Tag Archives: 3-D Film Archive

It-Came-(1)

3-D Film Archive’s Robert Furmanek Discusses ‘September Storm’ and ‘It Came from Outer Space’

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When I suggested doing an interview with Robert Furmanek of the 3-D Film Archive in conjunction with their Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the restoration of September Storm (1960), little did either of us realize that such promotion was virtually unnecessary. Despite the picture’s obscurity, the campaign is proving an overwhelming success, and may exceed its goal even as I write this:

World Cinema Paradise: September Storm is a real oddity in that the vogue for studio-produced 3-D features had completely dried up by 1955. How did it come to be made in 3-D?

Robert Furmanek:  There were some successful 3-D reissues in late 1957/1958 (Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came from Outer Space, plus House of Wax with Phantom of the Rue Morgue), and producer Edward L. Alperson felt there was still some interest in the process. Alperson had an interest in 3-D going back to 1952 with Bwana Devil. September Storm was produced independently and test screenings went very well so it was eventually picked up for release by Fox.

WCP: I imagine it must have been much more difficult shooting in dual anamorphic than spherical widescreen, or was it shot flat and converted to CinemaScope, via the SuperScope system (and like Super 35 in more recent years)?

Furmanek: It was shot full-aperture with the Natural Vision rig and the anamorphic negatives were extracted optically by special effects wizard Ray Mercer and Deluxe labs.

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WCP: What were some of the unique challenges for the filmmakers, and for you in restoring it? Could you theoretically, created alternate widescreen versions while you’re at it?

Furmanek: If the original open-matte camera negatives survived, we could create a widescreen version in various aspect ratios but the only existing 35mm left/right elements are the conformed anamorphic CinemaScope version.The usual color fading plus various levels of vinegar syndrome in different reels presented some major technical obstacles. But Archive Technical Director Greg Kintz doesn’t give up easily (check out Gog) and literally works miracles in creating a flawless 3-D master!

WCP: The color restoration on Gog truly is amazing. I’ve read that. at least 20-odd years ago, the only known 3-D elements were held by the Library of Congress. Is that were you’re sourcing your materials?

Furmanek:  No, the Library of Congress does not have 3-D elements. We acquired the 35mm anamorphic negatives from the copyright holder.

WCP: Was it stereophonic as well? Do those elements exist?

Furmanek: No, it was released mono optical only.

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WCP: How extensive was its 3-D theatrical release versus theaters showing it “flat?”

Furmanek: Most major cities played the 3-D version and it went flat for sub-run and smaller towns.

WCP: Was the film ever broadcast on commercial television, or syndicated in its 2-D version? I don’t ever recall seeing it anywhere.

Furmanek: It was syndicated for many years in a flat, murky 16mm pan and scan print. From the havoc that created on the compositions, you would never know they spent ten weeks filming on location in Majorca! It has not been seen anywhere in 3-D since 1960.

WCP: Did you acquire the rights from Fox, or are they held elsewhere?

Furmanek: Fox only distributed the film in 1960. The rights belonged to producer Alperson and have changed hands many, many times over the past five decades. We tracked down the current owner and they didn’t even know it was a 3-D film. Thankfully, they still had both left/right 35mm elements. It’s extremely fortunate that one side wasn’t junked over the past 50 years.

WCP: It seems like you have your work cut out for you in this sense: technically and historically: it’s a very significant film, yet it’s also a movie very few people today have seen or are even aware of. How do you sell a title like this, which requires such special handling?

Furmanek: Just like our 3-D Blu-ray release of Dragonfly Squadron, it will sell based on the pure rarity. Many people have expressed interest simply because they’ve never seen or even heard of the film.

WCP: Kickstarter seems ideally suited to projects like yours. How’s it going so far? Does that look like the future for the remaining classic 3-D titles still unreleased on 3-D Blu-ray?

Furmanek: Incredibly well. We’re halfway through the campaign and have raised 90% of our goal. That’s pretty remarkable considering just a few years ago, I couldn’t interest anyone in releasing our titles. You should see some of the rejection letters. My favorite is from Criterion where they casually dismissed 3-D Rarities as “not interesting.” Flicker Alley has done very well with the Blu-ray and that’s been our biggest seller!

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WCP: What can you tell us about It Came from Outer Space? This is a Universal Home Video release, or is it being sub-licensed? And what does this suggest for a possible release of Revenge of the Creature as well?

Furmanek: I’m not at liberty to discuss those details. We did get the go ahead last week to announce that it was coming soon and there’s a preview page on our website. It Came from Outer Space – 3dfilmarchive

WCP: Like a lot of people, I first saw It Came from Outer Space at a college campus screening in the 1970s, via a 16mm anaglyphic non-theatrical print. Needless to say, this is going to look a whole lot better than that….

Furmanek: That’s an understatement!

WCP: Over on the Classic Horror Film Board, you’ve discussed how impressive the film’s stereophonic sound presentation was back in 1953, and how great it’s going to sound on Blu-ray. Could you tell us a little bit about how that sound was originally presented, how it’s different from past television and home video versions, and what it will be like on Blu-ray?

Furmanek:  In theaters, it was played back in sync with the picture on a separate full-coat 35mm magnetic dubber. Previous home video releases have used a modified and very compromised two-channel mix that was created in the 1990s. This is the first time people will experience at home what audiences first heard in 1953 and it’s going to knock you out. It was only the sixth feature released in stereo (First Year of Stereophonic Motion Pictures – 3dfilmarchive) and the sound is very directional. The score is amazing in discrete three-channel and the explosions will shake your house!

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WCP: General audiences today would probably find It Came from Outer Space rather campy, but I regard it as one of the very best ‘50s sci-fi films, unlike anything that came before and after it. From the 3-D standpoint, which few have been able to see properly presented in more than 60 years, what’s particularly interesting and innovative about its staging?

