Cagney Under the Stars!

Imagine you’re at the drive-in, watching a war picture, and James Cagney pulls up in the space next to you.

That’s what happens in this memorable scene from White Heat (1949). Cody Jarrett (Cagney), on the lam with Ma Jarrett (Margaret Wycherly) and his wife, Verna (Virginia Mayo), after shooting a police detective, eludes the cop in hot pursuit by making a quick right turn into the San-Val drive-in as the police siren recedes into the distance.

The theatre’s marquee touts a double feature of South of St. Louis (1949) and Siren of Atlantis (1949), but the movie actually seen on the screen as Cody and Co. settle in to discuss their plans is Task Force (1949), starring Gary Cooper and Jane Wyatt.

We enjoyed seeing the uniformed attendants offering peanuts and popcorn and placing the speaker just so in the passenger-side window. We couldn’t help but wonder just how many such attendants the San-Val employed on a busy Saturday night back in 1949 (if, in fact, it employed any attendants; it’s possible that was a creative touch added by the producers of the picture)

Burbank’s San-Val, the second drive-in ever built in California, opened in 1938 (the first, called The Drive-in Theatre, opened for business in 1934 at 10850 W. Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles) and was shuttered in the mid-1970s. The theatre, which originally had a capacity of 590 cars (it later accommodated more than 800 cars), was located at 2720 Winona Avenue, at the confluence of Winona, Naomi Street and San Fernando Road. An office building housing a number of movie production and effect houses now occupies the spot.

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