World 3-D Expo 2006
by Alan Rode
The Eyes Have It! It’s time to put on the glasses again at the World 3-D Film Expo II at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. September 8-17, 2006
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The heyday of 3-D films in Hollywood lasted little more than a year, from 1952-53, as the movie studios desperately employed a variety of visual gimmicks to stave off the encroachment of nascent television.
Even though the advent of the more user-friendly and economical Cinemascope rapidly eclipsed the embryonic epoch of 3-D film, American pop culture invariably comes full circle in appreciation for our fondness with cinematic genres and fads from the quickly distant past.
3-D films might have been the equivalent of a coffee break in the chronological history of motion pictures, but their enduring appeal has once again claimed the spotlight.
The World 3-D Expo Film Festival II, after a three year hiatus, returns to Hollywood with a collection of classics, oddities, and brand-new prints of 3-D films that, in some cases, haven’t been screened in half a century.
Fortunately for pop culture enthusiasts and 3-D film buffs, Jeff Joseph of SabuCat Productions, producer of World 3-D Expo II, reneged on his vow of 3-D abstinence taken immediately after the previous Expo back in 2003. The first festival had taken an exhausting year to prepare for.
“Although Expo I was wildly successful, we swore we never do one again”, said Joseph. “But then some film elements were discovered, some studios started to be very helpful, one thing let to another… and here we are.”
The World 3-D Film Expo II is showcasing a mind-boggling 35 features over 10 days at the Egyptian Theatre. In addition to repeating the sell-out screenings from Expo I (“House of Wax”, Creature from the Black Lagoon” “Robot Monster” “The Glass Web” and “Dial M for Murder”) there will be eight new titles shown this time, most of which haven’t been screened theatrically in 3D for over 50 years. These new titles include the world 3-D premieres of “The Diamond Wizard” (1954) and “Jivaro” (1954).
The full-length features are supplemented by 17 short films including Bugs Bunny, Popeye the Sailor along with British and Russian shorts- all in 3-D.
The Expo 3-D classic films will be 35 mm prints screened using the ‘double interlock’ Polaroid system. This system used two cameras filming left eye and right eye images that are projected using two polarized filtered projectors that operate in synchronization. When the images are projected on a screen that maintains the polarization, 3-D glasses permit each eye to perceive the correct image. This technical system was used for screening many of the classic 3-D films back in the early 1950’s and is vastly superior to the anaglyph method that uses red and blue glasses to view like-colored images. There will be 3D glasses available for all in the Egyptian Theatre lobby.
The festival kicks off with an opening night gala featuring pristine new prints of “Those Redheads from Seattle” and “Taza, Son of Cochise”. The ‘Queen of Technicolor’ Rhonda Fleming will be the special screening guest with a Q&A moderated by Leonard Maltin.
The World 3-D Film Expo II concurrently invited a star-studded lineup of screening guests who appeared in many of the films being shown. Guests scheduled to attend at press time include Rhonda Fleming, the Bell Sisters, Earl Holliman, Kathleen Hughes, Mamie Van Doren, Christina Hart, Kathleen Hughes, Biff Elliott, Paul Picerni, Biff Elliott, Udo Kier, Warren Stevens among others.
Notes from the Opening Weekend
The World 3D Expo II festival opened Friday night with a gala reception in the courtyard of the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.
Film buffs mingled with celebrities, sipping wine and munching hors d’oeuvres in a party like atmosphere that preceded the initial screenings. A battalion of orange clad Expo festival volunteers divvied out the 3-D glasses hawked T-shirts and directed a throng of eager film buffs into the restored Egyptian Theatre.
After an opening cartoon of Popeye the Sailor in “the Ace of Space”—yes, he did eat his 3-D spinach—“Those Redheads from Seattle” (1953) was shown on the big screen for the first time in over 50 years.
Made on a ‘B’ movie budget, ‘Redheads’ couldn’t be mistaken for an Arthur Freed produced musical from M.G.M. Despite the process shots, the picture was an entertaining tale about an all female family roughing it in the Klondike featuring several lively musical numbers. The newly struck print was gorgeous and several of the 3D effects, such as a leaking wine barrel, appeared to leap out from the screen. The presence of the great Agnes Moorehead, playing the family matriarch, added heft to the production whose main attraction was the “Queen of Technicolor” and special screening guest, Rhonda Fleming.
