Palladium Cinema: The halcyon days are gone
Until the cinemas went silent it could not be imagined that someday they would cease being part of the entertainment architecture of the country.
As one of the principal sources of entertainment they served the needs of adults in the Gold Coast and many years after independence.
Besides other factors the introduction of videos and other forms of entertainment in the confines of living rooms all led to the eventual death of the cinema.
In the recent past, the Opera Cinema was arguably the most popular mass patronized cinema in the nation’s capital.
There were various segments during the day apart of the main night time programmes.
The Captans were part of the main importers of films for their many cinemas strewn across the country. Before their advent though, there was a big time Gold Coaster who was known to have established a foothold in the cinema industry.
Many of Captan’s cinemas, it would appear, had names with the letter O starting them. Opera, Oxford, Orion and Odeon were some of their cinemas.
While great effort was taken to ensure that children below a certain age did not go to cinemas when schools were in session, some children managed to flout this convention.
The afternoon sessions of the Opera Cinema in Accra Central for instance had school children turning up to view. How they managed to raise coins to pay for the tickets depended on their individual skills.
A March 9, 1957 publication of the Daily Graphic, as it was the trend at the time, carried an advertisement of the main cinemas in the country. The Globe Cinema at Adabraka in Accra was showing on that day Connie Russel Dick Haymes, Audrey Totter and Billy Daniels all in a film dubbed ‘Cruisin Down The River’.
Those were days when our kind of colour films was not in existence. The leading quality film was the Technicolor. Admission was three shillings and six pence. The balcony, which was a privileged segment of the cinema as it offered a better view of the screen, went for four shillings six pence.
Opera had for its popular 12:15 session the film, King Richard and the Crusaders. The quality was cinemascope. It was starring Rex Harrison and Virginia Mayo, the admission going for one shilling, two shillings and three shillings.
The Opera Cinema was a beehive of activities in its heyday. On the same day it was featuring at 5:00pm Adventures of Hajji Baba in cinemascope starring John Derek and Elaine Stewart with admission going for a shilling, two shillings and three shillings.
At 9:00pm at the same cinema, Opera, The Dark Avenger was showing in cinemascope the admission fees going for one shilling, two shillings and six pence and three shillings and six pence. The stars were Errol Flynth and Joan Dru.
The stars determined the patronage of the films, hence the efforts at showcasing such personalities in the advertisements.
Some of the stars had their pictures enclosed in packages of a brand of chewing gums–the favourite of school children who relished their collections. Pictures of film celebrities such as Roy Rogers, Perry Como, Kirk Douglas, Dean Martin and many others were favourites of school children in those days and were included in the chewing gum packages. Children bought the chewing gums because of the celebrities.
Another cinema which appeared to be one of the oldest in Accra was the Palladium Cinema, which attracted many patrons.
On the day under review it was showing at 6:30pm Prince of Pirates in Technicolor and starring John Derek, Barbara Rush, Charles Balenda and Witefield Connor. Admission went for six pence, a shilling, two shillings and three shillings. At 8:30pm Demetrius and the Gladiators was showing at the same cinema in cinemascope starring Victor Mature and Susan Hayward at a shilling, two shillings and three shillings.
Plaza Cinema was another popular cinema in Accra. Today it stands as a landmark; only its cinema showing days confined largely to the pages of the history of Accra. On March 9, 1957, three days after the attainment of independence, Plaza was screening in Technicolor Man without a Star, starring Kirk Douglas, Jeanne Grain and Claire Trevor— admission going for six pence, a shilling and two shillings and six pence.
Rex Cinema near the old Parliament House was an exclusive cinema patronized by elites; and where the rules were strictly enforced. Children not allowed for certain categories of films could not have their way. There were special films for children called Children’s Matinee.
On the date under review it was showing The Strike with Jose Ferrer, June Allyson and Joy Page starring.
The admission was three shillings and six pence. The admission said it all about the exclusivity of this cinema. Those of us who lived in Tudu believed it was reserved for the whites.
Roxy Cinema at Adabraka was a mass cinema patronized by residents from nearby Tudu, Adabraka and sometimes Accra Newtown then known as Lagos Town. It all depended on the popularity of a film being screened at a particular time.
Indian films were arguably as popular then as they are today, one of their leading personalities being Albella.
On the day under review the Indian film screened was Bhagwan, Geeta Bali in Alibella; admission being six pence, a shilling and two shillings six pence.
Regal was showing at 9:00pm, the time most films were showed, Anna Neagle, Trevor Howard and Marius Goring featured in Odetta.
At Royal Cinema at Zongo Lane near the Children’s Hospital, another mass patronized entertainment spot was screening Oklahoma Plains. That sounds like a Cowboy film which had a large following in those days. Featuring in it were Rex Allen, Slim Dickens and Elaine Edwards. Admission went for six pence, a shilling and two shillings six pence.
At Accra New Town was a cinema which is hardly remembered today. Rialto it was, which showed on the day Rip Roaring Rilley, a Western film. The advertisement described as full of action.
Globe Cinema at Adabraka Freetown close to Tudu was another cinema of repute. It showed on the day George Montgomery Angela Stevens, Douglas Kennedy, Jack McCall in Desperado.
In the provinces or regions were cinemas; some of them bearing similar names as the ones in Accra.
Sekondi had the Gyandu Cinema which was screening Siren of Baghdad in Technicolor.
Odeon, Kumasi, was showing Mighty Joe Young starring Terry Moore, Ben Johnson, Robert Amstrong and Frank McHugh.
In Takoradi’s Prempeh Cinema, the Black Tent was showing; and in Rex, Kumasi – Shot Gun in Technicolor was showed.
Royal Kumasi was showing Haila Guila, an Indian film.
At Sekondi’s Venice Cinema Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour featured in Road to Rio.
The Seven Gladiators, Canyon Raiders and Lady Godiva were some of the top films of the times, not forgetting the Indian films – the favourites of the people of northern extraction, including the Zongos.
The films were imported into the country, and when here they move around the country having arrived here after showing in other parts of the sub-region it would appear. Just as I was finishing this article I remembered two cinemas in Accra, Park Cinema and Oxford and a film Lash La Rue.
Tamale residents will never forget the days of Rivoli and Victory cinemas.
By A.R. Gomda