Back in Time at the Artcraft

Bogart’s brooding voice poured through the speakers: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine,” and I got chills. Hearing those famous words, and many more, coming from the screen of a 1920’s era theater was the closest I’ve ever come to movie-viewing perfection.

Be prepared to fall in love with the Artcraft Theater the instant you walk in the door. Staffed by volunteers who clearly have a passion for what they’re doing, the theater is beautifully lit from the outside with marquee lights and decorated inside like a 1920s vaudeville house.

I counted down the days until I could see Casablanca for the first time on the big screen. I love the movie, and couldn’t wait to watch it in a theater that looked the same when the film was first released in 1942. Tickets at the theater, only $5, have to be bought in advanced because most of the shows sell out. The theater plays only classics, and each year the lineup for films is highly anticipated.

Franklin's historic Artcraft Theater shows classic movies on Fridays and Saturdays in downtown Franklin.

Everything about the Artcraft is beautiful, from bold signs pointing to popcorn and bathrooms, and to the red, satiny walls. Even the bathrooms are elegant; the entrance to the the women’s has lit mirrors and small stools left over from the days of powdered noses.

Before the movies, volunteers give away raffle prizes and show a classic cartoon, as the line for popcorn and candy snakes around the front of the theater. From the moment the cartoon started, and Tweety and Sylvester scrambled around the screen, I was thrown back to that time. We were immersed in Rick and Ilsa’s world.

The Artcraft, built in 1922 in Franklin, is not great just for it’s beauty and authentic feel, but for the atmosphere the audience provides. Hundreds of people packed into the building’s huge theater laughed at the right moments, as Captain Renault condemned gambling while collecting his winnings, and gasped at the right moments: when Peter Lorre is shot.

Watching movies has become an individual, home-based pass-time, but the Artcraft reminded me of how theaters enhance a film. I have never appreciated the humor of Casablanca or the suspense of Raiders of the Lost Ark until I was seated with hundreds of fans howling in laughter or frozen on the edges of their seats.

Sitting in the Artcraft, watching a movie from the 1940s, made me feel like I was in a movie from the 1940s. As events fade to the past, they feel less real and more like fictional stories, but the Artcraft brings that past back to life and throws you in the middle of it. I almost expected the movie to begin with a news reel.

The Artcraft is operated by a nonprofit group, Franklin Heritage, and plays movies on Fridays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The theater is also open for live events.