The Golden Age of 3D
From the world's first 3D feature film, The Power of Love, to Andy Warhol's Frankenstein 3D, AMZ looks at vintage 3D films from the 20's to the 70's.
As you explore this article, you will see that the years 1953 and 1954 were no doubt the dominate years for 3D movies.
This is not a complete list of every single 3D film from the Golden Age, but most of the prominent films are included in this SFMZ feature.
imdb.com: The Power of Love - 1922 Anaglyphic
World's first 3-D feature film. Not Bwana Devil, which is usually given that honor. The only film released in the two-camera, two-projector Fairhall-Elder stereoscopic (3-D) process developed by Harry K. Fairhall and Robert F. Elder.
The premiere was 27 September 1922 at the Ambassador Hotel Theater in Los Angeles. This film is presumed lost.
3dmovingpictures.com: MARS 1922 Teleview
M.A.R.S. is the world's second 3D feature film. In the theater, two normal projectors were linked with sync motors, so they ran in absolute sync.
25 year-old Laurens Hammond of Detroit had an electric motor turn an AC generator so his system was isolated from the poor quality city power.
The projectors were driven by this regulated AC, via their own sync motors. The left film was in the left projector and right film in the right.
Attached to each and every seat in the theater were the viewing devices. The viewer had a window permitting both of your eyes to see through the shutter to the screen.
3dmovingpictures.com: Audioscopiks - 1935
MGM’s Frederick C. Quimby acquired some gag/demo footage shot by Jacob F. Leventhal and John A. Norling. Quimby handed the footage over to Pete Smith to shape into one of his well-known comedic shorts.
The result was the 8+ minute Audioscopiks, which opened nationally, January 8, 1936. It was apparently a smash and was Oscar nominated for Best Short Subject.
We don’t know if MGM ordered more footage to be shot, or Leventhal and Norling already had it, but sometime in 1937, it was decided to make a sequel. The new Audioscopiks opened January 15, 1938.
Leventhal most likely met up with John Norling (also from NYC) at the J. R. Bray Studios where Dave Fleischer was doing the Out of the Inkwell series which apparently involved both of the boys at some point. Norling had directed two shorts for Bray, in 1922 and 1923.
Third Dimension Murder - 1941 Anaglyphic
A 3-D short subject in which the narrator goes to a creepy old house in search of his missing aunt.
There he encounters the Frankenstein monster, a witch, a wooden Indian who comes to life, and assorted other monsters and frightening characters, all of whom manage to throw something toward the camera.
IMDB Member Comments: "Third Dimensional Murder" is worth a look ... IF you can manage to see it in 3-D, but you'll need the appropriate viewing apparatus ... which has a much shorter 3-D parallax than the standard 3-D eyeglasses of 1950s drive-in fame.
wikipedia.org: Bwana Devil - 1952 Polarized
It was 1951 and theatre attendance had down-spiralled from 90 million in 1948 to 46 million a few years later. TV was the culprit and Hollywood was looking for a way to lure audiences back.
Cinerama had premiered September 30, 1952 at the Broadway Theatre in New York and was packing them in but its bulky and expensive three camera system was impractical if not impossible to duplicate in all but the largest theatres.
One time screen writer Milton Gunzburg and brother Julian thought they had a solution with their Natural Vision 3-D film process.
They shopped it around Hollywood with little or no interest. 20th Century Fox was focusing on the introduction of CinemaScope, and had no interest in another new process.
Both Columbia and Paramount passed it up. Only John Arnold, who headed the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer camera department, was impressed enough to convince MGM to take an option on it but they quickly let the option lapse.
nytimes.com: Arena - 1953 Polarized
The orignal print ad displayed "First Full-Length Western in 3 Dimension!" Bob Danvers, an arrogant, irresponsible rodeo star, retaliates for losing his wife by having an affair with a pretty fan in this melodrama.
His wife, Ruth, really loves him, but she can no longer handle his selfishness and leaves. Hob has his moment of truth at a major Tucson rodeo when his ex-buddy, now a rodeo clown, sacrifices his life to save Hob from being gored by a berserk Brahma bull.
The film features realistic scenes from a rodeo and was originally a 3-D picture. This story, handsomely panoplied in the rich hues of Ansco color and printed in Technicolor, deals in strictly pedestrian fashion with the muscular and hazardous lives of hard-riding rodeo performers.
It is the muscle-jarring, "sun-fishing" "sidewinding," charging broncs and Brahma bulls that provide the visual drama in "Arena." Sadly enough, these looked just as good in two dimensions.
