On Friday and Saturday nights, Brainerd Road was once the destination for those going out on a date to see a movie. On the northeast corner of Brainerd and Germantown Roads was the Brainerd Cinerama with its extra wide-screen format. “The Sound of Music” was held over week after week during its 1965 engagement at the Cinerama. The Eastgate Theater opened that same year with the Western movie, “Shenandoah,” with Jimmy Stewart and Doug McClure (of the TV Western, “The Virginian”). I made sure that the new theater looked lived-in by spilling my popcorn when my family saw “Shenandoah.” In a corner of Brainerd Village was a small cinema that showed films such as “Return of the Pink Panther” and “Live and Let Die.” Across the street from Brainerd Village, movie-goers had their choice of films and altitudes: the second-story Penthouse Cinema or the first-floor Showcase Cinema.
The Showcase Cinema was developed by Weldon F. Osborne and Osborne Enterprises, which had also constructed shopping centers and offices in East Ridge and the Eastgate area. The Showcase and Penthouse were operated initially by Transcontinental Theaters. The exterior of the building featured illuminated glass and marble, and was said to have a “jewel-like radiation.” Inside, a winding staircase connected the two levels of the theater, and plush red carpet lined the lobby. The downstairs theater included a 50 by 22 foot screen, and a projector which could show 34 or 70mm films, making the Showcase the first to have that capability in the Chattanooga area.
The theaters held their grand opening in 1970, with a musical program presented by the East Ridge High School Band. The first films screened were “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” in the Showcase, and a double-feature of “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” in the Penthouse.
Perhaps the most popular film ever to play at the Showcase was 1973’s “Walking Tall.” By July 4, as many as 65,000 Chattanoogans had paid the $2.50 admission to see the movie. It was based on the life of Buford Pusser, sheriff of McNairy County (if you start with Hamilton County, and count due west 8 counties, that’s McNairy). Sheriff Pusser was a legendary figure from his confrontations with illegal liquor and gambling establishment owners in McNairy County, and received a warm reception when he visited Chattanooga to promote the movie. The Showcase later featured the 1975 and 1977 sequels to “Walking Tall.”
To simplify things, the theaters eventually went by the names “Showcase Cinema I and II.” Over their history, they appear to have struggled to get the blockbuster movies of the day. For instance, the 1975 mega-hit, “Jaws,” was shown at Eastgate. The Showcase got 1977’s “Star Wars” as a second-run feature in 1978. Still, there were several movies which filled the Showcase theaters, and others which are remembered fondly even if they didn’t appeal to everyone. Here’s a sampling of what was playing at the Showcase in the 1970’s. How many of you were in the audience?
1971 – Summer of ’42
1972 – The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight
1973 - Soylent Green (if you were too young to be admitted to Walking Tall, you could get into this sci-fi movie in the upstairs theater)
1974 – The Way We Were
1975 – Funny Lady
1976 – Murder by Death
1977 – Nickelodeon
1978 – Coming Home
1979 - Superman
Competition from new theaters at Hamilton Place Mall began to affect the Brainerd-area cinemas in 1987. The Showcase cinemas, which had been acquired by the Carmike theater chain, offered second-run movies at a budget price of $1.50. However, the screens would glow no more after the Sept. 7, 1989 showings of “Karate Kid III” and “Ghostbusters II.” The Brainerd Cinerama, Eastgate Theater, and Brainerd Village Theater similarly went dark. Today, the building which housed the Showcase Cinemas is used by a tool retailer.
If you have memories of the Showcase Cinemas, please send me an e-mail at email@example.com.