 at 9:09 pm

I believe that the first film that played the new D.W. Griffith Theatre was “The Connection” which was directed by Shirley Clarke and was adapted from the Off-Bdway play.

Benjamin on January 29, 2005 at 7:10 am

Thanks Bryan for the wonderful little history of this “mystery” theater. I use to go to the theater district a lot in the early 1960s (and vaguely remember it as a theater with Japanese films), but I could never quite figure this theater out. I’ve seen it mentioned in books about the history of theaters (like Mary Henderson’s) but the theater they described didn’t seem to be the same theater that I remember, which appeared from the outside (never went inside) to be wierdly tiny for a theater in the Times Sq. area. (Actually, in some ways it reminded me of the Guild in Rockefeller Center, another small theater that seemed “mysterious” to me.)

The fact that the Astor’s remodeling cut into the original auditorium explains a lot. I think they also remodeled the outside a bit, too (and painted the whole front white?). And, if I remember correctly, one of the wierd things about it was that its facade didn’t even look like a theater facade.

By the way, I think sometime during the early 1960s, it was used for a bit as some kind of TV facility — to preview video tapes (?) of new TV shows? If I remember correctly, there used to be these guys (college students?) who would be handing out these free tickets for TV shows, and some of them would be for this theater. (I think they wouldn’t give one to me or my friends because you had to be accompanied by someone over 18.)

Also, I believe one of the live shows to appear there was a show called “Mummenschanz” (which sounds German, but I asked a German speaking friend about it, and he said the name didn’t mean anything to him). I believe “Mummenschanz” was a dance/revue without words, and the dancers/actors would wear black tights with large, crazy, puppet-like masks and contort themselves into unusual shapes.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on December 27, 2004 at 8:58 pm

I saw Freaks there about 1970 when I was a young teenager. My girlfriend and I came in more than half-way through the film, and the movie freaked us out so much (One of us, one of us…) that we fled at intermission. It was years later that I finally had the nerve to watch it again, and it was as distrubing as I remembered it. A weird little theater perfect for such a weird little movie.