Criterion Theatre

1514 Broadway,
New York, NY 10036

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Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on October 20, 2017 at 2:19 am

“THE OMEN” opened at the National in 1976. The Criterion became a five-plex in 1980. “DIVINE MADNESS” opened there after the ‘plexing’. In 1981 it became a six-plex. In 1991 it became a seven-plex.

MSC77 on October 20, 2017 at 12:01 am

I detect some timeline discrepancies or mistaken recollections in some of the recent comments. A comment was made that a member saw “Divine Madness” here (presumably in autumn 1980) while it was still a single screener. But in another comment the member recollects seeing “The Omen” (presumably in 1976 if they were referring to the first run of the original movie) after the theater had been plexed. To further confuse matters, the overview includes a blurb about the 5-plex renovation occurring in early 1980. As well, in this article about the 70mm presentations of “Divine Madness” the Criterion is listed as a 5-plex. And the “Divine Madness” newspaper ad posted in the Photos section refers to the theater as Criterion Center implying plurality with the screen count. Can anyone familiar with this venue clarify its screen count timeline history?

vindanpar on October 16, 2017 at 9:36 pm

Though it’s impossible at this point I imagine I’d like to know what the size of the Criterion screen was for 70 MM films like Lawrence and MFL and the size of the South Pacific ‘arcing panel.’

The Variety reviewer said something to the effect that looking at the heads in SP was like looking at Mt Rushmore.

Though he didn’t mean it as a compliment I would have loved to have seen that.

I feel fortunate to have seen a Todd AO print(maybe an original? Boy those cans were big) with magnificent 6 track analog sound at the Warner Cinerama. A great experience as was seeing there MFL and Paint Your Wagon(I know blow-up but the sound blew you out of the theater.) I must be the only person on the planet who loves Marvin singing Wanderin Star with that huge men’s chorus behind him. On stage it could never be like that(and it wasn’t at Encores.) Worth the entire film.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on October 16, 2017 at 8:56 pm

Some of those older cinema screens had space behind them for giant speakers on what appeared to be a stage but the area was actually only about five feet deep. When the curved screen was installed for “South Pacific” they probably removed some front seats to accommodate the screen curvature.

Mikeoaklandpark on October 16, 2017 at 7:29 pm

I thought for sure that when I saw the Omen in the downstairs theater after it was twinned the screen was on what appeared to be a stage. I know it had a red curtain. I know upstairs wasn’t. I saw 9 To 5 up there. That was many years ago so I could be confused.

NYer on October 16, 2017 at 4:25 pm

They were right next door. If you stood facing The Criterion, the entrance and marquee were to the left. The theaters were up on the second floor next to each other. When MTV was using their studios live at One Astor Plaza, you could see their marquee across the street. Here is a shot of the marquee when they did a revival of “1776”.

edblank on October 16, 2017 at 2:36 pm

Thank you, NYer. Your response clarifies my fuzzy recollection of what happened. Were the two stage auditoriums to the left of the original Criterion Theater? Were they both at street level? Both one level down? One of each? I think I was in there only once. And neither was in the original Criterion moviehouse space?

NYer on October 16, 2017 at 12:09 pm

edblank, in the 90’s the owners of The Criterion built two theaters in empty space in the building (some say the old Bonds space) calling them The Criterion Center Stage Right & Left. One had 499 seats which is the least amount to be deemed a Broadway House and considered for Tony Awards. The second, a 399 seat house was considered Off-Broadway. Roundabout used the theater for many major productions. This theater was separate from the Criterion Theater, by then a multiplex.

edblank on October 15, 2017 at 8:34 pm

While it may be true (and probably is) that the Criterion never had a stage or dressing rooms during its decades as a major moviehouse, it definitely had at least one stage at the end, after the theater had been subdivided into many smaller auditoriums. One of the plays I saw there was an off-Broadway political satire called “MasterGate.”

vindanpar on October 15, 2017 at 8:21 pm

Well I don’t know. I just know that everytime I was in it until Alien it was flat. As I said I only read of a huge ‘arcing screen’ in the place was in the Times review of South Pacific available on line even if you don’t have a subscription.

vindanpar on October 15, 2017 at 8:13 pm

Something is very confusing here. The Criterion never had a stage. It was built as a cinema. See the vintage photos of the auditorium from the 30s on one of the previous pages.