Furmanek: Both Greg and I feel this is one of the strongest 3-D features with terrific performances and a top-notch script that holds up amazingly well today. Jack Arnold had a great eye for stereoscopic compositions and his use of layering is quite impressive.

WCP: Have the 3-D elements been kept in good condition? Are there any special challenges for you? And will you be adjusting misaligned shots on either of these titles?

Furmanek: This was Universal’s first 3-D production and they were rushing to try and beat House of Wax into theaters. They didn’t succeed, and there were quite a few editing mistakes in the film (with reversed images) that we have fixed. Also, the vertical alignment was all over the map from shot to shot and we’ve fixed those issues as well. You’ll be seeing the film looking better now than it did in 1953.

WCP: Of the remaining classic 3-D still unreleased on Blu-ray 3-D, what’s your Holy Grail? Which ones would you most like to see restored, and are the studios involved cooperating? I guess it would be fair to say Wade Williams (of Robot Monster and Cat-Women of the Moon) lies at one extreme; who’s been the most helpful?

Furmanek: Because of my 35-year friendship with Jerry Lewis, I would love to fully restore Money from Home. We came very close last year and even did a 15 minute 3-D demo which played to a very receptive audience at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Jerry was on board with the project but unfortunately, we encountered some extremely frustrating obstacles from one individual who had the power to kill it. But I don’t give up easily, so never say never! I can’t disclose specific titles at this time but I have to say that Richard Lorber, Frank Tarzi, Bret Wood and the entire team at Kino-Lorber have been fantastic in securing licenses for some amazing titles. Get ready for some reel stereoscopic gems coming to 3-D Blu-ray in the next few years!

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WCP: How can fans of classic 3-D best support your efforts? And would you care to hint at other titles we might see this year or during the first half of 2017?

Furmanek: We’re currently preparing two Silver Age titles for release, A*P*E (not to be confused with King Kong) and The Stewardesses. Honestly, the best way to get more vintage 3-D onto Blu-ray is to support the new releases. If a title doesn’t sell enough to at least break even, it will make it that much more difficult to pursue additional licenses. Even if it’s a movie you’ve never seen or a genre that doesn’t normally interest you, give it a shot. I believe that more often than not, you’ll be very pleasantly surprised. The Golden Age 3-D titles are far better than their reputation.

You can read more about September Storm and the campaign to save it HERE.

Gog Featured

3-D Blu-ray Review: “Gog” (1954)

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I’m all agog for Gog!

Film restorations come in all shapes and sizes. The restoration of Gog (1954), an obscure science fiction thriller shot in Natural Vision 3-D might not sound like much, but in its own way it’s as monumental as the restorations/reconstructions of such unimpeachable classics as Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927), George Cukor’s A Star Is Born (1954), and David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

This is, of course, not to say Gog is as on the same artistic plane or as culturally significant as those movies but, when you boil it down, all movies, regardless of merit, deserve to be preserved and made available in a form as close as possible to the filmmakers’ original intentions, what audiences experienced in the best venues when they were new.

Gog is an unusual, nearly unique relic from its era and of its genre. The ‘50s sci-fi boom was still feeling its way when Gog was made. As Bill Warren notes in his essential examination of the genre at this time, Keep Watching the Skies!, the first half of the decade was dominated by mix of relatively adult big studio films produced with “nervous ‘A’” budgets (The Thing, The Day the Earth Stood Still, When Worlds Collide), and smaller but still ambitious, often independent productions (Rocketship X-M, Destination Moon), though there were from the beginning even cheaper exploitation pictures targeting less demanding audiences (Flight to Mars, Cat-Women of the Moon).

Generally though, most of these sci-fi films from the first half of the ’50 were movies made for grownups, and not almost exclusively children and teenagers. Gog, despite all its neat-o gadgetry, was a rare venture into true science fiction, not the science fantasy that makes up nearly all of what today is regarded as sci-fi cinema and TV. Producer George Pal got the ball rolling with Destination Moon (1950), a sincere attempt to realistically, plausibly dramatize what an expedition to the moon might actually be like, based on the science of the time. Though critically and commercially successful, it didn’t spur like-minded films.

Gog, along with the other two, vaguely related Ivan Tors-produced features that preceded it, The Magnetic Monster (1953) and Riders to the Stars (1954), were exceptions. Gog in particular serves as a prototype for the tiny handful of hard-science science fiction thrillers that followed, particularly John Sturges’s The Satan Bug (1965) and Robert Wise’s The Andromeda Strain (1971), movies in which real and theoretical science actually play an important role in their stories.

In color and 1.66:1 widescreen as well as 3-D, Gog had the misfortune of bad timing, released as it was after the vogue for 3-D had ended, and CinemaScope’s wide screen and stereophonic sound had won that decade’s great “format war.” Despite its impressive 3-D cinematography, Gog is understood to have played in 3-D in just a handful of movie theaters in Los Angeles; the rest of the country could see it only “flat,” in two dimensions. Later, it was sold to television but, even worse, these 16mm prints were in black-and-white. The “left eye” camera negative was mislaid and for decades the 3-D Gog was presumed lost forever.

Indefatigable 3-D enthusiast, researcher, and historian Bob Furmanek, founder of the 3-D Film Archive, located a faded Pathé color 35mm release print of the “left eye” in 2001, which was eventually paired with less problematic right eye film elements provided by Gog’s current owners, MGM, and exhibited at a 3-D festival in Los Angeles some years back. This led to a painstaking restoration of Gog culminating with its Kino Lober Blu-ray release, and the results are stupendous. Unless you were living in Southern California 62 years ago, this is your first opportunity to see Gog as originally intended. Though it has been shown flat on television, released as a (again flat) video-on-demand DVD, and even sold in an awful, faux 3-D DVD release from bootleg video dealers, this new Blu-ray not only presents Gog as it was meant to be seen, but the picture’s genuine merits are much more readily apparent.

