3D. The notion of seeing a movie in 3D is heaven for some and hell for others. Granted, some movies are suited to 3D and some are not. Recently, Hollywood has taken to using a conversion process to create 3D movies from a 2D production with mixed results. Early conversion jobs, like Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender were atrocious, but the process has matured quite a bit in the last couple of years, even making the classic The Wizard of Oz a marvel in three dimensions. But conversions can only go so far. For the best 3D effects, a film must be shot natively in the process.
A lot of people (of a certain age anyway) know that the first real 3D movie boom was in the 1950s when Hollywood was looking for ways to lure audiences back to the theaters after the advent of television. Cinemascope, stereophonic sound, Smell-O-Vision and 3D were all “gimmicks” that promised something audiences couldn’t experience at home. The first official feature-length 3D movie, Bwana Devil, was released in 1952, but this was not the first time movie audiences had seen a 3D movie.
No, the first documented exhibition of 3D film took place on June 10, 1915 at the Astor Theater in New York City. Three reels of test footage were shown in the red/green anaglyph process, but unfortunately none of this footage has survived. Thanks now to the fine folks at Flicker Alley and the 3-D Film Archive, 3D fans now have the opportunity to see newly restored 3D films dating all the way back to 1922 with the new Blu-ray release 3-D Rarities.
The disc features a collection of test footage, short promotional films, Hollywood trailers, highlights of a boxing match, a full-length Casper the Friendly Ghost 3D cartoon and more. The program, running nearly two-and-a-half hours, is divided into two sections (with a Play All feature) — “Part 1: The Dawn of Stereoscopic Cinematography” and “Part 2: Hollywood Enters the Third-Dimension.” In addition to the main feature, there is a Bonus section as well.
Part 1 features early 3D footage from 1922 – 1952, mainly test footage for industry professionals, as seen in “Kelley’s Plasticon Pictures,” “William T. Crespinel/Jacob Leventhal Tests” and “John Norling/Jacob Leventhal Tests,” from the years 1922 – 1935. These early films were exhibited using the red/green process but the preservationists involved in restoring these films have converted them to the modern polarized process with some astonishing results. We see a travelogue of Washington DC and New York City with some amazing depth, followed by some “gag” footage that uses the process to its fullest bringing various objects off the screen and into your face.
Audiences at the 1939 New York World’s Fair were the first to see the new polarized 3D process, similar to the modern 3D we have today, and the disk features the second polarized 3D film, Thrills for You (1940), a promotional film from the Pennsylvania Railroad documenting the wonders of traveling by train. This is followed by a Chrysler promotional film, New Dimensions, which features a stop-motion look at building a car with many objects hitting you in the face.
Animation takes the stage with several experimental shorts from the early 1950s, which unfortunately become a bit repetitive with the imagery, but the films themselves look as good as new as presented on the disk. Part 1 concludes with a rather amazing advertisement for a commercially available Bolex home movie camera for the average Joe to shoot and project his own 3D vacation movies (incuding underwater shots)! I had no idea that anyone was making 3D available on the consumer level at that time.
The second part of the program leans more on the output of Hollywood during the 1950s with a 3D demonstration featuring Lloyd Nolan (claiming to audiences that he is the first major actor to be photographed in 3D) and Beany and Cecil, introducing the process and a trailer for Bwana Devil. That is followed by a trailer for Universal’s It Came from Outer Space (and after they did such a stellar job with Creature from the Black Lagoon on Blu-ray, one hopes they will also lavish such attention on this title which did get an anaglyph release back in the days of VHS and was also broadcast on TV in the 1970s in 3D) featuring Richard Carlson, who seemed to be Universal’s go-to guy for 3D movies (he was also in Creature from the Black Lagoon).
One of the longest features on the disk is a 15 minute newsreel – the only one produced in 3D – featuring the 1953 Rocky Marciano/Jersey Joe Walcott boxing match and some behind-the-scenes moments leading up to the bout. This is followed by a trailer for Hannah Lee, featuring Macdonald Caery, Joann Dru and John Ireland, and a strange single shot stand-up comedy routine, Stardust In Your Eyes, featuring Slick Slavin (which played in theaters as the lead-in for Robot Monster).
Richard Carlson pops up again to introduce the trailer for The Maze (a truly bizarre film with an even more bizarre mystery), followed by a documentary, Doom Town, that captured the horrors of the early atomic bomb tests in Nevada – in 3D AND color! This film was thought lost for decades, but the negatives were discovered and salvaged in 1985 before they were destroyed.
The next short film, The Adventures of Sam Space, goes all out with 3D, widescreen, color and stop motion animation. The film was produced in 1953, but went unreleased due to the fading 3D craze and was only seen in a badly cropped version in 1960 as a “Special Added Attraction” with the last dual projected 3D feature September Storm. This restored version is stunning and shown at its proper aspect ratio for the first time.
Another oddity from 1953, I’ll Sell My Shirt features the “comedy” team of George “Beetlepuss” Lewis and Charlie Crafts in a burlesque film featuring a swinging (literally) stripper and an uncomfortable bit of the two men doing all they can to get another woman undressed. It’s actually one of the rarest of all 3D films and certainly appeals to an audience of its time. Feminists today will be horrified, but it is an interesting curio nonetheless.
The disk closes out with a trailer for Columbia Pictures’ Miss Sadie Thompson, starring Rita Hayworth, Jose Ferrer and Aldo Ray, and Paramount’s Boo Moon, starring everyone’s favorite Friendly Ghost, Casper. The trailer is a little rough around the edges, but the Casper cartoon is just stunning and epic as the ghost travels to the friendly looking Man in the Moon, only to find there’s no one there … or is there? The cartoon also includes commentary by Thad Komorowski relating some of the details on the production of the short.
Bonus material includes a two-minute segment from the film The Bellboy and the Playgirls, a “nudie cutie” shot by Francis Ford Coppola, 3D Photo Galleries featuring stills from the 1923 production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, images from the 1939 World’s Fair, the ViewMaster reels of Adventures of Sam Sawyer, and restorations of anaglyphic 3D comic books for the polarized process.
The Flicker Alley Blu-ray package also contains a nice booklet detailing historical information about each of the films including on the disk, something you rarely see anymore. The first two presentations of the early test footage can also be viewed with optional audio commentary by Jack Theakston, who gives a lot of information about the footage in a very short amount of time.
Overall, Flicker Alley and the 3-D Film Archives deserves a round of applause for unearthing and restoring this historical collection of 3D film. Here’s hoping that 3D fans will be clamoring to see this and that we’ll be treated to more of the classic 3D films of the 1950s (and from the brief 1980s fad as well). 3-D Rarities is a must-have for any 3D Blu-ray collector’s library! [Note: The films can also be viewed in 2D for those without a 3D TV curious about these historic films.]
Flicker Alley provided Hotchka with a copy of the Blu-ray for reviewing purposes.