Fleming was joined afterwards by co-stars Gene Barry, The Bell Sisters and songwriter Ray Evans for a cast reunion and Q&A moderated by renowned film historian and critic Leonard Maltin. The Bell Sisters had a contingent of children and friends who cheered them loudly while the still lovely Rhonda Fleming indicated that she would gladly trade in her ‘Queen of Technicolor’ sobriquet for a rep that was more appreciative of her acting. Still debonair at 87, Gene Barry got the loudest ovation while 91 year old Ray Evans proved to be the most loquacious guest, reminiscing about ‘Redheads’ and “Red Garters” (1954) among his numerous distinguished credits.
The evening’s second feature “Taza, Son of Cochise” (1954) was an interesting diversion from the soap opera genre that director Douglas Sirk was best known for. With Rock Hudson in the title role, Sirk sought a Native American perspective about the tragic finale of the Apache tribe in the American Southwest. ‘Taza’ is a handsome looking film that was shot on location in Moab, Utah and the Universal back lot. The stolid Hudson is supported by a bevy of reliable character actors including Gregg Palmer, Ian McDonald, Joe Sawyer, Morris Ankrum, and special screening guest, Robert F. Hoy. So long as one doesn’t view ‘Taza’ as a history lesson and can take the frequently insipid dialogue along with the gorgeous Barbara Rush- a knock-out Apache maiden adorned in form-fitting frontier dresses, Max Factor lip-stick and designer turquoise earrings—with an appropriate grain of salt, the picture remains thundering good fun. An added plus was watching the film seated next to the affable Bobby Hoy who provided several sotto voce comments about the stunt work and action as it unfurled on screen.
Saturday night’s marquee feature was the classic sci-fi picture, “It Came from Outer Space” (1953). Horror genre filmmaker and screening host, Joe Dante declared that, “…the people in this town who really love movies are the people in this theatre tonight.” Amen. The screenplay credit on this gem was listed to Harry Essex, but I can’t buy it. The lyrically crafted dialogue has the master’s touch of Ray Bradbury whose artistic story shines through in the script. When the spaceship crashed into the California high desert, I reflexively flinched as the debris tumbled out from the screen; the 3D effects were a wow! Richard Carlson stars as the iconoclast writer who surmises that the alien visitors as benign beings who landed here by accident and simply need to fix their spacecraft and leave. The one-eyed visitors’ predilection for kidnapping the locals and assuming their human form to move about unmolested eventually elicits the ritualized rifle-bearing anxiety from the high desert hoi polloi. Carlson has to save the day, rescue the hostages and hold off an angry mob till the visitors can blast-off peacefully: a neat denouement to a thoughtfully designed movie.
Barbara Rush shines as the love interest in ‘Outer Space’, but the sexy cameo role by Kathleen Hughes dropped the most jaws inside the packed theatre. Hughes was the special screening guest and joined Joe Dante for a Q&A session afterwards. The still lovely star was going through a ritual studio buildup in the early 1950’s and had to fight for the small part in the film because Universal-International thought it was a couple rungs beneath her. “I begged for the part because it was 3-D” stated the still glamorous Hughes. She revealed that the test photo shoot of her recoiling from fear that garnered her the reputation of the 3-D ‘scream queen’ that has adorned everything from buildings to condoms. Her multi-dimensional image will grace the Expo screen in “The Glass Web” (1953) also directed by Jack Arnold. Kathleen, whose husband is writer-producer Stanley Rubin, will return in-person to discuss her role opposite Edward G. Robinson and John Forshyte on Monday night.
Sunday morning had two of the roughest and toughest going at it. Robert Mitchum and Jack Palance face off with Linda Darnell as the trophy in “Second Chance” (1953). Shot on location in Mexico, this 3-D noir about a mob killer after a gangster’s girlfriend to prevent her from testifying might have been short on story, but with these three stars operating, who cares? Darnell was scrumptious in 3D Technicolor, Mitchum was his heavy-lidded, laconic best and Palance resembled a feral beast in heat since he has fallen hard for Darnell and seeks her primarily for carnal knowledge. The expert camera work by Rudy Mate’ during the final sequence in a disabled cable car made my heart race and palms sweaty. One backstory on “Second Chance” was Jack Palance getting so self-absorbed that he actually clipped Mitchum on the chops during their final fight sequence. Bob responded with a hook to Palance’s solar plexus that caused Jack to lose his breakfast. Unfortunately or fortunately, none of this action was included in the final cut.