Like The Magnetic Monster and Riders to the Stars, Gog concerns the OSI, the “Office of Scientific Investigation.” In this case, OSI security agent David Sheppard (Richard Egan) is assigned to look into a series of baffling, gruesome murders and acts of sabotage being committed at an underground, multi-level laboratory beneath the New Mexico desert where a space station is being planned. Joanna Merritt (Constance Dowling, Mrs. Ivan Tors) is another OSI already working undercover at the facility, and she and laboratory supervisor Dr. Van Ness (Herbert Marshall) give Sheppard the grand tour of the gadget-filled place.

Most of the gadgets, activated by unseen operators, are behind the deaths. Dr. Hubertus (Michael Fox), for instance, is frozen to death in his own deep-freeze chamber where he’s been conducting cryo-hibernation experiments, and grimly transformed into a veritable block of ice before tipping over and literally shattering like glass. Another scientist is nearly burned to a crisp by her own heat ray, which through a series of mirrors taps into the sun’s rays.

Eventually, the murders are traced to Gog and Magog, by 1954 standards realistic, non-anthromorphic robots remotely controlled by the lab’s central computer, NOVAC. (Was Magog unhappy with this inequitable billing arrangement, I wonder?)

Hungarian-born Ivan Tors (Iván Törzs) had a long film and television career in which he became particularly associated with fact-based science fiction, marine stories, animal-centric shows, or some combination of two or more of these elements. Among his credits: the TV series Science Fiction Theatre, Sea Hunt, Flipper, and Gentle Ben, and the movies Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion and Around the World Under the Sea. His company also did the underwater second-unit work for the James Bond blockbuster Thunderball.

Tors’s sci-fi projects are usually regarded as sincere but tame, with an overemphasis on technology and verisimilitude at the expense of drama. That’s true to some extent with Gog, which at times resembles an elementary school trip to the Science Center. And yet, despite a sluggish second act, it more than compensates with several particularly gruesome opening murders and an action-packed climax.

The movie is cheap compared to big studio pictures, reportedly costing just $250,000 and shot over just 15 days at Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, California. If those figures are accurate then Gog is a remarkable achievement as the money is all up there on the screen, and there’s much obvious effort to make every set and gadget visually interesting, even though the budget was too low to quite pull it off some of the time

What’s remarkable in watching Gog now is to see just how many of these then not-quite fanciful scientific concepts and innovations have since come to pass, and in many cases greatly miniaturized and improved upon far beyond what seem remotely possible at the time. Equally fascinating is how Gog, clunky though it may be, equally accurately anticipates the cinematic future. The laboratory is a ‘50s version of the uncannily similar underground labs featured in The Satan Bug and especially The Andromeda Strain, while Gog and Magog are like the grandparents of Huey, Dewey, and Louie, the robot drones from Silent Running (1972), themselves distant cousins of R2-D2. Today we take automatic sliding doors for granted, but Gog may have been their first onscreen introduction in a science fiction film, more than ten years before they wowed audiences on Star Trek.

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The restoration of Gog is almost miraculous yet exactly the kind of thing that should be commonplace instead of an anomaly. Essentially: MGM owns the films as part of its United Artists catalog but their holdings included only film elements for the “right eye” half of the 3-D version. When they licensed the title to Kino Lorber, the 3-D Film Archive offered their left-eye elements along with a bid to restore the picture to its original state. Various technical experts and companies became involved, with Greg Kintz given the arduous challenge of matching the faded left-eye print with the right-eye elements provided by MGM.

The presentation is basically flawless, with extremely impressive sharpness and bright, primary colors throughout, while the 1.66:1 framing is much more compositionally eye-pleasing.

The 3-D itself is on one hand less aggressive than, say, The Charge at Feather River or, more recently, Comin’ at Ya! (1981), the fun, neo-spaghetti Western in which no 3-D splurge is left unexploited. At the same time, Gog uses 3-D in consistently interesting, sometimes innovative ways, taking advantage of depth modern 3-D movies, strangely, often don’t do at all. In Gog, for instance, many of the sets are deliberately layered closer to and farther away from the camera, rooms and compartments sometimes separated by glass and doorways. Seen flat Gog always looked unusual but not in the good sense. In 3-D, however, the set design is often striking.

Further enhancing the Blu-ray is a superb Restoration Comparison that demonstrates just how challenging it was to bring Gog back to life; archival interviews from 2003 with director Herbert L. Strock and cinematographer Lothrop B. Worth, who sadly didn’t live to see this gorgeous restoration; and, best of all, an information-packed, typically humorous audio commentary by Tom Weaver, the go-to guy for such things. He apologizes up front for having less to say about Gog than his other commentary tracks for lack of existing archive documents but you’d never know that for its wealth of information. He’s joined by Bob Furmanek and David Schecter to discuss the film’s restoration and score, respectively.

As other reviewers have pointed out, rights holders of other classic 3-D titles – Are you listening Wade Williams? – really need to seek out the 3-D Archive and its team of talented and devoted artisans and scholars in providing them access, through sub-licensing or other participation, to preserve these movies before it’s too late. Gog may not be Intolerance, Greed, The Magnificent Ambersons, Vertigo or Spartacus, but it’s an underrated, ambitious little film more than worth the effort to save it, and with this and other 3-D Blu-ray titles in which the 3-D Archive has been associated with, have more than demonstrated the stunning results with which they are capable.

