No Bogart fan could resist an invitation to drop over for a private screening of "The African Queen." And if Bruce Lee buffs heard you were showing the Kung Fu hero in "Enter the Dragon," they'd surely karate chop a path to your door. Likewise, your living room could become as frolicsome as any High Times convention if you were to pop "Yellow Submarine," and a chance to flash back to the good old Beatles days, on your friends.
You don't always have to go out to the movies - or turn on that teeny-weeny TV screen - to taste a bit of Hollywood. For $20 to $100 or so a film, you can rent almost any feature-length movie and bring home the panache of a private Hollywood screening. How else could Hugh Hefner ever win so many instant friends?
Home-screening possibilities are endless. Bugs Bunny and "Spanky and Our Gang" for kids' birthdays. Perhaps a naughty taste of X-rated to celebrate the end of someone's bachelorhood? Or how about an evening of old horror flicks instead of that dinner party you've been meaning to give. (At last, a safe chance to repay the blabbering bores; they've got to shut up during the movie!)
You can't lose. After all, what theater can beat homemade popcorn ooooooooozing with sweet melted butter? Or ice-cold beer and wine? Why not serve up caviar and champagne as nibbly whatnots to nurse along the evening's entertainment? It is, as they say, one of those classy acts that doesn't require a whole lot of cash. And it's sure to bring rave reviews. Pass the Milk Duds.
But before you toddle out and bring home the accoutrements for home viewing (projectors and screen from a friendly camera store run $15 to $30 and evening), you'd better find a friend with nimble fingers. Like some model kits that swear a handcuffed two-year-old can build the Bismarck in five minutes, projector instructions sometimes lie.
Small snares hurdled, you are now in a position to ring up a local film-rental outfit like Reruns Unlimited in Bethesda, or The Film Center in the District, and take you pick. The National Audio Visual Center, a branch of the National Archives, also has a 10,000-film collection (historical and documentary in 16 mm, produced by or for the federal government, plus slides and tapes) it sells or rents ($7.50 to $17.50 per film) to the public.
But if you're low on cash and willing to wait months, in some cases, to take a hot feature home, a number of area public libraries offer dazzling free film-loan programs. And if your tastes run toward government information and industry propaganda films and you convince Modern Talking Picture Service in the District that you represent some "bonafide group," another 650 titles might become available free.
To rent commercial features, however, Reruns Unlimited, with 125 films to choose from, has the lowest prices in town. As at The Film Center, a Friday rental lets you keep the film all weekend. "Anything's negotiable," says Reruns co-owner Steve Barclay. "If you start renting a lot of stuff, of course the price goes down."
For $35, he can arrange for Alec Guinness and Peter O'Toole to gallop into your living room in "Lawrence of Arabia." For the same price, you can also peek at Dustin Hoffman inside Mrs. Robinson's boudoir in "The Graduate," view Bogie in "The African Queen" and glimpse the Oscar-winning musical "Oliver," with Oliver Reed.
"Cat Ballou," with Lee Marvin and Jane Fonda, will run you $20; two vintage Hitchcock thrillers ("39 Steps" and "Lady Vanishes") are $12.50 apiece. Swashbucklers like "The Count of Monte Cristo" and "The Corsican Brothers," with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., $20 each. And $10 will let you pick from: the Selznick Studios' 1938 version of the "Adventures of Tom Sawyer," the first three episodes of television's "The Lone Ranger" serial (how the masked man came to be the masked man, very camp) or "Lassie's Gift of Love," with John Provost. A 16-mm projector rents for $15; the screen is free.
The Film Center has a wider, if slightly costlier, selection (400 titles that include cartoons, shorts, comedies and religious features). "Jeremiah Johnson," the Disney adventure tale of the burly trapper, rents for $100; "Billy Jack" runs $80; "Deliverance" costs $75, as do "Bonnie and Clyde," "Summer of '42," with Jennifer O'Neill, and "Bullett," with Steve McQueen. And Film Center president Lou Dreyer says he's got plenty of nostalgia: $30 for 90 minutes of the Three Stooges; he's got Laurel and Hardy, Our Gang, Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Donald Duck ($7.50 for eight minutes of cartoons). And for $35 you can take home an army of giant mutated ants ("Them"), a bloodsucker ("The Horror of Dracula," with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee), a haunted house ("The Phantom of the Rue Morgue," with Karl Malden), a human insect ("The Fly," with Vincent Price) or a disfigured madman ("House of Wax"). Thirty-five dollars will also get you an audience with a band of aliens from outer space that smash Washington in "Earth Versus the Flying Saucers."
But if you're willing to take pot luck and wait until Thursday afternoon to order your movie, The Film Center will let you rent most any film for half price.
Among the free film-loan programs, the Prince George's County Library is among the best, with 1,950 films to choose from. From film classics ("Birth of A Nation," "Freaks," "All About Eve," "Frankenstein") to documentaries ("Calder's Circus," "Monterey Pop," "The Blues Accordin' to Lightnin' Hopkins") to the pure entertainment or horror and comedy. You've got to reserve a film two working days ahead. At the last minute, you may find something to roll, but don't plan on snaring any really big shows on a whim. Favorites like "Oklahoma!," "The King and I," "North By Northweat," "Hard Day's Night," "Help," "King of Hearts," Charlie Chaplin classics, the "Roots" TV serial and top foreign films like "Hiroshima, Mon Amour" are reserved months in advance. And "Five Easy Pieces," with Jack Nicholson and Karen Black, says Kent Moore, the library's audio-visual coordinator who has assembled the impressive collection is accounted for every day of the week from now through October. You can plan your weekends two years ahead.