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John Wayne—But Not In 3-D

John Wayne—But Not In 3-D

John Wayne’s Hondo might have been the first major studio picture from the 3-D era of the 1950s to come to home video, but today’s welcome Blu-ray release from Paramount is in conventional 2-D. Too bad. Paramount trumpets the fact that it’s in widescreen for the first time, which is true. According to Bob Furmanek of the 3-D Film Archive, “Warner Bros., as a matter of studio policy, went 100% widescreen in May of 1953. When Hondo began shooting in Camargo, Mexico on June 11, director John Farrow and cinematographers Robert Burks and Archie Stout were composing for 1.85:1. It has not been seen in widescreen since the original theatrical release.”

In any form, I have come to the conclusion that Hondo features one of John Wayne’s best performances. For starters, he never looked better onscreen. Then watch him conduct a conversation with Geraldine Page while blacksmithing horseshoes, never missing a beat, and tell me he isn’t a model of what film acting is all about.

I find it hard to believe that it’s been seven years since I shot introductions for Hondo’s DVD debut and participated in a commentary track with Western historian Frank Thompson and costar Lee Aaker. All of that material is intact on the new Blu-ray issue. It’s bittersweet for me to revisit the “making of” segment because it features a wonderful interview with actor Michael Pate, who played the Indian chief Vittorio and passed away in 2008. I’m so glad we were able to get him on camera.

As for that missing dimension, it’s a source of some frustration. The Batjac company has done a first-rate 3-D restoration which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival several years ago. I even hosted a showing at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2007. (click HERE)

If ever there were a test case for the appeal of vintage 3-D films for the home market, this would seem to be it. John Wayne’s name still carries enormous weight; the recent Blu-ray release of Fort Apache sold extremely well, and Walmart made an exclusive deal with 20th Century Fox for the 1930 Wayne epic The Big Trail.

The problem may not be with Wayne, but with 3-D. I’ve read that sales of 3-D television sets have not lived up to expectations, just as many moviegoers are seeking out 2-D screenings of new releases in order to save money (and headaches).

But all may not be lost. I’m told that Warner Home Video may take the plunge with Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, which would be very exciting. I’d also encourage the company to try releasing the reliable House of Wax, and Universal could hardly go wrong with Creature from the Black Lagoon (with Walter Lantz’s Woody Woodpecker cartoon Hypnotic Hick as a bonus feature). Admittedly, there wouldn’t be much of an audience nowadays for many of the programmers and potboilers that came out in 1953. I enjoyed seeing Those Redheads from Seattle and Taza, Son of Cochise at the last World 3-D Film Expo but I don’t think they’d be best-sellers today… and preparing two sets of negatives (right eye and left eye) for the exacting standards of Blu-ray is very, very costly.

Still, there are many intriguing titles from every studio featuring everyone from Nat King Cole to The Mouseketeers. A little showmanship could make some of this material appealing.

There is, however, one major studio 3-D release from 1953 that’s already available…yet when I mention it to people, it seems to have escaped their notice. Sony Home Entertainment’s The Three Stooges Collection Volume 7 includes both two-reel comedy shorts featuring the Stooges, made by Columbia and producer-director Jules White: Spooks and Pardon My Backfire. Yes, they’re in anaglyph (red-green) 3-D instead of the superior Polaroid system, but they look amazingly good on a conventional TV set.

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