I stuck around for the British 3-D shorts program that followed “Second Chance” While the term, ‘stiff upper lip’ is an accurate assessment of the entertainment value, 3-D Expo Director-Producer, Jeff Joseph assured me that the last show of the festival, ‘Rarities in 3-D II’ will, “make 3-D movie history”. Me? I am going to be around for that show and “House of Wax”, “Kiss Me Kate” and “Inferno” and… well, you get the idea.
More to follow from the World 3-D Expo II in midweek!
For a detailed look at the World 3-D Film Expo II screening schedule, guests and additional festival details, please click here.
The World 3-D Film Expo II will be the hottest ticket in Hollywood for the next two weeks. I will be in attendance, glasses at the ready position, and will be reporting back in all three dimensions.
More Notes From 3-D World Expo II
The World 3-D World Expo II reached the median point of a retro festival that has been one of the most enjoyable of recent memory. Jeff Joseph and his team of dedicated staff and volunteers deserve kudos for putting on an efficiently managed, ‘film buff friendly’ festival that other promotions would do well to emulate.
Since I missed it in 2003, I absolutely had to watch “House of Wax” (1953), the most renowned 3-D film from the classic period on late Tuesday night schedule The sumptuous Technicolor production is highlighted by Vincent Price’s bravura performance that initialized his permanent identification with the horror-fantasy genre. In “House of Wax”, Price’s insane obsession with artistic neo-realism culminates with serial strangulation of his subjects, coating them with super-heated wax and exhibiting his victims as varied historical figures in his New York museum.
The ‘suspense’ angle of “House of Wax” is irrelevant; a toddler can quickly deduce that Price is the deformed nut job doing the stalking and killing. The question is how many people will Vinnie dip and display before his ‘secret’ is revealed and the joint burns up? Getting to the rousing finale through visual storytelling with effective performances is what keeps “House of Wax” freshly entertaining after over half a century.
The ensemble cast includes Phyllis Kirk, Paul Picerni, Paul Cavanagh, Roy Roberts with Charles Buchinsky (Bronson) as a deaf mute who resembles Piltdown Man and the always-dependable Dabbs Greer who seemed to be in every television episode I watched as a kid. The 3-D effects in “House of Wax” were limited to Reggie Rymal joyously batting paddleballs at the audience while in front of the wax museum set (Paul Cavanagh’s red hair turning almond colored midway through the film was not a special effect) No matter. This picture was too much fun to tote up the gimmicks or gaffes.
Special screening guest Paul Picerni added a joyous comedic lift with a Q&A session before the screening. The affable actor is a wonderful raconteur and acted out (that’s the best way to put it) a number of uproarious stories about “House of Wax”,” The Untouchables” television show and other highlights from an acting career that dates back to 1946. The marquee story related by Picerni that brought the house down concerned his temporary dismissal from the set of “House of Wax”.
“House of Wax” director Andre de Toth ran his set along the order of Hussar battle battalion. Wanting to get a key sequence in a single take, the one-eyed auteur directed Picerni to put his head in a working guillotine with a prop man above balancing the blade between his knees while puffing on a stogie. Picerni demurred at possible decapitation and De Toth screamed at the actor that he was “…a chickenshit” for not taking the artistic risk. After all, reasoned De Toth, it would only hurt for a second if the blade slipped because of an earthquake or if the prop man erred. Picerni responded to the director with a candid anatomical recommendation and De Toth immediately banished him from the set quicker than a Prussian general ordering up a firing squad.
When Jack L. Warner discovered the details about De Toth’s stab at cinematic realism, he ordered the stunt to be conducted safely without the possible complications that might occur due to a contracted artist being beheaded on a sound stage. A relieved Picerni and the company reconvened to complete the gag with an iron bar securing the blade in place. Whew!
Wednesday was a three dimensional, noir stained triple header.
“I, the Jury” (1953) was the initial screen send-up of Mickey Spillane’s blockbuster best seller that introduced the legendary Mike Hammer character to millions of entranced post-WWII Americans. The book was an unqualified success; this movie wasn’t.
