Movies

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
 
 

Smallest theater in the world... Most crowded... Most uncomfortable seating... Screen the size of the cover of LIFE magazine... World's worst audience.

Movies on submarines were links to the world of sanity and pretty ladies. If Edison hadn't invented those reels of celluloid magic, submarine crews would have chosen up sides and killed each other in the middle of the second week out.

You picked up movies at the U.S. Naval Station Motion Picture Exchange. There were 'in port' movies and sea prints. Hollywood logic said don't give the sons of Popeye anything that will keep them from spending their hard-earned wampum at the theaters... Don't give the idiots anything that will compete with stuff we are charging to see. But, since ships at sea were manned by folks who had no opportunity to shell out their bucks to catch a flick, the Hollywood folks sent a couple of prints of every first rate new release for strictly controlled viewing at sea. These films were called 'sea prints.' Sea prints were issued by WAVES, lady sailors at the main base (N.O.B., Naval Operating Base, Norfolk) and they operated out of the Motion Picture Exchange.

If you were of dubious gender, uglier than a wild boar, had heavy body hair, an attitude like a gahdam snake and the vocabulary of an Irish sewer digger, chances are you eventually wound up shuffling sea prints at the Motion Picture Exchange. They were one tough bunch of honeys.

Some officer intimated that our chances of getting a lot finer class of film entertainment would be greatly enhanced if one of our lads would volunteer stud services for the ladies. These gals were ugly! You could toss 'em into an Iraqi P.O.W. camp and the inmates would have quickly helped them back over the wire. You would have to lie to a blind man to find someone to bed down with one of these atomic darlings. They also did not appreciate terms like, 'fat ankled lesbians.'

We used to draw a bunch of sea prints every time we went out. One big, round the clock 'movie marathon' and you had seen everything, or part of everything, in five days. By the end of the third week, you were turning off the sound and assigning speaking parts to guys watching. For example, Erol Flynn in Robin Hood...

"Marion, what a cute fanny you have."

"Robin, you nasty devil, get your muddy boots out of my clean castle..."

"To hell with you sweetheart... Little John, Friar Tuck and yours truly are gonna hit Bells... Get a load on... Come back and lose lunch in King John's A/C intake..."

We rarely developed dialog above a second grade level. When you got bored with that, you could always fall back on the last resort... Show the entire film backwards. That is the absolute end of the line on the road to boredom.

When you watched a flick, you were unbelievably lucky if you found a comfortable horizontal surface upon which to park your butt. We had things called sharpshooter buckets. A sharpshooter bucket was a tapered stainless steel can designed to take nylon trash bags... We would weight those babies and shoot them out the garbage ejector. Anyway, you could take this stainless steel sharpshooter bucket, put a heavy duty clipboard on top, fold up a foul weather jacket on the clipboard, and plant your worthless fanny on top of it all. This wasn't the best seat in the house, but it came close.

Somewhere in reel two, the nerve endings in your butt died... Fanny novocaine set in... Then your legs atrophied. When the film ended and you stood up, you found that sometime in the dark, Pinocchio had swapped legs with you.

We had popcorn... You had to fight for your share at first, but after the first three bowls, gentlemanly behavior returned and you could obtain popcorn without fear of limb dismemberment or sight loss.

One gentleman returned from the Motion Picture Exchange with Hygene for WAVES, an anatomically correct training film. "Never in the field of human endeavor have so many laughed so hard at so little..." to paraphrase Winston Churchill.

The smallest theater in North America, but the most fun. Everytime someone passing through the crew's mess walked in front of the screen, twenty idiots yelled,

"Down in front!"

"Get outta the movie..."

"Debbie Reynolds looks a helluva lot better than Ralph Bednar... No offense, Ralph..."

It went on and on... Verbal pile on. Many times a lot more interesting than a film you had seen so many times that you had memorized the names of all the electricians and make-up people.

Hollywood never made any Cold War diesel boat films. Like everyone else, they ignored our contribution. I had two daughters... To them, the Navy was Richard Whatz-hiz-name in Officer and a Gentleman and Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Why didn't they cast Wildass Willie and the 6th. Fleet Shore Patrol Posse or Riders of the Last Smoke Boats?

They missed a gold mine.


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