Cat Women of the Moon - 1953 Polarized
This is one of the best. So-bad-it's-great! A cast of stars (including Sonny Tufts, Victor Jory and the delicious Marie Windsor) land on the far side of the moon and discover a race of beautiful women (there not cats, that's just the title.)
Oh, yeah, and some giant spiders, too. But enough of that. Any film that has Ms. Windsor in 3-D has got to be tops on any bad sci-fi list.
This is probably the first film of it's kind. No, not camp, but the plot of "male astronauts go to extraterrestrial planet and discover race of sex-starved women dying for company".
Invasion of the Star Creatures, Fire Maidens from Outer Space, and Queen of Outer Space all follow in its footprints. There was even a direct remake, Missile to the Moon!
This film was originally released in full stereoscopic format in 1953, and a regular B/W print was released later under the title "Rocket to the Moon".
msn.com: Cease Fire - 1953 Polarized
Documentary filmmaker Owen Crump went "on the line" with the American peace-keeping troops during the Korean Conflict of 1950-53.
Without editorializing, Crump managed to convey the frustrations and futility of this notorious "peace action". To a man, those interviewed sound upbeat and optimistic, but they can't hide those haunted looks in their eyes.
Much of the footage in Cease Fire has found its way into countless Korean War TV documentaries since 1953. Given the excellence and balance of the footage, it is a shame that Owen Crump's name is not more widely known.
The soundtrack includes "(We are brothers in arms", Written by Dimitri Tiomkin, Lyrics by Ned Washington, Sung intermittently by male chorus.
Also, "Battle Hymn of the Republic", Written by William Steffe (1856), Original lyrics by Julia Ward Howe (1862), New lyrics by Owen Crump, Sung by soldiers during march.
The Charge at Feather River - 1953 Polarized
Made during the brief 3-D movie craze of the early-middle 1950s, Gordon M. Douglas's The Charge at Feather River (1953) does, indeed, have its share of arrows (flaming and not), lances, and other weapons flying directly at the audience in several scenes.
Though most interesting use of the effect may well be a scene in which Frank Lovejoy's tough-as-nails Sgt. Baker backs down a rattlesnake with some venom of his own.
It's better than that in its use of 3-D, however the movie consistently makes use of the extra-dimensional element in framing its action.
msn.com: Devil's Canyon - 1953 Polarized
RKO Radio's second 3D production, Devil's Canyon is a combination western and jail-break picture. The scene is Arizona Territorial Prison, wherein 500 desperate men are incarcerated.
The inmates become even more desperate when female outlaw Abby Nixon (Virginia Mayo) is likewise locked up.
As the prisoners draw up plans to escape, Abby is attracted to handsome but psychotic ringleader Jessie Gorman (Stephen McNally)--and to U.S. marshal Billy Reynolds (Dale Robertson), who is serving time for manslaughter.
The climactic bust-out threatens to get out of hand until the marshal calms things down with a Gatling gun.
answers.com: The Glass Web - 1953
One of the better results of the 3-D craze from the 1950s, The Glass Web is strong enough to stand on its own without the visual technical gimmick around which it was designed.
Many 3-D films fall into two camps -- those that exist strictly to show off the technology and those on which the technology feels like it has been grafted, much against the film's will. The sequence following the discovery of the body clearly is being exploited for 3-D purposes.
classicfilmguide.com: Hondo - 1953 Polarized
Directed by John Farrow and co-produced by John Wayne (with Robert Fellows), in the title role, this Louis L'Amour story was adapted by James Edward Grant, who would earn his only Academy recognition 5 years later with an Oscar nomination for the Western comedy The Sheepman (1958), featuring Glenn Ford.
Wayne's co-star Geraldine Page earned her first Oscar nomination (Supporting) and L'Amour his only (Best Writing, Motion Picture Story).
This slightly above average Western also features Ward Bond & James Arness as Army Indian Scouts, and Michael Pate (among others), as well as an uncredited wonder dog (like Lassie).
What makes this film particularly real are all the things Wayne does at the beginning of the film, after his character has walked out of the desert and onto Page's ranch, including shoeing a horse.
Originally released in 3-D,which explains a few of the contrived action sequences.
wikipedia.org: House of Wax - 1953 Polarized
Stereoscopic 3-D was an alternative technology (like Cinemascope and Cinerama) used by 1950s studios attempting to compete with the new threat of television.
