A brief history of “Movie Pests”

posted by Eric Friedmann on April 17, 2008 at 7:35 am

I recently purchased from amazon.com, a VHS copy of “A Guy Named Joe” (1944), starring Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne, Van Johnson and directed by Victor Flemming (he also did two other “small” films called “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz”). The film was remade as “Always” in 1989 by Steven Spielberg. To date, “A Guy Named Joe” is not yet available on U.S. Region 1 DVD.

Anyway, on this tape, preceeding the film, was a short film called “Movie Pests”, filmed around the same time. It was a comically-narrated piece that poked fun at the so-called “movie pests” of the time; actors re-enacting what could be considered a typical “pest” situation in a movie theater, circa the 1940s. Those of you who own this VHS tape will know what I’m talking about.
For those of you who don’t, here are some highlights:

  • The married couple that arrive in the middle of the picture and proceed to publically argue about where to sit while standing in the middle of the aisle of seats, blocking everyone’s view of the screen.
  • The woman who sits down without removing her tall, overly-featherly hat, giving the man behind her an added viewing pleasure.
  • That same woman who, when trying to get to her seat, has no quams about stepping on the foot of some poor guy with her high heel.
  • That same woman who decides that her tootsies need a break and removes her shoes for all around her to enjoy.
  • The very overweight man who sits in between two people and only then and there decides to take off his coat; his outstretched arms getting into people’s faces.
  • The same overweight man who decides to eat a bag of shelled peanuts in as loud a volume as it will allow.
  • The man sitting in the aisle seat who extends his leg to the center aisle, conveniently tripping the oncoming person who is lucky enough to make contact with his foot.
  • The same man who thinks it’s okay to wedge his knees in the back of the chair in front of them and then add to that pleasure by bouncing his feet up and down.

Now, besides finding this “mockumentary” very funny, I was also mildly astonished. Why? Because, would you believe that I was actually ignorant enough to think that 60-plus years ago, patrons of the local movie theater might have actually had the good sense and dignity to be well-behaved and considerate of others around them? I mean, in 1944, the cell phone was nowhere near to being invented, and yet people still had to deal with the above mentioned.

So, it would seem that I don’t need to feel that movie audiences of TODAY are rude and inconsiderate beyond belief. Apparently, we’ve been that way for decades. We only just got more electronically advanced about it.

Comments (11)

Eric Friedmann
Eric Friedmann on April 17, 2008 at 8:07 am

Yesterday I took advantage of my day off and went to see the first show of the day of SHINE A LIGHT, the new Martin Scorcese Rolling Stones concert film. Excellent film, if you love the Stones, by the way. Anyway, I was the only one in the theater – a private screening just for me! You gotta love that! On the other hand, though, because it was a loud rock and roll concert film, that probably would have been the ONLY exception to where I could tolerate anyone else talking or making noise during the movie; I wouldn’t have heard them!

Not that my experience was not completely without a movie pest – I saw a very small mouse crawling around the floor before the movie started.

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on April 17, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Nice to see you going to the movies!!!!

scottfavareille on April 17, 2008 at 1:58 pm

“Movie Pests” is a great short—I know TCM has ran it before. I do not recall if it has made DVD yet (It was on laserdisc in a collection of MGM shorts that came out years ago.)

Eric Friedmann
Eric Friedmann on April 17, 2008 at 2:08 pm

LIM, in a way, I had no choice. I wanted to see SHINE A LIGHT on the screen without traveling to NYC. So I went to Loews Roosevelt Raceway (yes, people, I went to a MULTIPLEX!!!). But, since it was the middle of a work day and a subject matter that wouldn’t attract a lot of children or elderly people (if any), I figured I was mildly safe. As it turned out, a private screening just for me!

So that brings my film-in-a-theater count for 2008 up to (3):
(I’ll keep you all posted).

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on April 18, 2008 at 11:49 am

Being a member of the senior set, I can attest to the fact that there were indeed “pests” at the movies in the 1940s and 50s, but because the theatres were so much larger one was not aware of them that much. Just one example from circa late-50s: at a “Nabe” in the South End of Boston there was the “Laughing Lady”, a person who burst out laughing at inappropriate moments in the movie. If someone was being chased by the Bad Guys, or attacked, she would laugh her fool head off. In addition to movie pests, there was also “Road Rage” back in those days. But today, there are far more “crazies” running around in public, and huge armies of selfish and self-absorbed people. So I can see why today there are people who “love movies, but hate going”. BTW, I liked “The Bank Job” also; saw it at the Cameo Th., South Weymouth MA. It held my attention: no fidgeting, no yawning, no dozing off.

tysonregal on April 19, 2008 at 7:37 pm

i think this topic is amusing but nowadays the real “movie pests” are the 12 yr olds that congregate in the multiplexes who laugh out loud and talk while the movie is on with their posse as it were the parents are the ones to blame who send their “children” to the multiplexes with $30.00 and basically the multiplexes are the babysitters with no one babysitting! since the employees of these theatres are barely making 6.00 an hour

i miss the old days when people cared about movie theatres

i know the people who contribute to this website are the people who still care


WayBackWhen2008 on June 18, 2008 at 7:20 pm

I checked out A Guy Named Joe. I loved it. The movie pests bit was funny. Amazing how the pests are stil alive and well today.

MPol on July 11, 2008 at 11:23 pm

That film “Movie Pests” sounds like a nightmare come to life, if one gets the drift. They DO exist in real life. Generally, unless a “movie pest” is really super obnoxious, I tend to ignore him or her the best I can and just concentrate on watching the movie. I remember at least a few incidents when I went to the movies that sort of threw me off, however: Back in the mid-1970’s, at the now-non-existant Orson Welles Cinema, I went to see the movie “The Harder They Come” with my family. It was a wonderful movie, and we all enjoyed it. However, in the back of the theatre, there were a bunch of people in the audience, who, obviously quite stoned, were laughing hysterically at all the sadistic parts of the film. Not pleasant to listen to at all.

Another instance of a “movie pest”, who sort of threw me off was one that I encountered when I went to see a Friday night midnight screening of the film “The Warriors” at Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre. There was a good crowd of people, many college kids, many who were also just really drunk off their butts. Just behind me was a fairly tall woman, who was clearly drunk and kept kicking the back of my chair. It took some doing, but I managed to finally get her to stop after telling her several times that I didn’t like her kicking m chair. Still more recently, when my sister-in-law and I attended the evening screening of the film “West Side Story” at the Brattle Threatre, there was a woman in the row right behind us (we were on the balcony), who was giggling her fool head off pretty much the whole time, until one of her companions told her to shut up. Since she was from another country and spoke a different language, neither my sister-in-law or I could turn around and tell this woman to be quiet. But, happily, as I said before, her companions finally told the giggling woman to shut up, and she did.

TLSLOEWS on December 29, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Its always been that way and will stay that way,anytime you deal with the public.

MPol on April 20, 2010 at 5:04 am

True enough, tisloews, but I think that there should also be more ushers, etc., around to keep the movie pests in check somewhat, which seems to be sorely lacking these days.

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment