After several years of “meaning to go” to the Cinema Museum in Kennington, I went to last night’s screening of Bad Day at Black Rock. What a wonderful place the Cinema Museum is but possibly not for much longer.

The landlord is the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and it is planning to sell to a developer. Losing the museum would be a tragedy. This dispiriting affair fits in with the loss of the Carnegie Library and threats to Dulwich Hamlet. There’s a petition to save the museum here.


The building itself was once the Lambeth Workhouse. Inside is a collection of cinema equipment, lobby cards and posters. In the winter, they use a small, easy to heat screening room downstairs. Upstairs though is the most beautiful room. Old time music playing, high and comforting brick walls, a barrel-like ceiling and chequered table cloths. The bar was a table with a bewildering selection of bottled beers (I went for the Guinness Dublin Porter) and the cafe offered coffee, tea and snacks. It's also the summer screening room.

bar kennington cinema museum

Bad Day at Black Rock is a gripping, grown-up movie from the mid-50s. The opening shots show a train hurtling through desert, before it slows and stops at a no-horse town. Off gets Spencer Tracey, black suited and without the use of one arm. He gets an unfriendly reception from a lean and mean Lee Marvin and a boorishly nasty Ernest Borgnine. Robert Ryan bides his time while we start to learn what the town’s dirty little secret is. Among those who have turned a blind eye are Dean Jagger, superb as a drunk and tame sheriff and Walter Brennan’s Doc, who has the best line; “I’m consumed with apathy”.

The film is one that’s always topical. John Ericson’s hotel manager – straying into spoiler territory here – says “We were all drunk. Patriotic drunk”. Bad Day at Black Rock is a liberal movie but it’s taut and tough not bleeding-hearted.

Two criticisms would be an unsubtle musical score and the single female role, played by Anne Francis, being underwritten.

The museum’s programme to the end of the year includes a few gems, including several with strong female parts. The regular film noir slot on 12 December is the very twisted Nightmare Alley. Tyrone Power stars alongside Joan Blondell, Coleen Grey and Helen Walker.

Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes is on the next day, with Dame May Whitty’s Miss Froy and Basil Radford and Naughton Wayne’s cricket-obsessed Charters and Caldicott among the passengers. The sparky leads are Margaret Lockwood and Michel Redgrave.

Then on 27 December, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis bring their real life feud to the screen in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. It's heaps of fun in a grand guignol sort of way.

There's more info here.

kennington cinema museum

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