Biff Elliott, a friendly and still feisty octogenarian, who was a special guest at the screening, ended up becoming a considerable actor on screen and television. Alas, Biff appeared to be out of his depth playing Mike Hammer in his screen debut.
Although earning an “A” for effort, Elliott portrays the iconic Hammer with a mixture of Bowery Boys toughness, petulant outrage and awkward movements. Elliott’s neophyte performance is partially counterbalanced by the solid supporting work of Preston Foster, a lush Peggie Castle, Margaret Sheridan as a forthright ‘Velda’, John Qualen and Nestor Paiva. There are also two great bits by Elisha Cook Jr. and Joe Besser.
The script made a hash of Spillane’s jumbled revenge yarn, but with ace noir cinematographer John Alton’s supple camera work in storied L.A. locations like the Bradbury building, “I, the Jury” was a pleasurable experience. How can any movie buff dislike an Alton film with Cookie and Besser? The quality of the print was excellent while the 3-D aspects of the production appeared to be only an afterthought.
“The Diamond Wizard” (1953), originally released as “The Diamond”, was filmed in England by co-producer and star Dennis O’Keefe as part of a three picture deal with Steven Pallos. Jeff Joseph revealed that the right eye negative had never been exposed prior to the festival: this evening’s screening was a genuine 3-D first!
The picture is a melodramatic yarn of an American agent working in the U.K. tracking down the diamond thieves that killed his friend and fellow agent. It turns out that his erstwhile girl friend (Margaret Sheridan) has a foreign- born Dad who looks nothing like her and is an atomic scientist who also happens to have disappeared before some authentic-looking, but artificial diamonds arrive on the underworld scene and threaten to flood the legitimate diamond market. When the clues start piling up and then Sheridan disappears, all hell starts breaking loose.
The game was clearly afoot in “The Diamond Wizard” and there are few better practitioners of the noir crime drama than ace scripter John C. Higgins ( “T-Men”, “Railroaded”, “Raw Deal”, “Border Incident”, “He Walked by Night”) and the underrated Dennis O’Keefe. The movie begins slowly and gathers dramatic momentum towards an exciting denouement. “The Diamond Wizard” is a well-crafted picture and should be anointed the ‘sleeper’ of the 3-D World Expo II.
Screening guest James O’Keefe reminisced about his father who rose from plumber’s assistant, to dress extra, featured player and durable movie star in over 238 films and television shows. Dennis O’Keefe became a complete filmmaker who could act, write, direct, produce- and did it all quite well. For the elder O’Keefe, the movie business was simply business. “What Dad really wanted to be was a golfer”, related James. “He always set aside time in his movie contracts to play in the Bing Crosby Pro-Am”. The younger O’Keefe, a producer-director in his own right, also identified himself playing a cameo role as a ten year old on the set of the “The Diamond Wizard”, leaning against a lamppost as a car careens after the bad guys.
The final screening on Wednesday night, “Inferno” (1953), is a top notch, adult drama that proved once again that movies don’t have to have complex story lines or be laden with special effects to be richly entertaining.
Robert Ryan plays an eccentric and ruthless tycoon (a probable screenwriting nod towards Howard Hughes) who is abandoned in the California desert by his beautifully lethal wife (Rhonda Fleming) and her amoral lover (William Lundigan). As Ryan struggles to survive in the Mojave with a broken leg, the nefarious duo who left him to die carefully cover their tracks and send the tortoise-like search effort in opposite directions. With great difficulty, Ryan perseveres against the odds and with their plan gone awry; Fleming and Lundigan have to return to the desert in an attempt to close the deal. Without laying it all out, matters become both complicated and deadly with a superbly filmed denouement that had me ducking out of the way of a thrown lantern that came right for me out of the screen!
Francis Cockrell’s heady script eschews the histrionics and puts the emphasis on reality. The voice narration of Ryan’s thoughts as he struggles through one hair-breadth hurdle after another is particularly impressive. The sole Technicolor print of “Inferno” was in great shape and the picture was beautifully shot on location.
Besides the Mojave Desert, there is no better exemplifier of the twin technologies of Technicolor and 3-D than Rhonda Fleming. While Miss Fleming is a better actress than she is generally given credit for, she is breathtakingly stunning in “Inferno”. Nobody ever wonders why William Lundigan is risking all for her whenever the camera goes into a tight close up of Rhonda by the pool or in an evening dress.
