April Wright has made several good documentaries, includingGoing Attractions: The Definitive Story of the Movie Palace(in which I appear)and Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the American Drive-in Movie. The latter film is bathed in an understandable nostalgia for the kind of outdoor theaters that flourished in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Now Wright has gone Back to the Drive-In to pick up the story of how these “ozoners” (as Variety used to call them) made an unexpected comeback during the Covid-19 pandemic… and what has happened since.

The film is loosely structured around cinema verité footage of drive-ins from coast to coast and informal interviews with their owners and managers, a doggedly determined breed of showmen and women who seem to be answering a calling. The Harvest Moon drive-in near Champaign, Illinois has to contend with a railroad train that runs behind the screen every night. The Wellfleet on Cape Cod deals with the fog rolling in. Bengie’s, near Baltimore, has rules of conduct which some patrons ignore. The man who runs the Transit, near Buffalo, New York, uses a Segue vehicle to get around his property and has done so since he did a tie-in with the movie Paul Blart, Mall Cop. The proprietor of the Greenville in the Catskills area is a mixologist whose wife makes home-made ice-cream sandwiches. Every operation is a reflection of the people who run it.

Back to the Drive-In chronicles a hardy lot of individuals who are holding the line against progress and a fickle public. Anyone who harbors warm feelings about the drive-in movie experience should feel right at home.

Back to the Drive-In opens today in Los Angeles at two Laemmle locations. For more information, go to

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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April 2024