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Mask Featured

Blu-ray 3-D Review: “The Mask” (1961)

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The Mask (1961), reportedly Canada’s first horror movie (and first 3-D feature, and first feature distributed by a major studio), is a real oddity, professionally-made and reasonably polished for a relatively low-budget movie, but otherwise quite different in look and tone from Hollywood product. Rather like the made-in-Pennsylvania The Blob (1958) and 4-D Man (1959), it’s ambitious and a bit more intelligent than most exploitation films of its era.

And it’s certainly different in one respect: nearly 15 minutes of its 83-minute running time are in 3-D. The 1952-1955 craze for 3-D was pretty much kaput by 1961; distributed by Warner Bros., it and the now totally obscure September Storm (1960), from 20th Century-Fox, were the only major 3-D features released between 1955 and 1966.

One of the nagging myths about classic 3-D movies, completely untrue, was those red-blue glasses moviegoers supposedly had to wear, and the inferior, headache-inducing image they created. In fact nearly all ‘50s 3-D movies employed “polarized” viewers resembling sunglasses. The Mask was a rare exception; originally, for its 3-D sequences, “Magic Mystic Masks,” i.e. red-blue anaglyphic lenses in cardboard frames, created the effect. Unlike nearly all ‘50s 3-D features, which required two separate but synchronized 35mm prints (one for the left eye, one for the right), The Mask could be exhibited in any theater as it used a single print, a major convenience.

Ingeniously though, the folks at 3-D Film Archive, which has done more for classic 3-D on video than all the major labels combined, have gone back to the original left and right 35mm elements to enable picture perfect Blu-ray 3-D. Instead of the slightly blurred red-blue image theatrical audiences saw back in 1961 (and on multiple reissues thereafter), viewers can now enjoy the film’s surreal 3-D scenes in razor sharp, perfectly aligned black-and-white 3-D.

Further, they’ve restored the rarely heard Electro-Magic (surround) sound, remixed for 5.1 surround,  enhancing the immersive experience even more.

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The plot of The Mask is almost incidental, but moderately effective on its own terms. A deeply troubled patient (Martin Lavut) of psychiatrist Dr. Allen Barnes (Paul Stevens) commits suicide, but not before mailing the skeptical shrink an ancient tribal mask at the root of the patient’s psychosis. Inexorably compelled to “put the mask on NOW” (so booms Barnes’s unrecognizable off-screen voice, cueing moviegoers to do likewise), Barnes experiences wildly surreal, proto-psychedelic visions. These 3-D “dream sequences” were supervised by Slavoljub “Slavko” Vorkapić, a Serbian experimental filmmaker who in Hollywood created dynamic montage sequences, usually without credit, for such films as San Francisco (1936), The Good Earth (1937), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Meet John Doe (1941) while directing short films of his own. The sequences, while tame by today’s standards, would be extraordinarily silly were they not also so hypnotically effective.

The director of credit was Montréal-born Julian Roffman, who had a minor career as a producer-director. Several of his later films in that former capacity, The Pyx (1973) and The Glove (1979), are available on DVD. Those movies are unusual, too, but generally unmemorable. Beetle browed character actor Stevens is the only actor in the cast viewers are likely to recognize. Prolific but mainly on television, Stevens did have memorable roles in a handful of other pictures, notably Exodus (1960), Patton (1970), and the mostly poor Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973). He died in 1986.

The Mask was picked up by Warner Bros. soon after its Canadian premiere and did well enough that New Line Cinema reissued it several times beginning in 1970, sometimes under the title Eyes of Hell. Because it had been intended from the start to be exhibited in anaglyphic format, it didn’t look too terrible when it was broadcast on commercial television in the early 1980s, during the second big wave of 3-D productions and reissues. A subsequent VHS (and, I think, laserdisc) release of The Mask also looked about as good as 3-D could get in those formats. Certainly it was infinitely superior to atrocious 3-D VHS versions of Creature from the Black Lagoon and most other releases of the period.

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Nonetheless, the 3-D Film Archive’s 3-D Blu-ray, distributed by Kino, is a revelation. It quite literally far surpasses even the film’s original 1961 bookings by way of its 3-D Blu-ray conversion and looks and sounds great throughout. Though only about one-fifth of the film is in 3-D, the entire show (in 1.66:1 widescreen) has been encoded that way, allowing the viewer to switch back-and-forth between the 2-D “plot” scenes without glasses and the dream sequences with 3-D viewers –  without the fuss of needing to constantly adjust one’s monitor.

As an option, the 3-D sequences are also presented in their original anaglyphic format (red-blue 3-D glasses not included), supplemented by useful anaglyphic calibration guide.

Also included is an excellent audio commentary with film historian Jason Pichonsky; “Julian Roffman: The Man Behind the Mask,” a very fine 20-minute featurette; four trailers and TV spots; and, best of all, several illustrative (if 2-D) short films by Vorkapić. As a bonus there’s a seven-minute short film by James Hall and Jason Jameson, also in Blu-ray 3-D, One Night in Hell (2014), presented with Dolby ATMOS audio and featuring music by Brian May. Aesthetically it doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the presentation, but on its own terms it’s a really fantastic little short.

Once again Bob Furmanek and Greg Kintz (among others associated with 3-D Film Archive) have hit it out of the park. Though not a great film by any means, The Mask offers many startlingly good 3-D effects and it’s a rather fascinating, unique film in several respects. Keep ‘em coming, guys!

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Blu-ray Review: “3-D Rarities”

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I currently have about 7,200 titles in my DVD/HD DVD/Blu-ray library, but less than an hour into the two-and-a-half-hours-long 3-D Rarities, I knew I was looking at one of my Top Ten favorite titles. Of immense historical, technological, and cultural interest, and supremely entertaining besides, 3-D Rarities is one of the year’s top releases – heck, it’s one of the format’s best releases! – and a bona fide must-see.

