In some 500 bars, restaurants and servicemen's clubs throughout the U.S., the center of attention these days is a monstrous new machine called Scopitone. It is a cross between a jukebox and TV. For $.25 a throw, Scopitone projects any one of 36 musical movies on a 26-in. screen, flooding the premises with delirious color and hi-fi scooby-ooby-doo for three whole minutes. It makes a sobering combination.
Scopitone, which has been the rage of France for the past four years, was invented by a firm that sounds as if it had been founded by Jules Verne; Compagnie d'Applications Mecaniques à Electronique au Cinéma et à Atomistique (CAMECA). Since then it has spread from Marseilles to Macao; Nikita Khrushchev even has one, loaded with Marxian uplift featurettes. Actually, Scopitone's "musies" are descended from U.S. Soundies, which during World War II filled bus terminals and B-girl grottoes with grainy, black-and-white productions of The Flat Foot Floogee with the Floy Floy and A Boy in Khaki, a Girl in Lace. Television and Lucky Strike's Hit Parade put a merciful end to Soundies, but it looks as if Scopitone will be here to stay awhile.
Rights to Scopitone for the U.S. and South and Central America were snapped up for $5,000 last year by Alvin I. Malnik, 31, a Miami Beach attorney, who will soon start distributing machines manufactured in Chicago. He already has installed them in New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas and dozens of military bases, and has a backlog of 2,500 orders. If Malnik has his way, every public place from the hoitiest cocktail lounge to the toitiest pizza parlor will be swinging to musies, all of which are eventually to be produced by Malnik himself. Meanwhile, Scopitone screens are filled by French films. One typical Gallic offering, El Gato Montés, captures the jollity of the annual Pamplona fiesta with trumpet playing, flamenco dancing and the shrieks of small boys being gored by rampaging bulls in the streets.
The production possibilities of Scopitone films make their promoter sound like Cecil B. DeMalnik. "Take Hello, Dolly! " he says, eyes moist with enthusiasm. "Maybe we'd have an actress getting down from a train in a little hick town, and, you know, she's Dolly coming back—I really don't know the rest of the words—but then there'd probably be some people meeting her, dancing along. There's just no end to the storybook film devices we can prepare." Just for a start, he might try My Funny Ballantine, Tea for Tuborg, and Music to Cry in Your Beer By.