Downtown Drama

seeing Harrison Ford in downtown Eau Claire

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Michelle Roberts

In the year 1990, I broke the law. Kind of. Well, maybe I broke the law. Actually, maybe I didn’t break the law. OK, after some quick research I’ve realized that in 1990, I didn’t actually break any kind of law. But so what? Back when I was 13 years old, I thought I broke the law, and that made all the difference.

Here’s what I did: I got into an R-rated movie before I was old enough. Sure, it’s not shoplifting or graffiti or influencing the democratic elections of a competing nation, but if you were raised in a Catholic school setting in Wisconsin, it felt bad. Which is to say it felt good. The movie? Presumed Innocent staring Han Solo Harrison Ford. The plot? Here’s what IMDB has to say:

Presumed Innocent, like most of director Alan J. Pakula’s films is a complex character study. The courtroom murder mystery tells the story of prosecutor Rusty Sabich (Harrison Ford) who is accused of murdering his former mistress, the beautiful and ambitious Carolyn Whocares blah, blah, bippity boppity blah.

Yes kids, this was before the Internet, back when preteens had to pay $4.25 (plus snacks) and sit through two hours (and seven minutes) of courtroom murder mystery to see, like, 30 seconds of nudity. And I’ve never looked at Indiana Jones the same way again. 

I had no idea what was going on in this movie, and I didn’t care. My friend, who had recently (and sheepishly) admitted to sneaking into R movies on a regular basis, had convinced me to do it. He assured me the older kids at the ticket booth wouldn’t even bother to check our age, and if they did, we could just ... lie.

He was a genius.

We walked into the theater, and a few tense moments later, I was standing in line for popcorn, my sweaty hand wrapped around my ticket. The whole affair was disappointingly easy.

Tucked into our seats, as the lights went down, my friend told me the reason he’d wanted to see this particular movie was because it had a nude scene – one where Han Solo Harrison Ford has some hot lawyer sex with some lady. And sure enough – that’s what we saw.

Yes kids, this was before the Internet, back when preteens had to pay $4.25 (plus snacks) and sit through two hours (and seven minutes) of courtroom murder mystery to see, like, 30 seconds of nudity. 

And I’ve never looked at Indiana Jones the same way again.

But man, was I on a high after seeing that movie. Breaking the law! Nudity! Courtroom drama! We walked home to my friend’s house through the cool night air, discussing how mind-blowing it was that Harrison Ford’s wife was the killer. (By the way, Harrison Ford’s wife was the killer.) I’ll never forget that twist at the end. And I’ll never forget the time I thought I broke a law. I felt so grown up. It had peeked behind a curtain to find the grownups not paying attention. They were too busy. Or they just didn’t care.

All of this happened at the Hollywood Theater in downtown Eau Claire, which has since been converted into a large church. Because ... irony. I really miss that place and its lax admissions staff. I’ve got a lot of good memories from the Hollywood. I can remember my mom taking me there to see Disney movies in the middle of a summer afternoon. My Dad took me there to see the Lone Ranger. I freaked out while watching E.T. there. (Why’s E.T. in the big metal coffin, Mom? Why!?) And as I grew older, it was one of the places I went to be independent and do stuff all on my own.

I wish I could say I took my first date there, but as you might guess, I’m a big dorky geek and didn’t do anything like that until well after the Hollywood had closed down. But all the same, it’s a part of my childhood and teen years. At least the exterior has remained largely unaltered, and I can relieve those thrilling days of yesteryear when I took advantage of a lazy, teenaged ticket taker to see Harrison Ford kissing a half naked lady. Those were the days, my friends.

Those were the days.