A grab bag of material stretching from 1922 into the early 1960s, 3-D Rarities gathers together an enormous amount of all sorts of things even hard-core 3-D enthusiasts have never seen presented so perfectly, when at all. The digital 3-D conversions are uniformly excellent and, truly, there’s something for everyone: historical footage of New York City and Washington D.C. in the 1920s; an amazing promotional film for the Pennsylvania Railroad line; trailers for ‘50s 3-D films (in 3-D); dazzlingly 3-D shorts directed by the National Film Board of Canada’s resident genius Norman McLaren; a completely unexpected anti-nuclear documentary made during the height of the Cold War (and quickly suppressed, unsurprisingly); an eye-popping Casper cartoon, and lots, lots more.

This isn’t just for 3-D enthusiasts. Watching Thrills for You, the Pennsylvania Railroad documentary, I couldn’t help thinking how train buffs would go absolutely nuts over all the footage showing the construction of a big steam locomotive engine, and footage taken inside real, en route passenger trains that allow the viewer to vicariously experience that long-lost form of travel, remembered primarily in the distorted form of ‘30s and ‘40s movies set aboard trains but always filmed on soundstage sets.

3-D Rarities also includes gobs of extra features, including excerpts from 3-D comic books, View-Master reels, and even 3-D stills from the Lon Chaney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)!

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A marvelous 24-page, full-color booklet guides the viewer through this unique collection. Following brief introductory essays by comedian Trustin Howard (who, as “Slick Slavin,” headlines Stardust in Your Eyes) and Leonard Maltin, the two-part program (Act 1: The Dawn of Stereoscopic Cinematography; Act 2: Hollywood Enters the Third-Dimension) is explained in short but illuminating essays by experts Jack Theakston, Hillary Hess, Donald McWilliams, Ted Okuda, Julian Antos, Thad Komorowski, Mary Ann Sell, and disc co-producer Bob Furmanek.

The essays provide valuable information about the 3-D processes used, how and when they were originally exhibited, quotes from contemporary reviews, and information about how they were rescued and restored. In many cases, the lone surviving negative or print was literally on its way to the junk yard and very nearly lost forever.

Many of the earliest shorts were originally exhibited in anaglyphic format (using red-green glasses) but for 3-D Rarities impressively have been reformat to “polarized” format, with the image in crystal-clear black-and-white with minimal ghosting effects.

This reviewer found everything totally fascinating, with only New Dimension, essentially a long if 3-D commercial for Chrysler’s 1940 Plymouths, wearing out its welcome before it was over. But old car enthusiasts, like train buffs watching Thrills for You, will delight in this stop-motion film showing a single car being put together, part-by-part. I had assumed this was done with a detailed scale-model, but Theakston reports that, incredibly, all of the stop-motion was done full-scale, presumably with (for the most part) real car parts.

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Scottish expatriate McLaren’s ingenious shorts for the National Film Board of Canada got the deluxe treatment some years back via a superb DVD set, but the quartet of dimensional films presented here, Now Is the Time, Around and Around, O Canada, and Twirlgig are truly magical, bearing McLaren’s (and the NFB’s) unmistakable stamp while literally adding a new dimension to the NFB’s filmmaking innovations.

Finally, there’s a wealth of home movie-type scenes filmed to promote Bolex’s Stereo film gear, which awkwardly halved the 16mm gauge’s frame size, making it taller than wide, but the 3-D is nonetheless impressive.

Part 2 begins with an amusing short film that originally preceded Bwana Devil (1952), the picture that mainstreamed the ‘50s 3-D craze. Starring Lloyd Nolan, “Miss Third Dimension” and, in puppet form, Beany & Cecil, it’s a charming artifact of the period. 3-D Trailers for Oh-how-I wish-they-were-out-already ‘50s titles It Came from Outer Space, Hannah Lee, The Maze, and Miss Sadie Thompson provide, at least, tantalizing previews.

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The first and only 3-D newsreels documents the unexpectedly brief Rocky Marciano vs. Jersey Joe Walcott fight, a controversial rematch that never went beyond the first round. This proved a bonus for 3-D fans, as the two-reeler is padded with loads of other good stuff, including Marciano reaching out and “punching” the movie audience.

The aforementioned Stardust in Your Eyes is a real oddity, clearly slapped together in haste by director Phil Tucker as a prologue short to his magnum opus, the infamous Robot Monster. Tucker’s notorious turkey actually has an infectious, child-fueled dream-like logic and apparently pretty impressive in good 3-D, but the short never takes advantage of the format, with comedian-impressionist Slavin doing his entire act in front of what looks like the kind of padding movers wrap furniture in.

Doom Town, on the other hand, is a revelation. Made independently by producer Lee Savin and written and directed by Gerald Schnitzer, it provides a rare, sharp contrast to the gung-ho propagandizing of most Hollywood films as well as the Cinerama travelogues. After a few bookings it was abruptly pulled and disappeared for decades, until the 3-D Film Archive discovered the original negatives, about to be junked, in 1985. There’s was a historic find and Doom Town all by itself is, as they say, worth the price of admission.

Another major restoration is the little-seen The Adventures of Sam Space, done in the stop-motion/replacement animation style of George Pal’s Puppetoons. Bursting with imaginative production design and effects, it was completed just as the fad for 3-D died and, until now, has never been seen in its correct widescreen aspect ratio.

