A sultry-eyed woman points a gun at her lover. A cute blonde tosses her locks and squirms in mock-ecstasy at a restaurant table. And a black-haired beauty charges into the sunset in search of her departed lover.
Audiences in Cripple Creek this Valentine’s Day will have what she is having — better yet, what they all are having. The crowd might not stare down a barrel at Humphrey Bogart, make Billy Crystal blush or chase after an errant Clark Gable, but they’ll get the next best, vicarious thing: Watching all three scenes unfold for free in a mini-marathon of romance movies at the Butte Theater in Cripple Creek this Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Winter is the slow season for the old Butte, theater manager Mel Moser said.
Moser, who acted in the small theater’s melodrama troupe in the 1980s, likes to give residents chances to visit the renovated theater during the offseason, so he planned the classics in honor of Valentine’s Day. He begins the mini-festival on Thursday night with one of his personal favorites, “Casablanca,” in which an elegant Ingrid Bergman encounters a long-lost love, Bogart, on the sandy streets of World War II-era Morocco.
“Ingrid Bergman is so great,” Moser said. “She talks so much without saying a word. That scene where she pulls a gun on him!”
Moser hopes to lure younger audiences Friday night with the romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally,” starring Meg Ryan and Crystal; Saturday night’s movie-goers will be in for the long haul, as Moser will show “Gone with the Wind,” the melodramatic Civil War tear-jerker with Vivian Leigh and Gable.
At intermission Saturday, Moser wants to coax some of the couples in the audience to share their own “meet-cutes” — the first meeting of lovers, in Hollywood lingo.
Moser also will pay homage to the Butte’s history as a movie house — which ended a few years ago. The city once paid big money to buy reels from production companies and bring them to Cripple Creek, he said.
Built in 1898, the theater is one of the few survivors from Cripple Creek’s turn-of-the-century days when the opera house provided a high-society alternative to the risque carousing at the infamous Lyric Opera in town.
In later years, the Butte on Bennett Avenue fell into disrepair, until it was bought by the city of Cripple Creek, which had plans to turn it into a firehouse. But when crews started to dismantle the old theater, they found that drama and acting were more deeply ingrained in the building than they thought — within the walls they found old theater programs, and the decision was made to bring the theater back to life.
In May 2000, the Butte had its 21st century grand opening, after Steve Mackin decided to make it home of a classic melodrama troupe in honor of his mother, Dorothy Mackin, whose Imperial Players called Cripple Creek home in the 1940s and 1950s.
From 2002 to 2005, the theater had an old-time projector that played films reel-by-reel, Moser said. The crowds for those $5 movie nights were always modest, around 15 to 20 people, Moser added.
The Butte has never been much of moneymaking enterprise for the city, he admitted.
“They do lose money,” he said. “It’s something the city does to offset gambling.”
But getting reels from production companies proved too expensive. Today, the projector is more an artifact than functional machine, and Moser plans to show the weekend’s movies using a DVD projector, he said. The movies are free because it’ll spare his budget, he said.
“If you don’t charge, you don’t have to pay fees,” he explained.
All the same, Moser said people remember fondly the days when the Butte functioned as a regular theater all through the winter. So the fest of Valentine’s films might provide a walk down memory lane for Cripple Creek residents, in more ways than one.
Contact Ryan Maye Handy: