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Spending the Night With Bob (You Had to Be There)


Bob Shreve Past Prime Playhouse Nite People Theater All Nite Theater Cincinnati
It's 1:30 a.m., let the fanfare begin...

Buried at the bottom of a banker’s box full of nicotine-stained paperbacks and tattered men’s magazines, I found a diary from Richard W [full name redacted for privacy], lifelong resident Richmond, Indiana, and former paper mill employee. This particular entry was germane to my interests:


Friday, February 16, 1968


Another Friday night, another night with Bob and three or four or five cans of Schoenling (sing it with me: I’ve tried the rest, Schoenling’s best, it’s Schoenling beer for me!). Bob—that would be Bob Shreve—is many things to me: a bartender, an uncle with a head full of bad jokes, a reliable pal to keep me company, a fellow nite person, and, perhaps most importantly, my movie expert. Seems like the guy has a mission to show every movie ever made. Each weekend he chips away at that goal sharing these movies with me and every other nite person within a 50-mile radius of Dayton, Ohio. Flip on channel 7 at 1:30 am, sit back, and join Bob as he pours “Cincinnati’s finest” lager and shows a triple feature. Sometimes a quadruple! The beer is always the same, but the movies might be skunky, Bob always makes them go down easy. The movies AND the beer, that is. Depending on what’s showing that night—and how many Schoenlings I’ve downed—I’m either passed out by the time Nite People Theater wraps up at 7:00 am or wide-eyed and ready for a big breakfast. Last couple weeks, Bob has saved the best movie for last. There was Comanche Station with Randolph Scott, and even though I had seen that one in the theater on a big, wide screen and full color, it was just as exciting on the black and white Zenith. Westerns are my favorite. Then, last weekend, Bob ended NPT with one I had never heard of—Screaming Mimi with Anita Ekberg (!) and Gypsy Rose Lee (!!). Wowzers, I had no problems staying awake for that one.


So my Friday routine goes: clock out at 11:30, pickup some Schoenlings on my drive back from Eaton, cobble together some kind of grub at home, and spend the night with Bob and three flicks and five (or six) cans of beer. In the paper this morning I saw that Bob has chosen from his vast library Harem Girl (this sounds like a humdinger!), 7th Cavalry (can’t go wrong with Randolph Scott, and this one I didn’t catch in the theater), and Let’s Rock (some corny rock and roll cash-in? I might not make it through this one). This is the life of a nite person, and tonight is Nite People Theater.


Now tomorrow night is a whole nother story. That’s All Nite Theater on Channel 9. It’s Bob again. And more Schoenling Lager. Three or four flicks. Channel 9 just comes in with a little more static. Maybe I need a better antenna?


 

As the above diary indicates, movies can be enjoyed in circumstances less than ideal. A world away from the grand movie palace and its efforts to transport its patrons to air-conditioned splendor exists the humble TV set planted in a living room. The TV set itself had its varying strata of content, from the primetime lineup down to the morning shows. Then there was the overnight programming, a dumping ground for movies well past their expiration date. For insomniacs, college doofuses, second-shift workers, and various other misfits, Bob Shreve was the king the late-late programming in Southwest Ohio, a man who could warble a tune, cut a rug, and stretch a rubber chicken while promoting sponsors and presenting movies. From the mid-60s to 1985, Shreve hosted All Nite Theater, then Nite People Theater, and, later, Past Prime Playhouse. Clips on YouTube will give you the flavor of the show in the videotape era, but those early transmissions are lost to the ages. More than the actual content of the shows, it’s impossible to recreate the presence—knowing that you could switch on your TV at three in the morning to see the genial lunatic live in the studio (either in Cincinnati or Dayton, depending on the night) joking in between Mexican horror movies and long-forgotten 1950s crime thrillers. Most people likely tuned in for Bob’s antics, but there must have been some who wanted to revisit a movie they had a hazy decades-old memory of or check out some tantalizing title they had only read about. Curucu, Beast of the Amazon, I Was a Communist for the FBI, Shake Hands with the Devil…the movie offerings were a fascinating smorgasbord of potboilers, bona fide classics, and forgotten gems—often, all in one night. In this spreadsheet, I’ve listed every single film Bob showed in 1968, to pick a "lost" year at random.


Some notes about the list:

  • Bob hosted 102 nights of film, divided equally between WHIO’s (Dayton station) Nite People Theater on Fridays and WCPO’s (Cincinnati station) All Nite Theater on Saturdays.

