Mike Gold: Saturday Matinee Superhero Horror

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when superhero movies were kiddie fodder and proud of it.

Yes, I know. The Avengers: Age of Ultron opens this Friday (which is really Thursday night; Hollywood exists in a different time/space continuum). Everybody’s stoked to see it; well, everybody but ComicMix’s own Martha Thomases, who has already seen the movie. That’s just about the, what, twelve thousandth superhero movie to open in the past decade? I’m not complaining, as these days most of these movies – dare I say it? – are more entertaining than their source material. However, I’m not here to praise this crop of superhero movies for being adult-accessible. I’m here to wax nostalgic about the first time I saw a superhero movie in a real, honest-to-Crom movie theater. Or theatre, for those who drift towards the pretentious.

Let’s go back to late July, 1966. I was at the palatial Uptown Theater on the mid-north side of Chicago. I wasn’t quite 16, so I was old enough to know better. By this time the glow of the Batman television phenomenon had faded for my friends, even those who were comics fans. But I was a hard-core comics fan, and I wanted to see the movie as nature intended: at an old-fashioned Saturday matinee.

For those of you who are too young to have experienced such a thing, the purpose of the old-fashioned Saturday matinee was to serve as a baby sitter. Mothers dropped off their precious darlings at the theater so they could get some much-needed quiet time with their friends. The kids would sit in the darkened theater and watch four hours of cartoons and Three Stooges shorts, or, perhaps, a “real” movie that was accessible to children.

A “real” movie like Batman.

Peculiarly, the good folks at the Uptown Theater decided to schedule a double-feature, and the opening flick was Paul Newman’s Harper.  I love that movie, but I was a bit surprised to see it at a Saturday matinee. Even in those days, I thought Harper was a bit too violent for kids who were already gifted at hurling Jujubes at their peers. The most violent parts were at the end, or, for these purposes, right before the beginning of Batman.

Clearly, many kids were traumatized. During those final scenes damn near each and every one of them was silent. Think about that: a couple thousand unsupervised kids between the ages of maybe 8 and 12, staring wide-eyed at a movie that would make Fredric Wertham shit his pants. It put the kiddies in the perfect mood for the upcoming campy cape caper.

Kids are a resilient lot, and as Adam West and Burt Ward were doing their opening tribute to the cover of Batman volume 1 number 9, the tykes had shed all thoughts of bloodied movie superstars and settled into the moment for which they’d been waiting. The teevee show already had grown a bit tiresome for a guy as old and sophisticated as I, but I loved watching Frank Gorshin and Burgess Meredith work. Thanks to the kiddies, I quickly got caught up in the spirit of the film and had a great time. So great, in fact, that I still enjoy that movie.

Will I have a similar experience when I see The Avengers: Age of Ultron? Maybe. I hope so. Given the nature of the previous Marvel Studios movies, I think there’s a pretty good chance.

Call me a starry-eyed optimist (although others may laugh at you), but that’s why I’m going to see this movie. Hey, it worked with Guardians of the Galaxy. I’ll be with friends, including my daughter, so I’m bringing my own environment to the multiplex.

Sadly, Frank Gorshin is no longer with us. He lived nearby and I ran into him a few times at local restaurants. But just imagine what a hoot it would have been had he been in the theater next to us.


I have every reason to expect a great time at The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Let’s see what happens.