In the heyday of drive-ins, audiences used to be treated to short, entertaining ads – known as intermission commercials. Intermission commercials, also known as intermission ads, drive-in commercials, drive-in ads, or PSAs, were mostly used to tempt audiences to visit the concession stands, for treats like spiced pickles or mosquito repellent. Intermission commercials are also sometimes called intermission snipes, when the short film encourages the audience to do something, like “be quiet” or “take off your hat”.
The first known intermission commercial was for Admiral Cigarettes (1897), directed by William Heise, a noteworthy and prolific director who produced hundreds of short films in the late 1800s. Filmack Studios was founded in 1919, with journalist Irving Mack. Theatrical snipes were Filmack Studio’s bread-and-butter, with the production company producing thousands of ‘policy snipes’, asking audiences to be quiet or take off their hats. Some other noteworthy intermission commercial studios include National Screen Service (NSS) and Pike Productions.
The RetroFilm Vault public domain archives serve as a time capsule, offering a glimpse into the glory days of intermission commercials
10 Must-See Intermission Commercials
Chilly Dilly Pickle Ad (1950s)
Nothing quite like a trip to the concession stand for some golden buttered popcorn, some Sno Caps, a tub of soda, and, you know, A GIANT KOSHER PICKLE!
“Chilly. Dilly. Spiced just right for every bite. Economical, too! There’s no waste – you eat every bit of the juicy goodness when you eat Chilly Dilly!” intones a square-sounding announcer, like some outtake from a Ren & Stimpy skit.
The version of Chilly Dilly Pickle Ad in the public domain has been cleaned up drastically, removing excess magenta pigmentation and limiting the audio, for a more even viewing experience.
Collisions are Costly, Go Slow PSA (1950s)
Commercials for snack food weren’t the only intermission entertainment in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. Drive-ins also featured short educational films, like the kind you’d be shown in school, commonly referred to as Public Service Announcements, or PSAs.
Collisions Are Costly. Go Slow is the mild-mannered, PG-rated cousin of classic educational traffic films like Blood On The Asphalt, which terrorized generations with its gory, splattery antics. Collisions Are Costly. Go Slow. It did help usher in a generation of responsible drivers, nonetheless.
J Pic Advertisement (mosquito repellent) (1950s)
The J Pic mosquito repellent ad features all of the best things about intermission commercials – cute, clever cartoons, in a classy retro ‘50s style, that’s as much Tom And Jerry as The Jetsons; site-specific advertisement; featuring couples at the drive-in, using the Pic mosquito repellent. Pic seems kind of deadly, somewhere between a heating element and a citronella candle that they used to sell at drive-in concession stands. The Pic Mosquito Repellent advertisement features the voice-over “”a pleasant aroma for you… but NOT for mosquitos.” Pic mosquito coils are still available, although the pic mosquito repellent intermission commercial is long gone. A stone-cold, under-appreciated classic drive-in ad, surely one of the most essential intermission commercials of all time!
Keep Quiet During the Movie (1950s)
Keep Quiet During The Movie might be the most relevant intermission ads in the public domain, as we have even more distractions vying for our attention than we did in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Keep Quiet During The Movie is a wonderful example of a “snipe” – short films intended to influence the audience’s behavior in some way. Snipes have been around for nearly as long as movies have, with early filmmakers like D. W. Griffith making short films instructing people to take off their hats during the movie. While we might not have to tell people to take off their stovepipe hats during a matinee, these days, Keep Quiet During The Movie’s message is as timely and as relevant as ever.
Let’s All Go To The Lobby (1953)
A marching soda; a dancing bucket of popcorn; a saucy box of candy and a smooth candy bar are some of the most iconic characters of 20th Century Cinema.
Let’s All Go To The Lobby is the best known of the intermission commercials in the public domain. Created in 1953 by the Chicago-based Filmack Studios. Let’s All Go To The Lobby has been referenced and parodied from The Simpsons to Late Night With David Letterman, becoming so well-known and influential it was inducted into the Library Of Congress’ National Film Registry in 2000.
Let’s All Go To The Lobby was animated by Don Fleischer, who would go on to acclaim as for legendary Golden Age animation like Popeye, Superman, and Betty Boop. Speaking on Let’s All Go To The Lobby, film historian Daniel Egan comments on some of the short film’s timeless allure in his book America’s Film Legacy “with its simple, repetitive lyrics and streamlined animation, Let’s All Go to the Lobby has a hypnotic pull that is as compelling today as it was fifty years ago.”
Let’s All Go To The Lobby has produced countless knock-offs, including from warped imagination of filmmaker Don Herzfeld.
Moms, Get Dinner Here (1950s)
Housewives in the 1950s were a busy lot – cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids, looking great, and starting to fight their way towards equality. Sometimes, it would be just too much to find the time to make dinner, as well. Moms, Get Dinner Here is an intermission commercial in the public domain encouraging Moms to pick up dinner at the concession stand. Hearkens back to a time when you could get more than just popcorn at nachos at the concession stand, with “delicious sandwiches with all the trimmings, and all your other dinner favorites, plus whatever you want to drink, hot or cold,” as noted by the narrator. Moms’ CAN do it all, when the concession stand has their back!
Popcorn and Refreshment Commercial (1950s)
This Popcorn And Refreshment intermission ad might be the most blatant snipe of all time.
The good folks of Good Clothes Cost Less, New Castle Wrecking Company, Royal Trailers, and Maher Tire and Battery Service were thinking outside of the box with this gem. True to its title, Tap Dance features two beautiful young vixens tap dancing, while the names of the advertisers scroll beneath. Tap Dance is an early intermission commercial, silent with a musical accompaniment.
Tex Rides Again (concession ad) (1950s)
Featuring stylish retro animation, some vintage Western worship, and more heavy handed exposition than you can shake a Twizzler at. It’s also a clever early version of breaking the fourth wall, when Tex crashes through the screen to beat the crowd to the concession stand.
Young Lovers Ad (1950s)
Vintage intermission commercials weren’t only focused on what someone should do, they also hinged on what the audience shouldn’t do. This intermission commercial, Young Lovers ad, is done in a classic 1950s style, all polka dots and light, exotic jazz – humbly beseeching young lovers to get a room and not distract the other movie goers. “We’re glad the love bug has caught up with you! But… we must insist that you do not allow his bite to effect your conduct while in this theater,” warns the PSA. “Public display of affections will not be tolerated here. ‘Nuff said!” Strong words from the management, indeed.