Two for the Show: Remembering Movie Double Features

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August of 2011.

Remember the good, old days of movie double features?

Was there anything better than paying one admission price and watching two feature films with trailers and, if you were lucky, perhaps a short or a cartoon?

It seems so long ago when double features existed. Sure, there are occasional sneak previews these days, where a studio will promote an early showing of a movie with another film that is already playing, but this is a true rarity these days. Repertory houses, if you are lucky enough to live near one, program festivals with double features and for the remaining drive-ins out there, multiple movies are par for the course. You may be able to take in a pair if two films are at the tail end of their theatrical run and the times work out. In most cases, however, it’s unlikely the theater will schedule the films to unspool (or project digitally these days) back-to-back. The plan is to clear the theater and collect two separate admissions, and then clip you for that $7.50 small popcorn.

A friend recently sent me the image for a poster of a double bill of The Odd Couple and Rosemary’s Baby.  Studios often teamed their own product together to get more box-office mileage out of their titles. In that case it was Paramount, and some may say the teaming of Neil Simon’s Lemmon-Matthau comedy with Roman Polanski’s devilish shocker is downright bizarre. Yes, both are set in New York, but that’s where the similarities appear to end. Paramount even took the combo a step farther, calling it “The Greatest Double Feature of All Time” on their posters, a practice which was commonplace decades ago. Talk about something for everyone!

The image sent to me back to Memory Lane, recalling some of the double features I had seen in the past. Some made sense and some didn’t, but I recall them all fondly. Here are some of the most memorable and a little history behind each one…

Two for the Show: Remembering the Double FeatureDr. No (1962)/From Russia with Love (1963): There was nothing better than a Sean Connery 007 double feature, and all of the original Connery Bonds (and several of the Roger Moores) eventually got super-sized. I can also recall seeing all of the Bonds in theaters as single features, then seeing them again when they went into double feature mode. They also played in theaters years after they were originally released, so strong was their following.

One Million Years B.C. (1966)/Come Spy with Me (1967):  For a nine-year old, watching Raquel Welch wearing a burlap bikini while battling dinosaurs was quite thrilling. Hell, for a 54-year-old it’s thrilling. Who cares if they speak caveman language in the movie.  The only thing somewhat memorable about the James Bond wannabe spy thriller Come Spy with Me was that there was a catchy theme song by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles.

The Graduate (1967)/Carnal Knowledge (1971): Two sophisticated “adult” comedies from the long defunct Avco Embassy Pictures and producer Joseph E. Levine. Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock was a sensation when first released in theaters, and stuck around for re-release after re-release. This is a perfect pairing of two great satires, one hilarious and bittersweet, the other cynical and edgy.

The French Connection (1971)/M*A*S*H (1972): Two smash hits from Fox. You can’t get much more era-friendly than William Friedkin’s gritty NYC cop thriller and Robert Altman’s iconoclastic anti-war farce.  At various times, both films were also paired with Patton (1969).

The Godfather (1972)/The Longest Yard (1974): Two years after it was released, The Godfather was still a draw and was paired with almost every Paramount Picture imaginable during its waning months in theaters (The Godfather and Tales That Witness Madness, anyone?). It would be tough to get any more testosterone-heavy than this terrific tandem of Mario Puzo’s mobster masterpiece and Burt Reynolds’ prison gridiron comedy.

What’s Up, Doc? (1972)/The Candidate (1972): Streisand and Redford together, before The Way We Were. This was a most entertaining pairing: Peter Bogdanovich’s hilarious salute to screwball with Babs and Ryan O’Neal (and a dandy supporting cast), and Michael Ritchie directing Redford as a Kennedy-esque senatorial hopeful (aided by an equally dandy supporting cast).  FYI: I recall that both What’s Up, Doc? and The Candidate were also teamed with Redford’s mountain man epic Jeremiah Johnson at times.

