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Movies On The Radio Screens 'Return Of The Drive-In'

Drive-in movies became an iconic American activity in the 1950s. Social distancing guidelines and the coronavirus pandemic may spark their comeback.
Drive-in movies became an iconic American activity in the 1950s. Social distancing guidelines and the coronavirus pandemic may spark their comeback.

Social distancing guidelines are pushing many social interactions outdoors — so why not the movies? Drive-in theaters had their heyday in the 1950s and ‘60s, with showings of family classics, kitschy horror films, sci-fi wonders and — ahem — “adults-only” flicks. The coronavirus pandemic has sparked a resurgence of interest in the iconic activity. 


In this episode of Movies on the Radio, host Frank Stasio, film experts Marsha Gordon and Laura Boyes, and listeners talk about their memories of drive-in movies.

For this month’s Movies on the Radio, host Frank Stasio and film experts Marsha Gordon and Laura Boyes discuss films that made it big at the drive-in, reflect on listener’s memories of the drive-in experience and share their own favorite drive-in stories. They’ll talk about how films like “Yours, Mine and Ours” drew in cars full of kids in pajamas in the backseat, and how parents hoped the kids would fall asleep while they watched “Psycho.” They’ll also review films that were enhanced by the outdoor experience, like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Men in Black 3.” Gordon and Boyes share the history of drive-ins and the way the pandemic has affected the movie theater industry. Gordon is a film professor at North Carolina State University and a public scholar at the National Endowment for the Humanities. Boyes is the film curator for the North Carolina Museum of Art and the curator of the Moviediva series. Familiar Scenes at the Drive-In Theater

The Family Outing

“Yours, Mine and Ours” (1968)


Marsha Gordon: The perfect movie for a family to go and see at a drive in, where you could pile everyone in the car, and it was cheap. And you could have a kind of warm, family bonding experience over Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball and their blended families. But keep in mind, this is also 1968. And so I think probably families were looking for ways to have these experiences that were outside of what was happening in this country, which was a lot of protest and revolution and the counterculture coming into its forms. 

The Latest Sci-Fi Film

“Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope” (1977)


Laura Boyes: Watching a movie set in outer space under the stars is really sort of [a] magical communion, which I think is why a lot of science fiction movies really were staples at the drive in.

The Horror Flick

“Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte” (1964)


Laura Boyes: “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” started this whole cycle of horror films with these aging stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood. And they had to become more and more extreme. 

Marsha Gordon: Yeah, so this is also Robert Aldrich ... the same director who did “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.” And I have mixed feelings about these films because, you know, they are such a step down for these amazing actresses of the Golden Age: Betty Davis and Joan Crawford, Agnes Morehead. I have mixed feelings about these actresses ... and a time in history where women, you know, frankly, over the age of 45, were not getting cast in leading roles. So at least they got to perform, but they're pretty humiliating roles at the end of the day.

The Blockbuster

“Men in Black 3” (2012)


Laura Boyes: When I travel, I always try to have unique movie going experiences. We were on vacation in a small town on the Amalfi Coast [of Italy] called Minori, and they had an outdoor cinema series. So we bought tickets, and we went and sat with everyone in the village. And it was “Men In Black 3” dubbed into Italian. I don't speak Italian … but what I learned from this experience was that these blockbuster movies do not need language. Because it was completely understandable in Italian.

Note: This program originally aired on June 10, 2020.


Copyright 2020 North Carolina Public Radio

Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
Kaia Findlay is a producer for The State of Things, WUNC's daily, live talk show. Kaia grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in a household filled with teachers and storytellers. In elementary school, she usually fell asleep listening to recordings of 1950s radio comedy programs. After a semester of writing for her high school newspaper, she decided she hated journalism. While pursuing her bachelor’s in environmental studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, she got talked back into it. Kaia received a master’s degree from the UNC Hussman School of Journalism, where she focused on reporting and science communication. She has published stories with Our State Magazine, Indy Week, and HuffPost. She most recently worked as the manager for a podcast on environmental sustainability and higher education. Her reporting passions include climate and the environment, health and science, food and women’s issues. When not working at WUNC, Kaia goes pebble-wrestling, takes long bike rides, and reads while hammocking.