John Goodman as Lawrence Woolsey
Cathy Moriarty as Ruth Corday/Carole
Simon Fenton as Gene Loomis
Jesse Lee Soffer as Dennis Loomis
Lisa Jakub as Sandra
Robert Picardo as Howard, the Theater Manager
Jesse White as Mr. Spector
Naomi Watts as Shopping Cart Starlet
Directed by Joe Dante
William Castle (1914-1977) was a legendary director of low-budget films and a showman within his industry. For The Tingler (1959), for example, he had people attach vibrating devices to theater seats, just to give the audience well-timed tingles. This man became the inspiration for Lawrence Woolsey, the John Goodman character in Matinee.
Matinee is the story of the debut of Lawrence Woolsey’s newest low-budget shocker, Mant!, at Key West, Florida, in October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Woolsey and his actress girlfriend, Ruth Corday, the female lead of Mant!, arrive in Key West, determined not to let international events prevent the big event. There, waiting for them, are a nervous population, a theater manager poised to believe that the apocalypse is near, and a theater chain owner ready to book the new movie into his theaters.
Gene Loomis, a teenager, is concerned because his father is in the Navy, aboard one of the vessels blockading Cuba. Nervous also is his little brother, Dennis. Gene and Dennis spend much time at the local movie theater, avoiding the television news. Gene is fond of monster movies, so the prospect of watching Mant! thrills him. Other times, however, the movie fare consists of bad “family movies,” such as The Shook-Up Shopping Cart, about an unfortunate man transformed into a shopping cart. (Look for Naomi Watts as his niece.)
The object of Gene’s first crush is Sandra, a progressive and socially hyperconscious young woman who calls her parents by their first names, invokes the name of Mohandas Gandhi easily, condemns racial segregation of schools, and is quick to mention the uselessness of duck-and-cover drills during duck-and-cover drills. One know-it-all student accuses her of being a Communist, in the way many people used that term at the time without thinking of the word’s definition. (Today’s counterpart is “Socialist,” and words do have objective meanings one can find in books called dictionaries.)
Below: A Teacher Removing Sandra, Who Is Protesting a Duck-and-Cover Drill
Meanwhile, Lawrence Woolsey is plotting the movie debut, attaching vibrating devices to theater seats, implanting smoke-emitting machines (for when the DDT missiles hit Bill the Mant), and installing this Rumble-Rama machine (to shake the theater at pivotal moments). (Imagine, O reader, being in such a theater in Key West, Florida, during the Cuban Missile Crisis.) Furthermore, Woolsey hires a young man (as it turns out, a ne’er-do-well would-be beatnik poet) to operate this machinery and to run the theater in a Mant costume at specified times.
Below: An Interactive Movie Experience
This is a fun popcorn flick with the obligatory happy ending. So sit back, enjoy your popcorn and beverage, and laugh.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JUNE 14, 2010 COMMON ERA
Below: The End; Gene and Sandra after Mant! and the Cuban Missile Crisis