Just before “Inferno”, a filmed interview with the director, Roy Ward Baker, was screened. Baker, 90, is the last surviving director from the classic 3-D era and his recollections of “Inferno” constitute an important archival touchstone. A trailer for “Inferno” was also shown in flat Technicolor that featured Rhonda Fleming at her jaw-dropping best making a pitch to theatergoers about the movie. I believed whatever Rhonda was saying.
The 3-D World Expo II continues at the Egyptian Theatre through the end of this coming weekend.
“Kiss Me Kate” and “The French Line” with special guest Jane Russell are on tap for Friday.
Final Weekend of the
The concluding weekend of the World 3-D Expo II opened with a Friday evening duet of two musicals that were from the same era but transfixed at opposite ends of the entertainment spectrum.
By early evening, the queue for “Kiss Me Kate” (1953) extended out of the Egyptian Theatre courtyard and snaked down Hollywood Boulevard. Once inside, the theatre buzzed with the energy of a major premiere in anticipation of a seminal golden-age M.G.M. musical in 3-D, Technicolor and as Cole Porter would put it “… stereophonic sound”.
Before the feature, a brief period newsreel interview with the KMK co-playwright Bella Spewack was shown along with some clips of the late dancer/singer Ann Miller. The lively Miller clips, including her memorable ‘Great American Soup’ commercial written by Stan Freberg, proved to be a perfect icebreaker for “Kiss Me Kate”
The timeless Broadway ‘show within a show’ hit musical comedy wasn’t a completely flawless screen adaptation. Some of Porter’s racier lyrics were toned down for the censor, Howard Keel sang well, but his acting was stiff; some of George Sidney’s camera movements struck me as less than fulsome. However these comments are critical disassembling about making something excellent even better.
“Kiss Me Kate” was a joyous piece of entertainment with the gorgeous Kathryn Grayson as a wonderful ‘Lilli Vanessi/Katherine ’ to Keel’s ‘Fred Graham/Petruchio’ with Ann Miller, Bobby Van, and Tommy Rall (Where are you Tommy?) singing and dancing their way through that wonderful Cole Porter music with the delectably clever lyrics.
Some of the major attributes of “Kiss Me Kate” on film include the sizzling dancing and choreography of Bob Fosse, particularly in the final dance number. Another pleasure was watching character actors Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore hoofing their way through “Brush up Your Shakespeare”.
Judging from the sated reaction of the capacity crowd, it is apparent that people will still turn out in droves for top-drawer movie musicals. Unfortunately, big screen musical entertainment in Hollywood has gone the way of the dodo bird and no one producing movies these days seems willing to roll the dice on a musical project. Is anyone at the studios listening?
One of the last remaining female stars from Hollywood’s heyday, Jane Russell, attended the screening of “The French Line” (1954). I should state that I would have never watched this film without benefit of the 3-D Expo and the presence of Miss Russell, who remains resolutely charming and beautiful at age 85. The prolonged standing ovation for the legendary star on her introduction was one of the high points of the festival for me. It’s nice when someone is genuinely remembered so affectionately.
I became transfixed by “The French Line” (1954). The picture was a guided tour through mid 1950’s eroticism courtesy of the obsessive Howard Hughes. The film was produced by Hughes to showcase Russell—She and Robert Mitchum were the only stars still under contract at RKO by this point—in an attempt to leverage the success of Howard Hawks’ “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’” (1953) over at Fox.
And what an attempt it was! The film’s tagline was “Jane Russell in 3-D. It”ll knock both your eyes out”. Subtlety was never a Hughes strong point.
Russell plays an oil heiress who, after jettisoning her neutered fiancé (Craig Stevens) in the opening five minutes, decides to take an incognito cruise on a luxury French ocean liner to find out if she can meet a man who merely lusts after her considerable body rather than her considerable oil wells. A French playboy on board (Gilbert Roland) is being paid by Russell’s eccentric business manager (an over-the-top Arthur Hunnicutt) to keep her out of trouble, however Jane’s identity is assumed by a fashion model in order to enable various attempts of witless comedic mayhem.
