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Hollywood’s First 3-D Revolution

Hollywood’s First 3-D Revolution

As 3-D continues to amuse, bemuse, frustrate, and bilk the moviegoing public, little attention is paid to the sweeping events that dominated the year 1953, when the medium revolutionized Hollywood for a tantalizingly brief period of time. There is so much misinformation about the first great wave of 3-D that Bob Furmanek has recently re-launched his 3-D Film Archive website and packed it with fascinating, must-see material for 3-D buffs and neophytes alike. Perhaps the most important article on the site is called “Top Ten 3-D Myths,” which should (but probably won’t) put a number of rumors to rest. For instance, Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder was publicly screened in 3-D—but only during its premiere week in Philadelphia, Grace Kelly’s hometown. Kiss Me Kate, which came along toward the end of the craze, was also shown more widely than most people believe. “In fact,” Furmanek writes, “There was such a large demand for 3-D prints of Kate that Technicolor had to strike additional left/right prints to meet the demand.”

When I participated in the long-awaited DVD release of John Wayne’s Hondo in 2005, I was unaware that it had as many 3-D play dates as it did. My on-camera introductions and commentary (with Frank Thompson) would have benefited from the information Furmanek and Jack Theakston compiled for their definitive article about Hondo, which you can read HERE.

As it happens, Hondo is coming to Blu-ray next week; it’s too bad we couldn’t have updated our references to the movie’s 3-D engagements.

Other features on the 3-D Film Archive website include articles about “3-D Lost and Found” by the late Dan Symmes (with examples of rare experiments from the silent-film era, among other discoveries) and a preview of rare films the Archive is in the process of restoring.

I only wish more people could have experienced the two World 3-D Film Expositions that took place at Hollywood’s historic Egyptian Theatre during the past decade. By screening many of the surviving features, shorts, and cartoons of the 1953-54 period in dual-system 3-D—using two synchronized projectors and a silver screen—the expo directors (including Bob Furmanek) introduced hundreds of film buffs to the innovations and misfires of Hollywood’s first 3-D revolution. Seeing these films in any other way is settling for second-best.

(Even in my friend Serge Bromberg’s great 3-D program, which uses digital projection, the impact of some vintage shorts like Disney’s Donald Duck/Chip & Dale cartoon Working for Peanuts is reduced,  when compared to dual-system presentation.)

Manhattan’s Film Forum also has the capability of dual-system projection and has given New Yorkers an opportunity to dip into bona fide 3-D, but with the threatened banishment of 35mm, I don’t know how or when we’ll get to see these precious prints again the way they were meant to be seen.

Meanwhile, you can learn an awful lot by spending time at the 3-D Film Archive site. They’ve even started a YouTube channel which offers a trio of vintage 3-D trailers. Check it out HERE.

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Joel Sanoff

The first 3D movie I ever saw was 'Charge at Feather River,' starring one of my early movie/TV heroes, Guy Madison. It was the summer of 1953. My parents had gone away for a few days and I was staying in Brooklyn with my uncle Sam and aunt Rose. I was six years old and I was in heaven. Arrows flying right off the screen! Into the audience! And my aunt got me one of those dixie cups with the picture of a baseball player on the back side of the top. And I ate it with a little wooden spoon. I was in heaven. To this day I wish that one of the revival houses would bring back old 3D films again, just so I can see Guy lead the charge again.

Bob Furmanek

DIAL M was re-issued in 3-D theatrically in 1982.

Gordon, the 1922 feature was THE POWER OF LOVE and it was test screened in just two venues; the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on September 27, 1922 and another screening occurred shortly after in New York City. Just a few months later the feature was acquired by the rather new Selznick Distributing Corp. and widely distributed in 2-D as FORBIDDEN LOVER in 1923-24. It is now lost in 3-D but we do have one side of the short that preceded it:

Leonard, thank you for the kind words about the new website. That is very much appreciated!

Eric Culver

I saw Dial M for Murder in 3D in a theater, was it released in that format perhaps 20 years ago? or is my memory playing tricks? I remember watching Ray Milland from behind some bottles on a side table, and remember the moment Grace Kelly wields the scissors in my face.

Gordon Meyer

Leonard – Like you, I always thought that 3D in the movies began in the 1950s. But prototypes for 3D movies were introduced as early as 1915 with the first 3D feature offered to the general public appearing in 1922.

Apparently there was a cluster of 3D film produced in the 20s until that cycle faded out and 3D faded away until 1939 when "In Tune With Tomorrow" made its debut at the New York Worlds Fair as the first 3D movie produced and exhibited using polarized lenses and glasses.

Historically, even though each previous cycle of 3D movies would fade away after a few years, a new cycle would begin with improved technology. This tells me that while audiences love the IDEA of 3D, the execution often left something to be desired, especially when it was used more as a gimmick than a storytelling tool.

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