  • Bob showed 299 movies. Of these, there were 264 unique titles. Thirty-four movies were shown twice and one movie, The Roaring Twenties, was shown 19 times (all on the WCPO show). Need to fill some time? Show The Roaring Twenties again!

  • Someone with more determination than me can analyze the breakdown by genre but suffice to say all bases were covered: drama, crime, romance, comedy, horror, historical epics, and Westerns.

  • The movies were not limited to Hollywood. There’s representation from British cinema (Malaga a.k.a. Moment of Danger with Trevor Howard), West German (Alfred Vohrer’s Mark of the Tortoise), Italian (1953’s Nero and the Burning of Rome was one of many European historical epics shown), Spanish (Jess Franco’s The Awful Dr. Orloff), and Mexican (the delirious The Black Pit of Dr. M was scheduled twice).

  • Most of the movies are from the 50s or 60s, but the 1940s is represented (such as The Late George Apley, Notorious and Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman) as well as at least a couple from the 30s (The Next Time We Love and The Roaring Twenties x 19).

In this age of media-oversaturation, it’s easy to take for granted our ready access to nearly any movie under the sun. In 1968, you had to be there—“there” being in your living room watching Bob, half-asleep and slightly buzzed. Some of us missed out on this phenom. We’ll have to find a substitute for Schoenling (R.I.P.) and crack open a cold one and watch one of Shreve’s picks tonight.


 

What the Picture Did for Me

Unreserved opinions on pictures not-so-great and rather small, in the grand tradition of the Motion Picture Herald.


High Tension (1936, 20th Century Fox)

Blind drunk, self-described “woman-hater” Steve Reardon (Brian Donlevy) is picked up from a bar by clean cut Eddie Mitchell (Norman Foster). Reardon enlists Mitchell to his profession of repairing transpacific cables hundreds of fathoms under the sea. Gay subtext is nothing new in brawny movies about men’s dangerous jobs, but the scene where Steve wakes up in Eddie’s bed is unusually blunt. It’s an energetic movie. Donlevy is a ramped-up lion who can only be tamed by mischievous Glenda Farrell. Unfortunately, the ending has a distinct lack of high tension, but the movie’s 63 minutes fly by so quickly that the audience has no time to register how little is actually happening. It’s a neat magic trick.


36 Hours to Kill (1936, 20th Century Fox)

Movies set aboard cruise ships and sleeper trains are always a hit here—it’s simply a great excuse to assemble a motley crew of actors and let them bounce around like pinballs for an hour. In this movie we have Brian Donlevy, Gloria Stuart, Douglas Fowley, Isabel Jewell, Warren Hymer, and Stepin Fetchit navigating the narrow corridors of a locomotive. It’s a G-Men ‘n’ Gangster pic with a surprisingly poignant ending. Jewell steals the show as the cool, knife-throwing vice opposite Stuart’s boring virtue. Perfect for a weekday matinee.


Human Cargo (1936, 20th Century Fox)

Donlevy and Claire Trevor are rival reporters investigating a human smuggling racket that brings foreigners across the U.S. border, then shakes them down with the threat of deportation. Carmen Zoro is one such victim, a nightclub singer in America under the dark cloud of gangsterism. This is one of those minor pictures Rita Hayworth did when she was billed as Rita Cansino—as Carmen Zoro, she’s quite alluring and her performance is probably worth the price of admission. Otherwise, it’s a routine pic that coasts along on the charm of the leads. Helen Troy makes the most of her role as the phone receptionist.

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I first encountered Bob in the late 50s, when WCPO ran The Three Stooges every weeknight at 6:00. "Barney Google" was the theme song. (I seem to recall he hosted a kiddie show as well, but I'm not 100% on that.) The all-night movies came later, and I remember setting the alarm for 4:15 so I could sneak into the den and watch (at very low volume) "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" for the first time. Yessiree, you did indeed have to be there.


BTW, we ran "Human Cargo" a few years ago at Cinecon and it blew the roof off the dump, proving once again that great B-pictures usually went unappreciated in their time.


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Adam Williams
Adam Williams
Feb 25, 2023
Replying to

Thank you for the first-hand account of spending time with Bob! I love having access to impeccably restored movies, but something is missing—it’s the urgency to be in place on time (4:15!) to see those rare treasures.


I recently went on a Quatermass bender, so it was a bit alarming to watch these breakneck, muscular, emotive Donlevy movies from 20th Century. I’ve got Midnight Taxi in my to-watch stack. Wish I could’ve seen any of these with an appreciative audience.

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