Though most of us think of the Palace Theatre as a venue offering up mostly family-friendly entertainment, there was a time when the management was willing to show something a little more daring.
It was 1974 and The Exorcist was causing a stir all over the country. The film, based on the bestseller by William Peter Blatty, concerns the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl. Even more disturbing, the events depicted in both the book and film are reputedly based on actual events. Even after almost four decades, the film still has the power to shock:
In the middle of the controversy was Mr. Hatch, and one can sympathize with the tough position he was in. The film was, after all, already a blockbuster, and he stood to make money by showing the film. (According to Todd Berliner’s 2010 book Hollywood Incoherent: Narration in Seventies Cinema, the film was the third highest grossing movie of the 1970s. Only Star Wars and Jaws earned more money.) Of course, Mr. Hatch also must have felt a great amount of pressure not to show the film: The petition presented to Marion City Council had an estimated 8,000 signatures.
In the end, it seems Mr. Hatch decided to go ahead and run the film since a number of Marionites remember seeing it there. Ironically, because of the film’s terrifying portrayal of the devil, it may have actually caused an increase in the number of people turning up at church around that time. As Mary Ann Grimes Witt puts it, “My brother, Al Grimes, saw it at the Palace. I remember he came home and was so moved by the movie [that] he re-found his religion that day!”