Monday, June 15, 2009

Drive-In Restaurants and Singing Carhops

Above we have Fred MacMurray pausing in the middle of his work day to have a beer at a drive-in restaurant in “Double Indemnity” (1944). Oh, the glamorous life of an insurance salesman.

The earliest depiction of a drive-in restaurant I can think of is “Moon Over Miami” from 1941 (covered here on this post from May 2008). Betty Grable and Carole Landis are singing carhops at Texas Tommy's in a rousing opening number dressed in cowgirl outfits. All their customers appear to be men driving convertibles, which is convenient because it lets us see the cowgirl outfits without obstruction. Think maybe that was what the director was thinking? Or just a coinkydink?

Just the thing you want to see come at you when you want a burger, apparently. Below we have a few more singing carhops in this 1950s short with scantily clad waitresses and leering male customers.

By the time “American Graffiti” (1973) came along, the drive-in restaurant carhop seemed to have become a symbol of the 1950s in movies and TV, yet we really don’t see them in too many movies of the era. Here’s a link to the opening scene of “American Graffiti which takes place at a drive-in restaurant in 1962. I don’t really know how common waitresses on roller skates were. That must have been difficult. Lots of customers accidentally covered in mustard and milkshakes, I imagine.

Evidently, at some point the clientele of drive-in restaurants seems to have switched from world-weary insurance salesmen plotting murders, and leering businessmen, to aimless teens pigging out on French fries and shakes in between drag races.

Below in this cartoon from 1956, “Rocket Squad”, which is a parody of “Dragnet”, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig tail a crime suspect in this futuristic space world to “Elsa’s Blast-Inn”. The push-button menu lists oleo as one of the sandwich condiments. Anybody remember squishing the capsule of yellow food coloring to turn the margarine from unappetizing white to faux-butter?

As long as we’re in the realm of cartoons, but shifting to TV for a minute, you might recall Fred and Barney bought a drive-in restaurant on a 1960 episode of “The Flintstones.” Also with singing carhops. “Here we come on the run with a burger on a bun….”

Some carhops skate, others dance and sing.

The A&W chain still featured drive-in style restaurants when I was young, but I think they’ve dropped them now. I don’t recall any of the waitresses either skating or singing. Just plunking the metal tray on the car door. Which was good enough when all I really wanted was my “Baby Burger” and my little mug of root beer.

What drive-ins do you remember? What other movies can you recall that featured scenes with drive-in restaurants?


K. said...

"Oh, the glamorous life of an insurance salesman."

Well, he did get to have an affair with Barbara Stanwyck!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Hi, K. I guess maybe there are perks to the job.

Laura said...

Ah, the A&W with the little tiny burger and root beer, a fond memory!

One film that comes to mind, because the car hop was notable, is KID GLOVE KILLER (1942) -- in one of her early bit parts Ava Gardner was the car hop who served Lee Bowman & Marsha Hunt.

Another fun topic!

Best wishes,

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I was hoping somebody would come up with some more titles. Thanks, Laura. Now I've got to see "Kid Glove Killer" and add to my carhop collection. Ava Gardner as a carhop. Who knew?

K. said...

FYI, I have an entry today about Elia Kazan's Boomerang here.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks, K. I'll be sure to have a look.

Rebeca said...

Most middle aged Americans remember Fred MacMurray as Steve Douglas, the ever patient, wise father of "My Three Sons." The long running television comedy, along with a string of light-hearted Disney films, breathed new life into MacMurray's sagging movie career. But Americans of a certain advanced age, along with those of us of all ages who enjoy classic movies, remember Fred MacMurray as the handsome, affable star of films (mostly at Paramount) during the 1930's and 1940's.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Hi, Rebeca, thanks for commenting. Fred MacMurray was certainly a fine actor, beloved for his TV and Disney roles, but really tops when it came to classic films.

Related Products