I’ll Sell My Shirt is a cheap, typical burlesque/mild striptease-type short with the added benefit of 3-D. Far superior is the Paramount-distributed Casper cartoon, Boo Moon, one of the best-looking 3-D cartoons ever. After seeing the disappointing Bugs Bunny short Lumberjack Rabbit several times in 3-D, Boo Moon is a real surprise. It really uses the format spectacularly well.

The shorts all look great, especially considering the considerable restoration effort that went into many of them. All films are presented in their correct original aspect ratios and the 3-D is perfect nearly all the time. The disc is region-free, too.

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Extras include a few minutes of 3-D footage aspiring director Francis Ford Coppola shot for The Bellboys and the Playgirls, an otherwise 2-D nudie-cutie made in West Germany. Also included are amazing 3-D still galleries from the Lon Chaney Hunchback of Notre Dame and the 1939 World’s Fair; Adventures of Sam Sawyer, a View-Master release, along with excerpts from several 3-D comic books, all transferred to polarized format from their original anaglyphic.

This is an outstanding collection, with delightful surprises around every corner, gorgeously realized on all levels. Kudos to the 3-D Film Archive and Flicker Alley for one of the best releases of this or any year.

Dragonfly Squadron

3-D Blu-ray Review: “Dragonfly Squadron” (1954)

Dragonfly Blu

Well this is a treat! As a movie, Dragonfly Squadron (1954) is fairly ordinary, a war movie with a familiar story and genre stereotypes: hardline, humorless commanding officer; sly second-in-command; subordinate with a personal grudge against his commanding officer; a woman emotionally torn between the dedicated, self-sacrificing doctor she married and the commanding officer she loves, etc.

Conversely, Olive Films’ release of this 3-D Film Archive restoration is one of significant historical importance. Dragonfly Squadron was photographed but never released in 3-D. By the time it opened in March 1954, the new widescreen and stereophonic sound format pushed by 20th Century-Fox, CinemaScope, had won the technological dissemination battle. The original 3-D negative film elements managed to survive, but a 3-D Blu-ray release of a movie as obscure as Dragonfly Squadron, a movie produced not by one of the major Hollywood studios but rather by lowly Monogram/Allied Artists, a Poverty Row company, was practically nonexistent until Bob Furmanek and Greg Kintz of the 3-D Film Archive came along and pushed for its stereoscopic restoration.

For fans and admirers of older 3-D movies, Furmanek and Kintz are providing an invaluable service, preserving, restoring, and making available 3-D features and shorts that might otherwise be lost forever. Classic 3-D movies are rarely theatrically revived, and when they are almost invariably what gets shown is either House of Wax (1953) or Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954), with a few scattered other titles (Creature from the Black Lagoon, for instance) exhibited less frequently. I’m reminded of a press conference Jackie Gleason gave announcing the redistribution of “Lost” Honeymooners episodes. Asked why he chose to make them available, Gleason slyly replied, “I’m sick of watching those other Honeymooners,” referring to the “Classic 39,” episodes rerun ad infinitum. The same holds true for classic 3-D, turning even a movie as  minor as Dragonfly Squadron into a major viewing event.

Dragonfly 1

Though set just before and during the outbreak of the Korean War in May 1950, Dragonfly Squadron’s story harkens back to World War II movies like Flying Tigers, They Were Expendable, and Back to Bataan, with maybe a dash of Go for Broke! (1951). John Hodiak stars as Maj. Mathew “Matt” Brady, a celebrated but grounded-for-medical reasons Air Force instructor tasked with training green American and South Korean pilots at Kongku Air Base, with little more than three weeks to whip them into shape. (Among the young pilots is James Hong, uncredited.)

He discovers that his ex-fiancée, Donna Cottrell (Barbara Britton) is also stationed there. They planned to marry until she learned that her supposedly dead husband, Stephen (Bruce Bennett), a prisoner tortured in Indo-China was, in fact, alive. He loves her and as he’s a saintly, dedicated physician (despite mutilated hands) she remains devoted to him, despite her feelings for Brady.

More familiar plot points emerge: Capt. Veddors (Harry Lauter) resents Brady, blaming him for the death of their mutual best friend in a plane crash. Other genre stereotypes: Capt. Woody Taylor (John Lupton) and Anne (Pamela Duncan) are a young married couple anxious to return to the States after being stationed in Korea for two years without a break. Matt’s best friend is Capt. MacIntyre (Gerald Mohr), whose genial wisecracks contrast by-the-book Brady’s stiffness. Also in the squadron are the requisite southern hick (Fess Parker), an elfish flyer (Eddie Firestone, uncredited) always hiding a mutt under his leather jacket, and a soft-spoken, efficient junior officer (Adam Williams) who all but has “Doomed” painted across his helmet.

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Dragonfly Squadron’s plot may be familiar but its execution, under the sure hand of efficient B-movie director Lesley Selander, is nonetheless involving and well-paced for a picture of this type and budget. Reportedly the film’s cost was around $300,000, dirt-cheap by major studio standards but a bit more expensive than the usual Monogram/Allied Artists programmer from this period. Air Force and Marine Corps. hardware helped make the film look a bit more expensive than it actually was, but Selander’s good direction adds to the film’s modest polish.

The film also makes use of stock shots, some in regular 2-D, and there are few opticals. A battle and evacuation near the end of the picture offer the best 3-D effects, with everything done full-scale with on-set special effects. Much of this material looks great.

It also helps that good actors populate the story. John Hodiak was a bona fide star, albeit a fading one, Hodiak one of dozens leading men who established themselves during the early ‘40s, when many established stars had abandoned Hollywood temporarily to fight the war, only to leave actors like Hodiak struggling once they returned.