In true Hughes’ fashion, the production is overstocked with beautiful girls (including a young Kim Novak); with all of them visually meeting the studio’s owner’s minimum criteria of “D” cup cleavage. The lovely ladies coo and jiggle while fawning over either Roland, Hunnicutt or being briefly displayed in several fashion model sequences that Hughes compelled veteran director Lloyd Bacon to insert at various points in the picture.
The picture wouldn’t be too absurd if not for the spectacle of Gilbert Roland playing a French playboy, ‘Pierre DuQuesne’ and uttering some of the most vapid dialogue in cinematic history. Even worse, the actor was compelled to sing his way through musical numbers that are wretchedly written and staged. To his credit, the debonair leading man maintains his élan throughout this ordeal. Jane Russell told the audience during the pre-screening interview that she personally selected Roland for the part after observing him attired in tennis togs at Palm Springs because, “… we couldn’t find anyone French to do the role and he was the best looking guy I’d ever seen”. Actors have been selected for worse reasons, but the Roland musical numbers were the equivalent of cinematic root canal.
Through it all, Jane Russell glides professionally through, keeping events moving towards an inevitable conclusion. She brings a genuine vivacity- her singing talent was underrated- to several inane musical numbers such as “I’ll Be Switched (If I Ain’t Gettin’ Hitched)” sung with her maid while stripping down and immersing herself in a bubble bath! The climatic musical number in “The French Line” originally had Jane clad in a two piece bikini of Hughesian design that made her, “feel naked” in front of the cast and crew.
Said Miss Russell: “I told them (RKO) to come up with a one piece bathing suit and that I would be home until they did”. The resultant one-piece black suit she wore that exposed benign portions of the Russell midriff while Jane shook her hips was still erotic enough to stir up a League of Decency crusade against the picture and its star. Having her personal religious beliefs being publicly questioned by the grand pooh-bahs of public morality pushed Jane Russell to the brink. “I went to Howard and said ‘no more’. He promised that he wouldn’t make me do anything else involving the censors so long as I never told anybody that he made the commitment.” After watching “The French Line” and recalling the fuss related by Miss Russell, it is remarkable to momentarily reflect on the evolution of morality in films since 1954.
Saturday’s screening kicked off with a dual offering of Sci-Fi beginning with “Robot Monster” (1953). A legendary cult classic about ‘Ro-Man’, an actor in a gorilla suit wearing a dented diving helmet, trying to take over the Earth, this picture was shot for about $1.50 (actually $20-$30K) and spliced together with World War II stock footage by producer Al Zimbalist. The film was pictorially in great shape and it is reassuring that “Robot Monster” can still be periodically screened in order to startle new generations of movie goers.
I was curious about “Gog” (1954) an Ivan Tors produced sci-fi film starring Richard Egan, Herbert Marshall, and Tors’ beautiful wife, Constance Dowling. A top secret U.S. space facility that has a super-computer controlling, among other things, two robots biblically named ‘Gog’ and ‘Magog’, begins to lose their top scientists at an alarming rate.
Richard Egan, performing in his usual upright and locked position, investigates with a sloe-eyed, blond Dowling at his side as the body count piles up. Head honcho Herbert Marshall remains equally perplexed while spending the balance of the film issuing superfluous orders into a telephone receiver.
Red herrings abound, notably goggle-eyed Philip Van Zandt, but after the robots openly rebel, it is revealed that an alien airplane is controlling the super computer from above to wreck havoc on the station. The exact ownership of the mysterious airplane wasn’t stated in the script, but the Cold War specter of the Soviet hammer and sickle was an unseen, but apparent graphic on the plane’s fuselage before the final explosion.
Directed by Herbert Strock, “Gog” is stuffed with pseudo science-fact dialogue that was initially interesting but ended up resembling a tiresome junior high science class. Nearly every actor was compelled to rattle off a string of technical jargon that had little to do with the suspense-mystery component of the film. The final showdown with the robots was a satisfying exercise in period special effects though. The sequence was buttressed by the surprising entrance of Herbert Marshall, limping forward to do battle with ‘Gog’ while armed with a flame-thrower strapped to his back. The picture’s final sequence with Egan comforting a hospitalized Dowling: “The doctor says it isn’t serious, just too much radiation.” restores proper period perspective.
