Director Fred Zinnemann was in Los Angeles when From Here To Eternity opened at New York’s Capitol theatre on August 6, 1953. He was a bit worried about an August opening since it was very hot and muggy and the Capitol had no air-conditioning back then. For whatever reason Columbia chief Harry Cohn had decided to open the film quietly. “No premiere, no limousines, nothing,” Zinneman later recalled.

And then Marlene Dietrich, whom Zinnemann barely knew, called from New York at 9 pm Pacific. “She said it was midnight there but the Capitol theatre was bulging,” he said, “and that people were still standing around the block and there was an extra performance starting at one in the morning. ‘How is that possible?,’ Zinneman asked Dietrich. ‘There’s been no publicity!’ And Dietrich said ‘they smell it.'”

What films have opened like this over the last 10 or 15 or 20 years? I’m looking for stories as good as Zinneman’s. Movies that had decent promotion but not massive ad buys or big hoopla or even talk-show tours by stars…but people somehow sensed they had to see them. I remember the first weekend of Silence of the Lambs. Sold-out shows, lines around the block…all of that.

Note: I found Zinneman’s story on page 631 of “Frank: The Voice“, by James Kaplan.