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This has always puzzled me

I realize that this is very far from being an important issue, but–all the same–it is something that has always puzzled me when I watch movies from the '40s, '50s, and '60s:

Why do they always seem to show drivers entering their cars from the passenger side and then proceeding to slide across the seat?

My experience with cars goes back to the '50s, and, except in very rare instances, I don’t recall any drivers in the real world getting into their cars via the passenger side door and then sliding across the seat. The only exceptions I recall were situations where the driver’s door couldn’t be opened as a result of a snowbank or other obstruction.

And, of course, the advent of bucket seats in later years made this type of maneuver almost impossible, but why was this shown as typical behavior in movies of a few decades earlier?

I would hazard a guess that it was equipment-related. Get in on the passenger side and you can shoot it as a locked down tripod shot. Get in on the driver side and the guy has to walk around the car, requiring at minimum a pan/tilt/zoom and probably a dolly shot if you want to make it look good (they didn’t have Steadicams back then, so any time the camera had to move you had to build a dolly track for it to roll on). That would add expense and time to what was really just an establishing shot.

The reason I’m guessing that rather than it being a safety-norm is that some shows show the opposite - the driver opens the driver-side door, lets the girl in, who slides over to the passenger side as the driver gets in. You see that a lot on Andy Griffith. So that eliminates the “it’s the normal safety behavior of that era” idea, but reinforces the “it’s cheaper to shoot it this way” idea.

Hmmm…that does make sense, Shadowfax.
It was likely a case of cheaping out on equipment.

My experience with cars goes back to the '50s, and, except in very rare instances, I don't recall any drivers in the real world getting into their cars via the passenger side door and then sliding across the seat. The only exceptions I recall were situations where the driver's door couldn't be opened as a result of a snowbank or other obstruction.

Lots of cars and trucks in the 50s and prior did not have door locks on the driver’s side so you had no choice but to get in from the passenger side.
For instance, my 52 truck doesn’t have a key on the driver’s side.
It was done because it was deemed saver to get in that way.

“Lots of cars and trucks in the 50s and prior did not have door locks on the driver’s side…”

I had no recollection of this situation, so I decided to page through one of my reference books. And, I found that…to a certain extent…you are correct!

Make by make, here is what I found regarding when driver-side door locks were added to cars:

Chrysler & DeSoto–1941
Dodge & Plymouth–1942
Ford & Mercury–1941
General Motors–It appears that all GM cars had driver-side door locks by 1940–possibly earlier
Hudson–1947
Kaiser-Frazer–1949
Nash–1946
Packard–1947
Studebaker–1947

I suspect that pickup trucks, which were always very bare-bones until recent decades, did not add driver-side door locks until the mid-50s, based on your own truck. After all–if they did not include driver-side sun visors or arm rests, why would they get really extravagant with door locks!
;-))

So–this lock situation does explain this behavior to a great extent, but since I have consistently observed it in connection with cars newer than the ones listed above, I am going to guess that…
…this way of entering cars may have persisted out of habit…
or
…as Shadowfax suggested, it was merely a case of cheaping-out with film equipment.

I asked this same question many years ago. It seems that this was common practice (safety related) whenever a car or truck was parked next to the curb. I’ve even seen people do this when their car was parked in the driveway with the passenger side toward the house. My uncle told me this over forty years ago and he had been driving for about 50 years then.

I often wish it was still this way. I can’t tell you how many times I have encountered people who walk right around their car and wing the door open, oblivious to traffic that has no choice but to pass closely by their parked car. Most of the time they don’t even look before doing it, expecting everyone else to be on the lookout.

@VDCdriver, yeah it could very well be that trucks followed last.
Until I got the truck, I had never owned any vehicle of that era so that’s what I was told after asking the question myself. Sheepishly, I locked myself out and the passender door lock was missing.

In the fifties, cars were being designed with the “step down” floor board. My 57 Olds had this feature, my 55 Chevy did not. Chevy didn’t get that until 58. Pickup trucks still do not have it. It was easy to slide across the seat in the 55, a little harder in the Olds. I do not remember anyone making a practice of this though, except for girls that wanted to sit right next to their boyfriends while cruising on a Friday or Saturday night.

In Minnesota at certain times of the year, you’d be shocked out of your mind sliding across the seat like that. I’ve got to say that I don’t ever recall anyone doing this in the 50s. Luckily by the time I was born all of our cars had locks on both sides but we never locked the doors (or garage even) unless we were driving through downtown Minneapolis.

Reminds me now that back then you had to be careful at stoplights or guys would grab the door handles trying to get in. Then you’d take off and they’d hang on for a while running down the street trying to keep up, then fall off. They only had knives then though, not guns. Of course they still can’t shoot worth a crud.

My late father had an interesting way of getting into the driver’s seat when entering the car from the passenger side door. He would go in head first then do a 3/4 turn and wind up behind the steering wheel without sliding across the seat. He was over 6 feet tall and athletic. I could never duplicate his method. This was back in the days when cars had bench seats and column shift transmissions.

If I tried that in my Versa I’d be injured in a most unpleasant way.

in the movies it could have been a tactic to save time

Well, I grew yp in the 40s and 50s and I never noticed that. Nor in the movies, for that matter.