Although "Saturday Night..." had already been on television a few years, I had actually first discovered Elwy by way of his serialized weeknight show, "Magic Shadows" (see my review). So, when I was old enough to stay up late on Saturday nights (or for that matter, strong enough to wrestle the TV away from my babysitter's Saturday night staples of (ick) "Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island"), I was thusly introduced into an even broader spectrum of movie-making.
Even more, between and after the two films (which were often paired as themes for studying genres, directors, actors, or social matters), we were greeted to a "who's who" of movieland- interviews conducted by Yost correlating to the films at hand. In his annual pilgrimage to Hollywood, Elwy had the good fortune to interview stars, directors, writers and technicians from Hollywood's golden age before they had passed on. For that matter, he also sat down for conversations with some of the young lions who were then making names for themselves in the present-day movie world.
Southern Ontario viewers never had a better crash course in cinema than they would get with this weekly show. Elwy took you increasingly further into the magic of the movies, and you came away with much more substance than that thin "Entertainment Tonight" pap that passes itself for TV journalism these days. He would take us out to see how those bullet holes in THE WILD BUNCH got made, behind the scenes for the stop motion animation of THE LOST WORLD (1960), or he would check in on an editor hunched over a Moviola. While you would turn on knowing who Henry Fonda or Bette Davis were, you would leave also learning about Preston Sturges, Franklin Pangborn, Nunnally Johnson, Powell & Pressburger, or Sven Nykvist... to name only a few out of hundreds.
Still, it is important to note that Elwy was more than just a host-- he was a surrogate friend on the other end of the cathode ray tube. With his warm demeanour and natural gift for storytelling, he emerged as more than simply a well-read scholar, he was first and foremost a fan. Through Elwy you were introduced to films without bias or reservation. Whether his films of the week were Ingmar Bergman, or Dorothy Lamour sarong pictures, it ALL mattered. And with his wide-eyed enthusiasm, he was eager to share it with you. Needless to say, we eagerly took it all in.
In 1999, Elwy Yost had left the show. His retirement was certainly well deserved, but he left a long shadow to be filled. Nonetheless, Shelagh Rogers, to our delight, was a fine replacement (I believe, hand-picked by Mr. Yost)- an affable, knowledgeable host, with a wonderfully game approach to the material. However, (if my memory serves) after one year she had to leave the show out of commitments with the CBC. And for years, the program remained without a host. Simply, screens with typeface would introduce the films, and even the newer interviews appeared to be faceless (as the offscreen interviewer never seemed to have any kind of presence). Now there is a new host, delivering the exact same introduction before both films on the bill, whose monologues are with big words and no panache.
Even so, after thirty-odd years, "Saturday Night at the Movies" remains the best date on television.
Before I go, I want to share this with you. In 1989, I had the honour and privilege of meeting Mr. Yost and his wife Lila on the subway. This was even a bigger treat because that season, he -tried- to lighten his work load (introducing only one film on Saturday Night, and then Jay Scott's "Film International" would fill the second slot), and thusly wasn't in Toronto as much. (However he was back the following year, working full time.) So for the duration of about ten subway stops, I managed to talk cinema with Elwy and his wife (and they are a team by the way- no "celebrity-and-spouse" business here), and amusingly enough, he was amazed at how many films a young guy like myself had seen. (He hadn't yet seen Murnau's THE LAST LAUGH!!)
So, as I got out at my subway stop and walked down the platform, Mr. Saturday Night went by on the subway car, doing his trademark wave that ended his show every week, and I had tears in my eyes.