There are a few up-and-comers in the cast, notably Fess Parker and, much later in the story, Chuck Connors, both oozing charisma and obviously on the ascent. Decent actors who regularly toiled away in cheap films dominate: Bruce Bennett, Gerald Mohr, Adam Williams, Frank Ferguson, etc. Pretty Barbara Britton’s career was, like Hodiak’s, in gradual decline; she co-starred in the first 3-D feature of the 1950s, the one that launched the craze, Bwana Devil (1952).

Dragonfly Squadron lacks the kind of in-your-face 3-D effects many wrongly assume all ‘50s 3-D movies overdid, the Western Charge at Feather River being an obvious example. Despite a dearth of eye-popping effects, Selander subtly and intelligently stages many scenes to bring out multiple planes of depth. In a bar, for instance, all the chairs are stacked up on tables while on the bar itself are various half-empty glasses, to emphasize the depth of the bar a bit more, while many of the sets have doorways leading to back rooms and whatnot. It’s a far cry from the drab art direction of a typical Monogram movie, e.g., Louie’s Sweet Shop in the Bowery Boys pictures. It’s not a great showcase for 3-D, but what’s there is well executed. Several scenes are also staged in darkened rooms, and the perception of depth is quite interesting.

Dragonfly Squadron is presented in its original 1.66:1 widescreen format. The black-and-white film has its share of speckling and, surprisingly, little bits of faint, barely perceptible color (on the tip of an actor’s nose, for instance) I would guess was somehow used to align the image during postproduction. Mostly though the picture looks very good, and the 3-D is spot-on perfect throughout. Cheap as Dragonfly Squadron may have been, in some ways the use and ultimate look even of ordinary 3-D scenes here is somehow more impressive compared to how unimaginatively most new 3-D films use the process today. (The same proved true on another cheap 3-D title now on Blu-ray, Man in the Dark.) The presentation includes the film’s original intermission card, a nice touch. While some of the bigger 3-D movies were exhibited with stereophonic sound, Dragonfly Squadron was always mono, and thus presented that way here. It’s fine, on par with other mid-‘50s mono releases. It’s also worth noting that the film’s original 3-D title cards, heretofore presumed lost, have  been reinstated.

The Blu-ray comes with a standard 2-D version of the film, along with a lively (2-D) trailer.

Dragonfly Squadron might not rank alongside the great Hollywood war movies, but its release, finally, in 3-D deserves all the accolades Bob Furmanek and Greg Kintz are receiving. Also with this title they’ve clearly demonstrated how desirable titles like this one can be restored and presented in flawless 3-D for a reasonable amount of money. And that, in turn, will hopefully prompt more 3-D Blu-ray releases like this one in the future.

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Man in the Dark featured

DVD Savant Interview: Greg Kintz of The 3-D Film Archive

The Twilight Time limited edition video label has just released its first 3-D Blu-ray, which just happens to be the first 3-D film released by a major studio right at the beginning of the big 3-Dimension craze that began with 1952′s Bwana Devil. The film is Man in the Dark (1953), a fast-paced mystery noir in which crook Edmond O’Brien undergoes a brain operation to ‘remove’ his criminal tendencies. As tends to happen in gimmicky sci-fi noirs (or Sci-fi pix of any kind), things go wrong. The crook wakes up minus any memory whatsoever of his past identity or criminal history — which makes him an easy target for his old gang. Noir icons Audrey Totter and Ted de Corsia respectively romance O’Brien and beat him senseless, in an effort to find out where he’s hid $130,000 in ill-gotten loot. But the secret only reveals itself through O’Brien’s weird dreams.

I asked Bob Furmanek, President of the authoritative 3D Film Archive if his website would be covering this 3-D Blu-ray release. In answer, the 3D Film Archive’s Technical Director Greg Kintz offered to answer my less-than-expert questions. I’ve worked in pre-digital special effects and was a projectionist for Douglas Trumbull’s experimental Showscan format back in the late 1970s, but my exposure to 3-D isn’t that extensive. Here’s how Greg responded to my questions, and then followed up with some better questions of his own.

Glenn Erickson: Hello Greg. The liner notes on Twilight Time’s 3-D disc of Man in the Dark stress that unlike Warners’ House of Wax and Dial M for Murder, Columbia’s 3-D film was shot very quickly (just eleven days) with a custom rig engineered in its own camera department. I hear that 3-D at this time could be problematical, and that some of these rigs were difficult to work with. Were these cameramen really sharp, or lucky, or do 3-D experts like yourself see a few flaws showing through?

Greg Kintz: The cameramen were extremely sharp. Most studios at that time had their own camera departments, which fostered originality and furthered pride in their work. Bob Furmanek has a number of correspondences from original 3-D shoots, and it is clear they cared about doing quality 3-D productions, despite what some of the recent press has tried to portray. With that said, unlike today’s digital 3-D gear where a tech can instantly check the stereoscopic alignment and/or make relatively quick adjustments in post-production, the 1950s 3-D was of course completely analog with no 100% guarantee that everything being shot was all aligned properly until it was screened later. Due to these factors, issues occasionally could and did occur. Some misalignments occasionally made it to final release prints. 3-D corrections were often done in post-production, but this required another generation loss and more time-consuming optical realignment.

Glenn: On the much-ballyhooed roller coaster scenes, the actors are just photographed in front of a 2-D rear projection, which would seem a real cheat. Comments?

Greg: For decades, this has been the biggest gripe folks have had with Man in the Dark. On one hand, in the context of the entire feature the roller coaster “POV” sequence is a relatively short part of the movie. I first saw this movie in 3-D some ten years ago knowing about the rear screen projection in advance, and ended up not being bothered at all by the timesaving technique. With that said, was it a missed opportunity? Oh, absolutely. It was interesting recently watching Man in the Dark with my wife who had been studying the 3-D Blu-ray artwork before seeing this for the first time. Afterwards she commented, “If the (original & new) artwork heavily plugs a roller coaster and 3-D, shouldn’t the roller coaster segment actually be in 3-D?” I couldn’t help but chuckle. But again… everyone’s tastes vary, and I still very much enjoy the overall story and shooting style. And in the end, they only had 11 days to shoot, so something had to give, and I guess it was the POV roller coaster segment.