Klute (1971)/Summer of ’42 (1971): Two Warner Brothers releases with strong sexual elements made these R-rated efforts the must-sneak-into films of the year for a 14-year-old boy. Jane Fonda won an Oscar for her shag-haired, watch-watching hooker, and amidst Michel Legrand’s lush score, Benjie, Hermie and Oscy explored the pangs of growing up and the joys of the shore and beach neighbor Jennifer O’Neill during World War II. Summer of ’42 was later a regular twin-bill partner with its 1973 sequel Class of ’44 and, oddly enough, the atmospheric horror picture The Other (1972).

The Conversation (1974)/The Parallax View (1975): I remember feeling downright rattled after the leaving the theaters showing this all-time “Look Over Your Shoulder” duo. Paranoia strikes deep in this Watergate-era tag team of paranoia that finds surveillance expert Gene Hackman and investigative reporter Warren Beatty going where they shouldn’t go and paying the price.

Macon County Line (1974) and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1975): The former is a terrific “B” movie with producer/star Max Baer (yes, “Jethro,” folks) as the sheriff out to snag two drifters responsible for the death of his wife. The film made tons at drive-ins, particularly in the South, but it’s unlikely it was matched with Sam Peckinpah’s ultra-violent take on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with a bonkers, piano-playing Warren Oates carrying around a fly-ravaged head.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (1974) and Report To the Commissioner (1975): A Hector Elizondo film festival, as the crafty character actor (later a regular in Garry Marshall movies) makes appearances in both New York crime sagas. The first one is a classic with Walter Matthau adding humor and gravitas as the transit authority official dealing with the hijacking of a subway car; while Michael Moriarty does his method acting routine as a rookie cop involved in a murder, a cover-up and a standoff on an elevator that lasts the final third of the film.

The Family (1973)/The Black Windmill (1974): Two totally different approaches to crime stories. The Family (aka Violent City), an Italian production, was shot in 1970 but released in America post-The Godfather (Tagline: “The Godfather” Gave You an Offer You Couldn’t Refuse. “The Family” Gives You No Alternative). Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland and Telly Savalas star in this poorly dubbed, action-packed hit-man thriller. Don Siegel’s uncharacteristically low-key The Black Windmill centers on Michael Caine, a British operative dealing with the kidnapping of his son. Interesting to see contrasting styles—over-the-top and subtle—in the same genre.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)/Myra Breckinridge (1970): These two 20th Century-Fox films were originally rated “X” and put together in 1976, when Farrah Fawcett (featured in the latter) became a sensation in Charlie’s Angels. The radio ads pushed Farrah in her X-rated scandal. The problem was that the gal with the iconic feather-shagged hairstyle was barely in Myra Breckenridge, and theaters showed Beyond the Valley of the Dolls first at midnight screenings. Audiences booed, obviously not getting Russ Meyer’s tongue-in-cheek masterwork (penned by Roger Ebert), and by the time Farrah hit the screen in Myra, sometime in the middle of the night, few were left in the audience.

God Told Me To (1977)/Woman in Cell Block 9 (1977): A dream double bill for the old 42nd Street, personally viewed in the City of Brotherly Love’s answer to a grindhouse theater, the Duke and Duchess twin in downtown Philly.  Exploitation auteurs Larry Cohen and Jess Franco bring home the goods. The first one has something to do with virginal births, a serial killer and a cop played by Tony Lo Bianco; the second is an ultra-sleazy South American-set Women-in-Prison opus from…Switzerland?!  Memories are permeated by the distinctive smell of Lysol.

High Anxiety (1977)/The Fury (1978): Mel Brooks and Brian De Palma have spoofing and blood-splattered fun saluting Alfred Hitchcock in a tandem that’s for The Birds—in a good way.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)/Halloween (1978): Two indie terror sensations from George A. Romero and John Carpenter, perhaps the greatest horror double bill of all-time (OK, Horror of Dracula and Curse of Frankenstein was nothing to sneeze at either). But to see those rampaging zombies and the original Michael Myers on the big, wide screen was something to behold.

Hot Stuff (1979)/The Lonely Lady (1983): I am not sure why these were paired together since they are from different studios and have no similarities whatsoever and even have a significant difference in release dates. Dom DeLuise and Pia Zadora together again for the first time. ‘Nuff said.

We’d love to know what some of the weirdest and/or most memorable double features you recall seeing. Share you dual remembrances in the comments below.