My Old Cinema Haunts: A Bygone Era

Ever since my father took me to a reissue of Charles Chaplin’s MODERN TIMES at a cinema in Rome during the early 1970s, I have been a film aficionado and not only enjoy cinema but the movie palaces that I grew up with in Rome, Madrid and London.

What I find immensely sad is that a lot of the single-screen movie theatres I grew up with have either been converted to multiple screens or torn down altogether. The experience of sitting in a Stall or Balcony seat in a 1200 plus seat theater with a massive Cinerama-like curved screen, with ushers moving around selling popcorn, sweets and drinks inside the theater, is an experience I miss. Sure there are a a few of the large theaters left: Odeon Leicester Square, London, Uptown Cinema, Washington DC, among others, but they are few and far between now. Many of the theaters I enjoyed in London, such as the Odeon Haymarket, the Plaza Cinema, Rialto, among many, have also been torn down and/or replaced with much smaller cinemas (i.e. Warner West End, Odeon Marble Arch).


The Odeon Marble Arch had one of the best screens in London. During the 1960s it was refitted with a Dimension 150 screen capable of playing “Road Show” epics such as PATTON, HELLO DOLLY! and others films. I remember seeing many films in this theatre including HERBIE RIDES AGAIN (1976), A BRIDGE TOO FAR (1977), RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983), among many other films.

song is born.JPG

The Odeon Marble Arch. The year must be 1948 because A SONG IS BORN is playing.


Odeon Marble Arch (1967) The expensive Fox musical DR. DOOLITTLE playing on a Dimension 150 Screen.


The Odeon Marble Arch today. The 1 screen massive theater was turned into a multiplex with 5 screens.


The proximity of this cinema to my granparent’s home in London was a reason why I used to frequent this joint. The cinema went from one large screen to two screens and eventually to 5 screens (during the last few years). The concession area is still large but the small multiplexes are very disappointing.

Looking at some of these pictures, I can still visualize myself standing outside the foyer, inhaling the strong hot dog aroma, and anxiously awaiting the opening of the doors to films such as SHOUT AT THE DEVIL (1976) and THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975).


Odeon Swiss Cottage (1968). The Russian Best Foreign Language film (WAR AND PEACE) is playing in Two Parts.



The cinema today.


The Rialto is off Leicester Square (adjacent to ‘Planet Hollywood). By the time I frequented this theatre in the 1970s it was showing B movies such as BLAZING MAGNUM (1976), THE STUD (1978) and THE BITCH (1979).



The Rialto (1949) (Photograph by Grenville Barret)


The Rialto (1964) (Photograph by Ken Roe)


The Rialto Today


One of my favorite cinemas in London was The Plaza, on lower Regent Street. It was a CIC (Paramount, Universal) cinema I remember watching films such as SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, AIRPORT ’77, STAR TREKs IIV, AIRPLANE! and many others. It was a multiplex, with two large theatres and three smaller ones (the larger ones had a red colored, plush interior). I remember they had a Baskin Robbins in the lobby. Unfortunately, the cinema is no longer there, having been replaced by a supermarket.



The Plaza during the early 1980s. TIME BANDITS, AIRPLANE and LIFE OF BRIAN are on the marquee.


The Odeon Haymarket was a one screen theater, located on a basement level, the corner of St. James Market, not too far from Leicester Square. It had a large screen and a an intimate ambience. I remember it also used to screen Buena Vista/Disney films such as FANTASIA and SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. The theatre unfortunately has closed down as well.


The Odeon Haymarket circa 1962 (Posted by Ken Roe)


The inside of the Haymarket (Photograph Ken Roe)


A 1995 Haymarket interior photograph (Image by Bridget Smith)


The Haymarket after its closure (Photo by Ian Grundy)


5 thoughts on “My Old Cinema Haunts: A Bygone Era

  1. Those were the golden era of movie theatres.
    I too remember the good old days standing in line at the marble arch waiting to get a hold of hot bag of popcorn while watching a james bond movie.
    I Remember watching roger moore’s Octopusy.
    aaaaaah, the good ol days.

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  3. Hello,
    Found your site useful. I am doing a piece of research into the coming of Sound Cinema to London c 1928/29. Some of the cinemas mentioned in ‘chronmedia’ are no longer cinemas but theatres or have been pulled down as you say. Have just phoned the Picadilly Theatre which used to be a cinema and was told they have changed managers since 1928 so they didn’t know who I should speak to! Where did you get your info from? I will be trying British library, National Film Institue and Ealing Studios.
    Any light you can throw on this would be useful.

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