During the intermissions, it was pointed out by one of the festival hosts that the left eye print of “Gog” is the only one in existence. The tenuous mortality of many of the films screened during this festival underscores the need for contributions to the 3-D preservation fund. A 501 c tax deductible non-profit, the 3-D preservation fund is essential to the continued preservation and exhibition of 3-D films. The message is clear: donations will ensure more festivals and continue the search for the nine remaining 3-D films that are ‘lost’. ‘Nuff said.
The Saturday evening screening of “The Charge at Feather River” (1953) had something for everybody. With a plethora of flying arrows, thrown knives and flung tomahawks, this picture was packed with more 3-D stunts than any other screening I attended during the festival. Much more than visual gimmicks, “The Charge at Feather River” is a rousing, well-crafted Western that was beautifully filmed up in the Vazquez Rocks Park area north of Santa Clarita by underrated director Gordon Douglas (“Them!”, “Between Midnight and Dawn”, “Kiss Tomorrow Good bye”, “The Detective”).
Guy Madison is singularly impressive as the leader of a culled group Army losers (it struck me: “The Dirty Dozen” as an oater…) who set out on a mission to rescue female captives from the Cheyenne tribe in 1869. Tautly paced, the picture has some excellent character performances including Frank Lovejoy as a cuckolded Sergeant who is stalking his wife’s ostensible suitor- a raffish Steve Brodie- as well as the Indians. Neville Brand provides raw meat as a malcontent trooper and wisecracking Dick Wesson breaks the tension while vying with burly Henry Kulky over a perpetual canteen of whiskey.
After rescuing the women (Helen Westcott and a thoroughly hostile Vera Miles), the detachment discovers horror back at the fort and has to high-tail it to the Feather River. Madison’s troops have to overcome one tough scrape after another, until a thrilling final battle with the charging Indians and the predictable arrival of the saving cavalry. Based on the factual Beecher Island fight, “The Charge at Feather River” is a superb Western that remains top drawer entertainment on the big screen.
The final Sunday screening I attended was “Jivaro” (1954) starring Fernando Lamas and Rhonda Fleming. By the time of its release in February 1954, the picture was shown flat and had never been screened commercially in 3-D before last night. The wait was worth it… kind of.
“Jivaro” proved to be a visual feast that needed some CPR in the action department. An ostensible romantic adventure set in Amazonia (actually it was a huge water tank and jungle set on the Paramount lot on Melrose according to screening guest Tony Ludwig- nephew of the director, Edward Ludwig) gets bogged down with static dialogue sequences between the two stars. One of my screening companions aptly remarked that ‘Jivaro” needed less talk and, “…more Lon Chaney Jr.” Unfortunately, Chaney was only around for a brief brawl with Lamas and should have been better used.
La Fleming, in designer clothes and high heels, arrives in the jungle to marry fortune hunter Richard Denning who supposedly owns a large rubber plantation. Lamas and Brian Keith, as a roguish miner, decide not to tell Rhonda for two thirds of the movie that her fiancé is a drunken fortune teller who is sleeping with a local native girl (Rita Moreno), and doesn’t have two nickels to rub together.
Only after Denning disappears into the “Valley of the Winds” in search of gold do matters become serious. After the Lamas-led rescue party finds Denning’s body, the Jivaros attack (led by an improbably cast Marvin Miller as the chief). After Keith and nearly everyone else is killed or deserts, the rescue party arrives and Lamas and Fleming end up together on a slow boat down the Amazon tributary of Happy Endings.
The “Jivaro” screening brought out Lorenzo Lamas and his children along with Tony Ludwig, nephew of director Edward Ludwig. Mr. Ludwig recalled his time on the set of the film with his uncle and spoke of a nostalgic time when Hollywood Boulevard was wall-to-wall movie theatres.
Although “Jivaro” would be followed by “Gorilla at Large” to wrap the festival, the cheesecloth jungle epic from the epicenter of 1950’s Hollywood was an appropriate feature to conclude a festive celebration about the sheer fun of movies on the big screen. I am eagerly awaiting the next 3D Expo and only hope that it doesn’t take three years to occur.
Hats off to Jeff Joseph and all who put this grand festival on in the heart of Hollywood.
Alan Rode is a film historian, writer, and board member of the Film Noir Foundation. His book about Charles McGraw, film noir and Hollywood is due out next year.
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