Glenn: I thought that the early trick 3-D shot in the brain operation scene was very well-judged, but one or two of the later stick-things-at-the-camera shots look like they were shot with long lenses — is the 3-D funky in these scenes?

Greg: With the different resurgences of 3-D movies over roughly the last 100 years, there have been varying degrees of just how far one can shove something out of the stereo window — and to what degree audiences in general can handle those off-screen effects, from a 3-D eyestrain standpoint. Today’s movies are by far the most conservative in this aspect. Those of the 1980s typically were the most aggressive. The 1950s “Golden Age” 3-D titles for the most part were a balance between those two time periods and (IMHO) struck the best balance of the two. With that said, there are just a few thankfully very brief shots in Man in the Dark where if you look at the screen in 3-D, but with your glasses off, your eyes are being call upon to do some tough viewing.

As you noted, the opening brain operation was well judged, as well as most of the other off-screen effects. I think this was also one of the most aggressive 3-D movies of the 1950s in that respect. It was Columbia’s first 3-D title, so they were learning, and suppose they felt they had an obligation to “deliver the goods” so to speak, and present a good share of off-screen effects.

Glenn: I would think that the most ‘aggressive’ Columbia 3-D picture of the decade had to be a Three Stooges short subject — everything got stabbed into our eyes in 1953′s Spooks! Did you see any particular issues with Sony’s 3-D Blu-ray of Man in the Dark?

Greg: In the era of 1080p/3-D, and with most studio content being culled from the best archival elements possible, it’s quite easy to be spoiled. On the other hand, it is also easier to rightfully expect more things to be handled correctly. Overall, Sony did a great job. It is clear they have done some basic vertical realignment and further convergence to the original stereoscopic photography, which for the most part has helped. But like the recent 3-D HD restoration of The Mad Magician, Sony leaves any left/right size differential issues untouched, which still causes alignment issues and eyestrain. If you see vertical misalignment in the Man in the Dark, most of the time it is a L/R sizing issue that could have been corrected. Please don’t get me wrong — if you are a fan of noir and any type of 3-D fan, this is still a must- own and very enjoyable 3-D presentation. Could it have been better? Sure. Personally I think the best compliment that the 3D Film Archive has received was when we were grilling Warner Bros. on different alterations we had found in the House of Wax 3-D Blu-ray. WB’s head of restoration Ned Price actually thanked us for the critiques and said he prefers his team be kept on their toes. That’s a great mindset.

Glenn: Didn’t most Golden Age 3-D movies have an intermission card, due to the required 35mm dual projection reel change?

Greg: Yes! Man in the Dark was no exception and also had its own unique intermission card to be shown just before the required mid-show reel change. Sony has opted not to include the original card in this case. It’s possible it was not included in the original camera negative version, if that is the sole element they culled from.

Glenn: I’ve noticed some 3-D movies have brief sections where the image goes flat .. as in 2-D. Why is that?

Greg: The answer is a mix. Sometimes there were problems in the original photography. Even in the original release, these very brief segments or shots were instead shown as 2-D, or were slightly pushed behind the stereo window for a fake 3-D effect. Hondo and Revenge of the Creature are some of the best examples of when camera malfunctions required brief flat segments in the final 3-D release.

Greg: Other cases can involve the loss of original elements on one side, but not the other. In the case of the Man in the Dark 3-D Blu-ray, I’ve seen both scenarios. There was one 2-D ‘flat’ shot that lasted roughly 40 seconds, but I am 99% sure it was 3-D on previous elements. I would pull some older elements to check if I only had more time. That shot is thankfully brief, and the few other very brief 2-D ‘single’ shots were that way in the original presentation.

The 3-D Film Archive’s own comparison images of the left- and right- eye frames during Man in the Dark’s most squeamish 3-D effect. The reverse shot of villain Ted de Corsia’s lit cigar approaching Edmond O’Brien’s eye packs even more of a jolt.
Glenn: Overall, would the 3-D Film Archive recommend this title, and are you guys planning an “in-Depth” review of this release?

Greg: Quite frankly, we at the 3D Film Archive would have loved to have done a full review on this title, but at the moment we simply have our hands full. If all goes as planned, we should have three or more vintage 3-D Blu-ray titles out in 2014. I’d say more, but will leave announcements like that to 3D Film Archive President Bob Furmanek and the distributors.

As for an overall verdict on Man in the Dark, we would absolutely recommend this title. The 3-D Blu-ray format has been in place for a while now, and it is a shame that so far this is only the fourth Golden Age title released. For a feature that was originally a rush job, Man in the Dark has a certain charm and certainly plenty of dynamic 3-D moments. To see this title in a high quality 1080p 3-D format even five years ago would have required some very expensive gear. Jump to present day and Twilight Time has delivered the goods. How can one say no?

Glenn: They might say no, but 3-D devotees need to be reminded that the Twilight Time disc is a collector’s pressing limited to 3,00O units. So if you want to keep up with classic-era “Third Dimension” attractions, it’s probably not wise to wait too long. Thanks Greg, especially for coming through on such short notice — I didn’t see anybody discussing the realities of 3-D filming out in the trenches of low-budget Hollywood of the 1950s.


Twilight Time’s
Man in the Dark 3-D Blu-ray
is available through Screen Archives Entertainment.
Interview date: January 20, 2014