WITH his enviable knowledge of films and the cinema, John Cohen says he could be described as an “anorak.”
But the term seems far too derogatory for someone who is not only fascinating to chat with but who also has an endless repertoire of facts and anecdotes about the big screen.
That’s why his new venture will charm anyone who has a passion for films - Joan Collins and Bill Kenwright are fans - especially the ones of yesteryear.
Lost Treasures of the Odeons is the culmination of a lifetime of compiling listings of films, the details of their release and their television transmission dates.
This passion has given John a unique knowledge of those films which are “lost” - ie those that made it to the big screen never to be seen again or those that did have a television outing but have not been seen for two decades or more.
And as John himself says, you’d be surprised at how many fall into this category.
“Why are films forgotten?” he asks.
“You do wonder how it has been allowed to happen. It seems that works of art and literature have champions that fight to preserve them but why is it that film is not so highly regarded?”
It’s something he finds perplexing because after all, there are more television channels than ever before and people are living longer so surely there must be an appetite and audience for old films?
Flicking through John’s book, I can almost taste the Butterkist and Kia-Ora orange juice (in its iconic square, plastic cartoon with the straw that made a loud pop.)
Seeing titles I loved, I have to agree with John that it seems unbelievable some have vanished into almost obscurity.
After all many of them involve stellar casts with names that are now household, legendary even.
Richard Burton, Romy Schneider, Randolph Scott, Alan Ladd, Olivia de Havilland, Clark Gable, James Mason, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Ronald Reagan. The list goes on.
“You look at a film like The Nightcomers, directed by Michael Winner and starring Marlon Brando and you wonder why that has never been shown on television,” he says.
“It was the prequel to The Turn of The Screw and released in 1972 but we’ve heard nothing of it since.
“Some films that have virtually disappeared will not be good of course. Some might be awful but they are still interesting,” he laughs.
He gives as one example, a film called Candy where the cast list included Brando again, Richard Burton, Walter Matthau and Ringo Starr.
“How could those names not attract a sizeable audience?”
He also ponders over Sincerely Yours, a Warner Brothers colour musical which has not been seen for more than half a century. The film starred Liberace as a concert pianist with Joanne Dru and Dorothy Moore competing for his affections.
“You’d think that would command an audience, if not for its very awfulness,” he says.
John, a retired teacher, is a familiar face to audiences at Halifax Playhouse. His connection with Halifax Thespians began about 10 years ago when the company was looking to cast Noel Coward’s classic Present Laughter. He made his debut in the role of Garry Essendine. Since then he has directed productions for the company, including Nightmare.
A former Butlin’s Redcoat (based at Skegness), he is also an acting member of various other theatrical and musical societies and recently he has directed for Ilkley Playhouse and Bingley Little Theatre, as well as for Huddersfield’s Laurence Batley Theatre.
But his passion for cinema began as a young boy, reveals John, who now lives in Mirfield.
“It was a regular thing for us to go to the cinema three times a week, a weekly visit was rare. I often wonder where my mother got the money from,” he says.
“She would meet my sister and me from school with sandwiches for eating inside the cinema - it saved on the cost of a cafe.”
John recalls sitting through the second feature, a screening of Jennifer in 1954, a film starring husband and wife Howard Duff and Ida Lupino, telling of the ghostly presence of the deceased Jennifer in a large, rambling country house.
“I’d just been issued with my latest sandwich as the film reached its end, I was prepared for the lights and the interval but not the film’s final twist. Suddenly there was shadow of the ghostly Jennifer, accompanied by a blast of ear-splitting, dramatic music. I jumped so violently, I flung the sandwich over my shoulder.”
The idea for the book came about while browsing through his film lists.
“I have kept lists from the earliest and have literally shoe-boxes full. I’m what you’d call an anorak. But I didn’t just want the shoeboxes to just end up in the re-cycling bin. I just hope the book will have appeal to any film nostalgists and anyone who loves old films,” he says.
As a result, John has presented the films in alphabetical order and each one has been brought to life by its accompanying illustration - the cinema advertising poster of the day. John has also added snippets of information about the releases, as well as included personal recollections about many of the films and information about their production and those who starred in them.
This makes Lost Treasures of the Odeons (its name cheekily inspired by the 1954 Lost Treasure of the Amazon starring Fernando Lamas and Rhonda Fleming) a treasure in itself.
And the book is already attracting critical acclaim from some surprising quarters.
“I sent a copy to Joan Collins who contacted me straight away and said it was fascinating. She was interested in a film called Is Paris Burning starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon and wondered if you could still get copies. I managed to get one for her so she was thrilled.”
And theatre impressario Bill Kenwright has described it as his favourite film-related book.
“His reaction was terrific. Very encouraging,” says John.
l Lost Treasures of the Odeons is now on sale at Fred Wade, Halifax, Sovereign Jeweller’s, Union Street, Halifax, the Rex Cinema, Elland and Halifax Playhouse during box office hours.