Mikeoaklandpark on October 15, 2017 at 7:19 pm

No it was a single screen Vindanpar. I sat in the first row of the mezzanine for Divine Madness. After it was twined the screen was indeed flat and part of the stage. Prior to that it was in front of the stage as was the one at the Rivoli.

vindanpar on October 15, 2017 at 7:05 pm

I also saw Superman I here which may have been ‘78 after it moved over from the Astor Plaza and the screen was flat.

Had the theater been twinned before Divine Madness?

NYer on October 15, 2017 at 6:58 pm

If they installed a curved screen it was before Sept 26, 1980 because “Divine madness” indeed opened in 70MM here. Opening day ad in photo section.

vindanpar on October 15, 2017 at 5:27 pm

Well that sure is curious. Are you sure you’re not thinking of the Rivoli or Warner?

Throughout the 60s and 70s it was flat. Definitely flat in the 70s. First film I saw there in that decade was the 71 revival of MFL and the last was Alien.

Mikeoaklandpark on October 15, 2017 at 5:06 pm

When did they put the curved screen in? The very first film I saw here was Divine Madness with Bette Midler and it was in 70MM and the screen was very curved and large.

vindanpar on October 15, 2017 at 12:48 pm

That makes sense because I saw it that summer at the Fox in Hackensack(beautiful art deco house.)

Four months seems short for a hit roadshow film.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on October 15, 2017 at 3:35 am

It opened on February 4 and played until June 23, 1970. 16 or 17 weeks.

NYer on October 15, 2017 at 2:51 am

vindanpar “Patton” did Roadshow until June 24,1970 where it moved across the street to the Astor and uptown at the UA East as part of a Flagship Theatre expansion. It was replaced by Fox’s “Myra Breckinridge”.

vindanpar on October 15, 2017 at 1:15 am

The Criterion had a flat screen with curtains but seems to have had a curved screen once for South Pacific which is what I can glean from reviews of the world premiere.

Patton was a hit film and I remember walking as a boy in front of the theater when it was playing there and there was a large sign saying ‘This performance sold out.’

But for some reason I don’t think the roadshow engagement lasted very long. Either it died shortly thereafter or Fox wanted to get it into wide release right away.

I guess the answer would be in Variety which documented everything that was happening every week in all the Times Square theaters. It was my bad luck to have all this die just when I was old enough to go into the city on my own.

In fact when Dolly closed at the Rivoli that summer Variety mentioned that it would be Broadway’s first summer without a roadshow film in a very long time(maybe since ‘52?) And in fact there would only one more summer that would have a roadshow film on Broadway: Fiddler in '72.

vindanpar on June 20, 2017 at 10:29 pm

Already by December of ‘68 all the buildings I mentioned had been torn down and the Astor Hotel was a giant excavation hole(as a boy I looked into it having no idea there was ever such a thing as The Astor.) Of course I know what I’m saying is conjecture. Many downtowns of major cities were experiencing terrible downturns. I just lament the loss of such great NY landmarks and think what if?

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on June 20, 2017 at 9:34 pm

Yes, that was the Claridge Hotel. But by 1969 when “PAINT YOUR WAGON” opened on a Roadshow basis at the State Two, “MIDNIGHT COWBOY” was already showing the world what Times square had become and by January 1970 Loews State would be showing Swedish porn “WITHOUT A STITCH” on Twin One while these hotels were still operating.

vindanpar on June 20, 2017 at 9:05 pm

I should have made myself more specific. I meant the Astor Hotel. Remember you had a lot of great NY landmarks torn down in just a few years as I mentioned above and I think it was catastrophic. These were among the most magnificent and legendary buildings in the 20th century in NY and I believe they were anchors. Wasn’t the building with the PYW sign the Claridge hotel?

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on June 20, 2017 at 8:56 pm

I don’t think the tearing down of these theatres lead to the descent of Times Square into vice, but rather the other way around.

vindanpar on June 20, 2017 at 8:12 pm

That’s a nice evening ‘69 photo including the Paint Your Wagon billboard when Times Square still had a bit of its old time glamour. The tearing down of the Astor and the building that PYW billboard is on(only a couple of years after the tearing down of the old Met, Penn Station, the Paramount…) was catastrophic for the area hastening its 70s descent into the muck and mire.