Noshing Through Noir At The Ascot

March 7th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

At 13 years of age HG was a busy little guy. Following after- school punchball or association football, HG would cruise Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx and help the shopping women. “Carry your bundle, Lady?” said endearing HG and this meant trudging, while heavily laden with shopping bags, up five stories of an apartment house for a nickel or dime tip. A parental allowance was beneath HG’s dignity. HG had to hustle in order to indulge in HG’s Saturday afternoon aesthetic and culinary treat. This was the double feature at the tiny Ascot Theater on the Grand Concourse. HG would pick up some chunks of dry, garlic salami (“a nickel a shtickel”) at the Tower Delicatessen plus two sour dill pickles at a neighboring “appetizing” store (these pickles were plucked fresh from a barrel). Armed with food and a pack of war-time Rameses cigarettes (yes, HG was a smoker even then, a habit he cultivated for some 50 years), HG lounged (and nibbled and smoked) in a balcony seat and succumbed to the joys of European cinema. The Ascot played only art films, mostly French and Russian (and the occasional American film like John Ford’s The Informer.) HG was enthralled by the French “noir” movies starring Jean Gabin (Port of Shadows, La Bete Humaine). Gabin was HG’s favorite movie hero and HG was gratified to learn that Gabin, during World War Two, left a brief Hollywood career (and a blazing romance with Marlene Dietrich) to join the Free French army and fight with the Allies in North Africa. He won the Medaille Militaire and Croix de Guerre and was part of the first contingent to enter liberated Paris. HG’s two favorite films that he watched at the Ascot were Le Grande Illusion (directed by Jean Renoir and starring Gabin) and aforementioned The Informer (starring Victor McLaglen playing “Gypo Nolan.”). HG still recalls Gypo’s last words in the film: “Frankie, your mother forgives me!!”

Years later the Ascot stopped showing art films and devolved into a house of pornography which did not last for long. At last glance the glamorous Ascot was subdivided into a variety of retail spaces while retaining vestiges of its lovely terra cotta facade. In 1988 the writer Avery Corman wrote a nice piece about this stretch of Grand Concourse for the New York Times. It is still relevant today.

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