Digital Media Editor

Justin Channell has been with the Observer-Reporter since 2012, first working as a night news editor and later as the digital media editor. He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University. He has also produced and directed independent films.

Drive In Time Machine logo - July Week 2

Forty five years ago in 1963, Washington County had three choices for drive-in double features.

Both screens at Mt Lebanon Drive In in Canonsburg offered films starring major Hollywood talent.

On screen one, "The List of Adrian Messenger" featuring an all-star cast of Tony Curtis, Kurk Douglas, Frank Sinatra and George C. Scott was playing along with "If A Man Answers" starring Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin.

Based on the book of the same name, "Messenger" is a murder mystery about a writer who believes a series of deaths that were ruled accidental are actually murders. After Messenger passes a list of the deaths to a former MI5 agent, he is killed, leaving the agent to investigate the connection.

On the other hand, "If A Man Answers" is a light-hearted romantic comedy. This would've been a strange pairing of tones for sure.

On screen two, the classic Jerry Lewis comedy "The Nutty Professor" - not be confused with the Eddie Murphy remake - opened on Sunday, July 7, 1963, backed with the Elvis movie "Girls! Girls! Girls!" - not to be confused with the Mötley Crüe song of the same name.

And at Route 19 in Washington, the John Wayne vehicle "Donovan's Reef" was playing with "My Six Loves" starring Debbie Reynolds.


Moving forward 10 years to 1973, Mt. Lebanon's first screen had a triple feature boasting two Clint Eastwood features.

The then-new release of "High Plains Drifter" opened the night and the 1971 thriller "Play Misty for Me" closed the show, with the Burt Lancaster vehicle "Ulzana's Raid" in the middle of this Eastwood cinematic sandwich.

On the second screen, the G-rated sci-fi flick "The Neptune Factor" started out the night. Starring Ernest Borgnine, the film follows a group of rescuers who go underwater to investigate an earthquake that stranded a group of marine scientists in an underwater lab. However, they soon discover the waters filled with monstrous-sized fish.

The second feature after "Neptune" was "Frogs," a 1972 schlock horror movie about - you guessed it - killer frogs, as well as other animals like snakes and birds. In fact, the other animals ironically get more screen time than the titular amphibians.

Starring Sam Elliott in an early role, "Frogs" is the type of fun b-movie that definitely would have been improved by the drive-in atmosphere.

Released by infamous low-budget studio American International Pictures, the film has continued to find audiences and was a $5 bin DVD mainstay for many years. It's easy to assume why "Frogs" has had such legs: the film's main art of a frog with a human hand dangling from its mouth is both eye-catching and memorable.

However, Sunset Drive-In near Claysville were keeping up their reputation as an X-rated drive-in with a double feature of Swiss sex comedies imported to the U.S. by Hemisphere Pictures.

"The Young Seducers" tantalized audiences by inviting them to "learn about the bare facts" while "The Swingin' Stewardesses" made claims of being "new," "different" and "revealing," while insisting that the titular flight attendants would give "a ride like you've never had in your life."


But just five years later, Mt. Lebanon was no longer advertising their X-rated fare in the Observer-Reporter. An advertisement that ran on Wednesday, July 5, 1978, urges readers to phone the theater for a list of attractions playing on screen two - which was where the adult films were usually shown.

But the screen one double feature boasts features from Crown International Pictures, an independent studio known for catering to drive-in audiences. According to Kerry Segrave's book, "Drive-In Theaters: A History from their Inception in 1933," more than half of Crown's exhibitors were drive-ins.

Crown released all kinds of b-movies throughout various exploitation genres and subgenres, but "Coach" is a bit of an anomaly in their catalog. A PG-rated movie about a female Olympic track star who becomes the coach of a high school boys basketball team doesn't fit into the typical exploitation titles that Crown was most famous for. Also, keep an eye out for future star of "The Terminator" Michael Biehn in one of his first screen roles.

However, "Malibu High" certainly falls squarely into the exploitation market that Crown thrived within. A plotless sexploitation comedy about teens cutting loose in the sand and sun, the film would've likely delivered enough nudity for even the folks that might've usually checked out screen two while wearing a raincoat.

Away from Mt. Lebanon, Route 19 Drive-In was also advertising a double feature of "Convoy" starring Kris Kristofferson and "The Big Sleep" with Robert Mitchum and Sarah Miles.

Check back next Monday for another historic look back at the movies that were playing local drive-in theaters. Click here to check out some of the previous Drive-In Time Machine blogs.

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