Just over 50 titles were released in the 3-D process during its 2-1/2 year heyday. House of Wax was always shown in dual interlocked 35 mm projection with polarized glasses.
The film was re-released in the period of 1975 through 1980 in both single strip 35mm Stereovision 3-D and in Stereovision's pioneering 70mm 3-D process, where it played in major venues like Grauman's Chinese Theater, in Hollywood, and the huge Boston Music Hall (seating 4300 patrons).
House of Wax, originally titled The Wax Works, was Warner Bros. answer to the 3-D hit Bwana Devil, which had been released the previous November.
Seeing something big in 3-D's future, WB contracted the same company, Natural Vision, run by the Gunzberg Brothers, Julian and Milton, to shoot the new feature.
It Came from Outer Space - 1953 Polarized
It Came from Outer Space is a 1953 Science Fiction 3-D film directed by Jack Arnold, and starring Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, and Charles Drake.
A meteor crashes in the desert near a small Arizona town, and research scientist John Putnam (Richard Carlson) thinks it's a spaceship, but no one will believe him except his loyal girlfriend, Ellen (Barbara Rush).
Weird evidence begins to back up his theory however, from the strange behavior of some of the locals, to the slime trails, the ghostly noises in the phone lines, and the apparitions of hideous alien eyes swooping down on passing cars.
Director Jack Arnold (Creature From the Black Lagoon) lets the story unfold deliberately, and infuses the desert locale with all the unearthly mystery of an alien landscape, helping to make this one of the best science fiction films of the 1950s.
imdb.com: Man in the Dark - 1953 Polarized
Columbia's first 3-D production and also the first 3-D feature from a major studio---"Bwana Devil" was an indie production distributed by United Artists---has a story featuring gangster Steve Rawley (Edmond O'Brien) who, while in jail on a robbery charge, undergoes an experimental brain operation designed to eradicate his criminal tendencies.
He loses his memory and is kidnapped by his old cronies who want to get their hands on the hidden loot for which he has been serving time.
He eventually, through a series of wild dreams, recovers his memory before the climax in an eerily-lit amusement park, highlighted by a wild chase on and over a roller coaster.
IMDB Members Comments: 3-D process and numerous subjective camera techniques make this interesting viewing and out of the ordinary story.
wikipedia.org: Inferno 1953 - Polarized
Inferno is 20th Century Fox's first, yet belated, foray into the world of 3-D film, a prevalent cinema fad in the 1950s.
It is a film noir drama/thriller directed by Roy Ward Baker, shot in Technicolor and shown in 3-D Dimension and stereophonic sound on prints for the few theaters equipped for that sound system in 1953.
The drama tells the story of spoiled and alcoholic millionaire Carson. During a trip to the Mojave Desert Carson breaks his leg after falling off his horse and is abandoned and left to die by Geraldine, his adulterous femme fatale wife, and his deceitful business partner Joseph Duncan.
wikipedia.org: I, the Jury - 1953 Polarized
I, the Jury is a mystery-thriller film from 1953, based on the novel by Mickey Spillane. It was directed by Harry Essex, produced by Victor Saville's company, Parklane Pictures and released through United Artists.
The film is notable for being the first film based on a Mike Hammer novel. Biff Elliot stars as Hammer. It was filmed in 3-D and was available with stereophonic sound.
imdb.com: Fort Ti - 1953 Polarized
In October 1982, this film was chosen by the ITV network in the United Kingdom as the first film to be given a television screening in 3-D.
Glasses were distributed (free) with that week's TV Times magazine and were also available in selected electrical stores (at a small charge). While the screening was reasonably successful, the experiment was not repeated.
imdb.com: Drums of Tahiti - 1954
In 1877, Tahiti secretly plans to revolt against France, aided by British gun-runners who are no match for police commissioner Duvois. Now, prosperous American Mike Macklin is persuaded by Queen Pomare to help.
As an excuse for sailing to San Francisco, he must enlist a "wife" of convenience; enter gold-digging showgirl Wanda Spence.
Will Mike tame her or ignore her in favor of inauthentic dancer Mawaii? A hurricane's brewing, the natives are restless...and so is the volcano!
Creature from the Black Lagoon - 1954 Polarized
The Creature from the Black Lagoon was made a year after The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953).
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was a big success that created a vogue for prehistoric/dinosaur and atomically enlarged monster movies, something that became one of the most predominant themes of 1950s science-fiction.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon is clearly an attempt to tap that success.
