Tis the Season for Cinema: Going to the Movies on Christmas Day, 1950

Christmas day in St Andrews in 1950 differed from previous years. While recent years had been unseasonably warm, on this morning the townspeople were greeted by a glistening blanket of frost. The overnight temperature had slumped to fifteen degrees below freezing. The children met this cold weather with delight as they tried out their new ice skates, and games of curling were played on the skating pond (St Andrews Citizen, 30 December 1950). Though there was holiday merriment, St Andrews was still suffering some of the hardships brought on by war, with residents experiencing power cuts due to fuel rationing (St Andrews Citizen, 23 December 1950). This burden was not reflected on screen, as three light-hearted musicals dominated the programme across the town’s two cinemas, The New Picture House and The Cinema House. 

At the time going to the cinema was an especially popular leisure activity during bank holidays. To escape the cold, St Andrews residents could enjoy some special Christmas events. The New Picture House and The Cinema House were both open and showing films on Christmas day. The New Picture House had a very popular café and smoking lounge. For those desperate to escape the kitchen, the cinema even offered a special Christmas day dinner (Citizen, 9 December 1950).  

Meanwhile at The Cinema House, the St Andrews branch of the British Legion sponsored a special children’s showing of Make Mine Music (Geronimi, Kinney, Luske & Meador, USA, 1946) (Citizen, 16 December 1950). Make Mine Music, an animated Disney film comprising ten unrelated vignettes set to music, ranging from The Andrews Sisters to Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” was originally intended as a sequel to Fantasia (Grant & Huemer, USA, 1940) but was delayed with the onset of War (Nicholson, 2002, 125). The Cinema House had a packed schedule for the whole family on Christmas Day; illustrating the important social role cinemas occupied in the community. 

The main showing at The Cinema House was the musical One Touch of Venus (Seiter, USA, 1948). The children’s special showing began at 10:30am, with a final showing starting at 9:10pm. Based on a Broadway play of the same name, One Touch of Venus stars Ava Gardner as the love goddess Venus, who was a statue in a department store before a kiss from a timid window dresser (Robert Walker), brings her to life. The British publicity emphasised that Gardner had been cast due to her resemblance to the Anatolian Venus statue (“Beauty by the Inch”). Indeed, the film is best remembered today as a star vehicle for Ava Gardner, who would be compared to Venus for the rest of her career (Williams, 2020, 45).

Across the road at the New Picture House, they were playing One Sunday Afternoon (Walsh, USA, 1948), the third film adaptation of this Broadway musical. The film was intended as a star vehicle for Dennis Morgan, who had shone in My Wild Irish Rose (Butler, USA, 1947), a film which had played at the New Picture House in April 1949 (Citizen, 30 April 1949). However, One Sunday Afternoon was not popular and barely turned a profit (Glancy, 1995, 66). Despite his popularity at the time, Morgan and his films are largely forgotten today. 

The presence and popularity of the cinema on Christmas Day highlights the hugely significant place that the New Picture House and The Cinema House occupied within the town as both entertainment and social centres. This post-war era of austerity, before the television boon, was the peak period for cinema attendance in Britain. A Christmas day trip to the cinema offered a chance to meet friends and, given the Hollywood musicals on show, escape from the cold winter of 1950. 

Brooke Daley (2020)

Works Cited: 

St. Andrews Citizen, 1949 – 1950

“Beauty by the inch”. Film News Sheet from Eros Films Ltd, 21 June 1950.

Glancy, H. Mark. “Warner Bros Film Grosses, 1921-51; the William Schaefer Ledger” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 15/1 (1995), 55-73.

Griffiths, Trevor. “A Seven-day Wonder? Cinema and the Scottish Sabbath” in The Cinema and Cinema-going in Scotland, 1896-1950 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012), 138-170.

Nicholson, Stuart. “Make Mine Music and the End of the Swing Era”. In The Cartoon Music Book, edited by Daniel Goldmark & Yuval Taylor (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2002).

Williams, Michael. “A Venus in marble and Bakelite: Ava Gardner and One Touch of Venus (1948)” Celebrity Studies11/1 (2020), pp.43-59.