The New York cinema projectionist (Chuck McCann) enjoys his solitary existence in his projection booth; occasionally breaking out of one of his many daydreams to cue the next reel of film. When he’s not daydreaming of being in one of the many film he’s seen, he’s looking at the photos on his wall of the Hollywood greats and impersonating their characters.
His solitude is only occasionally broken by a quick visit from his friendly usher friend (Harry Hurwitz) and they enjoy a cigarette together. The projectionist recounts to the usher a surprise meeting with a beautiful girl (Ina Balin) in the street, but he is never able to finish his story because Renaldi (Rodney Dangerfield), the manager, enters.
Renaldi is an unkind disciplinarian who makes his ushers stand to attention before giving them a verbal dressing-down. He tells the friendly usher to get out of the booth and not go back in there, but the projectionist is safe from Renaldi because of his union membership.
The projectionist returns to his daydreams where he is Captain Flash as he battles to protect the girl he had earlier met from the evil Renaldi. Renaldi has now become the arch-criminal known as The Bat.
Another friend in the cinema is the elderly Czechoslovakian candy man who is ordered by Renaldi to keep all the candies in the display case in order. The candy man tells the projectionist of his younger days in Czechoslovakia when he was a movie star in the 1930’s. He is played by Jára Kohout who was a real life Czechoslovakian film star of those times. He recounts how he was able to escape to the West dressed as a chicken.
After the cinema has closed for the evening, the projectionist walks the downtown New York streets, meets acquaintances and looks through the magazines in an adult shop – always fueling his daydreams and fantasies.
This daydreams become more a battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as he becomes more engrossed with saving the girl from the evil clutches of The Bat. These dreams become inter-cut with real life harrowing footage of war atrocities.
As dawn breaks the projectionist returns to his ridiculously small apartment, which is plastered with movie posters. He lies down on his sofa-bed to watch the TV and gets lost in his thoughts of an advertisement for torture equipment.
At dusk, he leaves his apartment to return to the solitude of his projection booth, still fantasizing about the girl and battling the evil Renaldi The Bat.
This is a great film, especially for movie buffs as it incorporates real clips from films such as noirs, silent movies, old science fictions, and movie trailers. The clips of Captain Flash and the projectionist as a film noir character are interlaced amongst these original clips in such away that they are perfectly matched.
Chuck McCann as the projectionist is excellent at imitating the characters from the different genres, as well as his vocal imitations of the stars in the photos on the projection booth wall. McGann is a great actor, and it would be of no surprise that he has gone on to having a successful career including having his own show. With his talent for voices, he has done voice-overs for many cartoons.
One movie great Chuck McCann is excellent at mimicking is Oliver Hardy, which led to him appearing as him for the Standard Oil commercials of the 1970’s. As an avid Laurel and Hardy fan, he was one of the co-founders for the appreciation society devoted to their memory known as The Sons of the Desert.
They are all great actors in this film, but another one who stands out is Rodney Dangerfield as Renaldi / The Bat. He would go on to have a successful career as a comedian and would later discover Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, and Roseanne amongst others.
Directed by Harry Hurwitz, who would make a number of low budget, but entertaining underground films. He was a huge fan of Charles Chaplain and there is one great scene in The Projectionist where the projectionist first courts the girl on a park bench and then later walks off with her arm in arm. Chuck McCann has the movements of Chaplain done perfectly for both these scenes.
It’s not surprising when watching this that Hurwitz was a professor of film. These days with DVD and video, researching the material is so easy, but back in the early 70’s you would have to be extremely lucky to have access to such a large selection of material. Many of Hurwitz’s films have dealt with film and cinema.