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Hollywood’s First 3-D Revolution

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin May 31, 2012 at 2:05PM

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.
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A Day In the Country-3-D-290

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.”

Pant Raids-3-D-290

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.

3-D Intermission Card-325

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.

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(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.

This article is related to: Journal, 3-D, Exposition, Film Preservation, Trailers, Alfred Hitchcock, John Wayne