Although it is relatively rarity among these films in that it eschews the idea of a giant-size monster and brings the monster down to human-size, drawing upon something of the influence of the earlier alien invader film The Thing from Another World (1951).
The design of the Creature was supposedly modeled on the Oscar statuette, would you believe. This is a clever move that allows the film to have its cake and eat it too without the need for costly stop-motion animation effects.
Although in truth the bit about the creature being a dinosaur is only window dressing, for at heart this is just another variant on the Frankenstein and Mummy films that were Universal bread-and-butter genre output in the previous decade.
In fact with the Creature’s inroads on Julia Adams, The Creature from the Black Lagoon is really not a lot more than an incarnation of a good old Thrilling Wonder Stories cover with a tentacular monster and bikini-clad heroine.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon was originally shot in 3D and is sometimes shown in that format in revival screenings today.
Phantom of the Rue Morgue - 1954 Polarized
Warner Bros.' followup to its 3D hit House of Wax, Phantom of the Rue Morgue bears only the slightest resemblance to its alleged inspiration, the Edgar Allan Poe mystery yarn Murders in the Rue Morgue.
Karl Malden delivers one of the hammiest performances on record as mad scientist Dr. Marais, who uses a trained gorilla to exact revenge on those who've wronged him.
At the top of Marais' hit list are the many beautiful women who've spurned his advances, including such French pastries as Yvonne, Arlette and Camille.
Each of these unfortunate ladies have been given bracelets decorated with bells, designed to attract the homicidal ape's attention.
Psychology professor Paul Dupin conducts a private investigation of the killings, only to be arrested for the murders himself by the supremely confident Inspector Bonnard.
This leaves Dupin's sweetheart Jeanette virtually defenseless when she is targetted for extermination by Doc Marais.
Outside of such incidental pleasures as seeing Merv Griffin play a French medical student, Phantom of the Rue Morgue offers a vast array of unsubtle 3D "shock" effects, which come off as hilarious when the film is shown "flat".
Revenge of the Creature - 1955 Polarized
Revenge of the Creature is, of course, the sequel to Universal's fabulously successful The Creature from the Black Lagoon--and like its predecessor, the film was lensed in 3-D (though released "flat" in most theatres).
Though the audience had seen the Gill-Man shot full of holes in the first picture, he still resides in the Black Lagoon in the sequel, apparently none the worse for wear.
Two oceanographers (John Bromfield and Robert B. Williams) capture the creature and put him on display at Florida's Ocean Harbor Park (actually Marineland of the Atlantic).
Here the hapless Gill-Man is taught a few words of English by compassionate icthyologists John Agar and Lori Nelson.
Eventually, however, the creature reverts to type, kills one of his captors and goes on a rampage. And once again, he manages to briefly abduct the heroine and carry her off.
Not nearly as good as the first Creature, this followup is saved by the underwater photography of Charles S. Welbourne--and by the effective performance by Ricou Browning as the Gill-Man.
Look for a young, uncredited Clint Eastwood in his first screen appearance as the goofy white coated lab assistant who does the silly mouse gag in the lab scene with the monkey.
The Bellboy and the Playgirls - 1962 Polarized
June is busting out all over! In COLOR plus the new depth perception... it puts a girl in your lap! This was the tagline for Francis Ford Coppola's first film. The bellboy aspires to be a private eye and is reading a book to learn the trade.
The 'suspicious' activities of women in the hotel give him a chance to practice his skills. Surprise! They are representatives of a lingerie manufacturer.
To investigate further, he poses as a potential buyer, and the women take turns modeling their wares. This includes demonstrations of how easily the garments come off - making this a film destined for softcore movie palaces in the '60s.
The 3-D keyhole views of June Wilkinson are technically wrong, since one can only look through a keyhole with one eye.
IMBD Member Comments: When released in the '60s, this was the sort of thing shown in "adults only" movie theaters full of cigarette smoke and men wearing raincoats.
imdb.com: The Bubble
(Invasion of Planet Earth) - 1966 Polarized
Taglines included 'A Spaced Odyssey', 'A Sci-Fi Experience That Will Blow Your Mind!', and 'The Picture Floats Off the Screen and Over Your Head!'
A couple encounter mysterious atmospheric effects in an airplane and find themselves in a town where people behave oddly. They eventually escape.
IMBD Member Comments: This was not the first polarized 3-D movie by a long shot, as over 50 3-D movies were released in polarized 3-D in 1953 and 1954.
However, this was the first film widely distributed in a single strip/one projector 3-D process instead of the dual strip/dual projector system used in the fifties.
wikipedia.org: The Stewardesses - 1969 Polarized
The Stewardesses (1969, revised 1971) is the most profitable 3-D film in history, grossing over $27,000,000 (USD) in 1970 dollars on a budget of just over $100,000.
It is also unique in that it may be the only notable film to be reshot, edited and updated as it played in theaters, according to Allan Silliphant, the Producer-Director.
Since it was grossing extremely well, in specialty "adult theaters", Louis Sher and Silliphant decided that the film should be transformed into a regular R rated feature film with a more complex storyline and reduced nudity and sex simulation.
The film was shot in 35mm color and projected in a new, single strip, side-by-side polarized format called Stereovision. The images were compressed horizontally in printing, then expanded with an integrated anamorphic, "unsqueezing" lens for projection.
Only colorless plastic glasses were ever used, rather than the paper ones of the 50s. It was never shown in the simpler red/cyan filter method.
Frankenstein's Bloody Terror - 1972 Polarized
Also known as Hell's Creatures, The Mark of the Wolfman, The Vampire of Dr. Dracula, The Werewolf's Mark, The Wolfman of Count Dracula, and more.
The original Spanish version was actually released in 1968, ran 10 minutes longer, had stereo sound, and was in 3-D.
'Frankenstein' in the title was merely an American marketing gimmick, the Frankenstein doctor or creature do not appear in this movie.
A man suffers from the curse of lycanthrope and seeks help from doctor and wife team. They both turn out to be vampires and end up dueling it out with the werewolf star.
Andy Warhol's Frankenstein - 1974 Polarized
Andy Warhol's Frankenstein is a 1973 horror film directed by Paul Morrissey and produced by Andy Warhol, Andrew Braunsberg, Louis Peraino, and Carlo Ponti.
Starring Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, Monique van Vooren and Arno Juerging, and filmed in the famous Cinecittà by a crew of Italian master filmmakers.
Andy Warhol's Frankenstein is suffused with the crumbling glamour of old Italian films, paying homage to (while simultaneously parodying) the earnest and stark visual and psychological beauty of the horror films on which it is based.
Morrissey's sense of ironic detachment gives the film a gruesomely comic modernity and beauty all its own.
In the United States, the film was marketed in 1974 as Andy Warhol's Frankenstein, and was presented in the Space-Vision 3-D process in premiere engagements.
It was rated X by the MPAA, due to its explicit sexuality and violence. A 3-D version also played in Australia in 1986, along with Blood for Dracula, an obvious pairing.
In the seventies a 3-D version played in Stockholm, Sweden. In subsequent US DVD releases, the film was retitled Flesh for Frankenstein, while the original title was used in other regions.
Like Blood for Dracula, made by the same crew and cast, and sharing many of the same sets (a cost-cutting measure first used by Roger Corman), Flesh for Frankenstein is an attempt at using a gothic story to comment on power, knowledge and social order.
While many adaptations of Frankenstein portray the doctor as a man whose dedication to science for professional glory take him too far, in Flesh for Frankenstein, the Baron’s interest is more self-absorbed: he seeks to rule the world by creating a new species that will obey him and do his bidding.
Dr. von Frankenstein neglects his duties towards his wife/sister, as he is obsessed with creating a perfect Serbian race to obey his commands, beginning by assembling a perfect male and female from parts of corpses.
The doctor's sublimation of his sexual urges by his powerful urge for domination is shown when he utilizes the surgical wounds of his female creation to satisfy his lust.
He is dissatisfied with the inadequate reproductive urges of his current male creation, and seeks a head donor with a greater libido; he also repeatedly exhibits an intense interest that the creature's "nasum" (nose) have a correctly Serbian shape.
As it happens, a suitably randy farmhand leaving a local brothel along with his sexually repressed friend, brought there in an unsuccessful attempt to dissuade him from entering a monastery, are spotted and waylaid by the doctor and his henchman.
Mistakenly assuming that the prospective monk is also suitable for stud duty, they take his head for use on the male creature.
Not knowing these behind-the-scene details, the farmhand survives and finds his way to the castle, where he is befriended by the doctor's wife.
They form an agreement for him to gratify her unsatisfied carnal appetites. Under the control of the doctor, the creature, with the monk-to-be's head, serves the castle's residents and guests at dinner, but shows no signs of recognition of his friend.
The farmhand realizes at this point that something is awry, but himself pretends not to recognize his friend's face until he can investigate further.