Where can you find marching World War I vets, aliens from outer space, Rocky Marciano, the atomic bomb, Rita Hayworth, Nat “King” Cole and Casper the Friendly Ghost—all sharing screen time? The answer is Flicker Alley’s wonderful new Blu-ray DVD, 3-D Rarities. Thanks to producer Bob Furmanek and team, there’s all that and more in this gloriously bizarre compilation, celebrating 100 years of 3-D cinema.
These early 3-D films were billed as “Magic Movies” and “Movies of the Future.” They still retain their magic, but now, instead of a trip to the future, they provide a time machine to the past, a glimpse of our country in a more naïve time.
Of the 22 extremely rare and lovingly restored 3-D films on the disc, my personal favorite is “M.L. Gunzburg Presents Natural Vision 3-Dimension” (1952). Here, actor Lloyd Nolan assisted by puppets Beany & Cecil (voiced by Stan Freberg and Daws Butler) and Shirley Tegge (Miss U.S.A. of 1949, here rechristened “Miss Third Dimension”) gives the most informative yet unintentionally hilarious explanation of the 3-D process I’ve ever seen and heard. Nolan’s awkward pauses alone are worth the price of the disc.
Coming in a close second are the two 1953 trailers for “The Maze” and “It Came From Outer Space.” Both star perennial 3-D sci-fi hero Richard Carlson, whose ingenuous earnestness always raised the grade of his B films to a strong B+. (I must confess a personal bias towards “The Maze.” When I was 8 years old, visiting my grandmother in San Francisco, I somehow convinced her to take me to see this film—my very first 3-D movie.) The trailer for “It Came From Outer Space” includes an extra added attraction, “Hollywood’s first 3-D musical featurette,” starring Nat “King” Cole, Russ Morgan’s orchestra, acrobats, and a hysterical bullfight number that ends with the audience getting skewered by the female matador’s sword.
While this collection will certainly be appreciated by fans of 3-D, there’s something for everyone here. History buffs will love scenes from “The 1939 New York World’s Fair” and a mad, speeded-up taxi ride up Riverside Drive onto the newly-completed George Washington Bridge. Train aficionados will enjoy “Thrills For You,” a ride on the Pennsylvania railroad. Fight fans will have ringside seats for the Rocky Marciano /Joe Walcott heavyweight bout (the first and only 3-D newsreel). And thrill-seekers will enjoy a dizzying ride on Coney Island’s famed Thunderbolt roller coaster.
In addition to Casper, Beany and Cecil, there are many other animated treats on this disc. “The Adventures of Sam Space” (1960) utilizes the stop-motion technique developed by George Pal’s “Puppetoons.” In “New Dimensions” (aka “Motor Rhythm”) John Norling uses that same technique to animate a full-scale Plymouth Sedan assembling itself, and Norman McLaren’s “Now Is the Time” features abstract animations, painstakingly drawn frame-by-frame directly onto the film.
The DVD also includes excerpts from the earliest 3-D theatrical presentations (1922-1927); a trailer for “Miss Sadie Thompson” (1953) featuring a steamy Rita Hayworth; a burlesque routine (quite tame by today’s standards); and nightclub comic Slick Slavin (Trustin Howard) doing wonderful impressions of famous celebrities of the day. And, to showcase the new 3-D process, anything that could be pointed, dropped or thrown at the audience was cheerfully and unapologetically done so, from a trombone to a Coney Island hotdog on a stick.
One ominous title in the collection deserves special mention. “Doom Town” (1953), the first 3-D documentary, was apparently given the green light by the appropriate government agencies, but its strong anti-atomic testing message could hardly have been one our government wished to promote. The film is extremely well made, with excellent use of 3-D, and contains a brief color section of actual footage of the atomic bomb detonation, with military and civilian observers only a few miles from the blast site. (Thankfully, they were wearing their protective, plastic goggles.) The film was not-so-mysteriously pulled from circulation shortly after its initial showings, and was thought lost for decades until the negatives, on the verge of being destroyed, were discovered by the 3-D Film Archive. Years ahead of its time, the film still brings chills.
Bonus features on the DVD include an informative 24-page booklet with an introduction by film historian Leonard Maltin, 3-D photo galleries featuring images from the 1939 World’s Fair, behind-the-scenes 3-D stills from Lon Chaney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and an in-depth overview of “3-D Comic Books.”
But the prize in the bonus box is a clip from 22-year-old writer/director Francis Ford Coppola’s 1962 “nudie-cutie” sex-comedy The Bellboy and the Playgirls. This was actually a black-and-white 1958 German film (“Sin Began with Eve”) that the producers purchased on the cheap, to which Coppola added 18 minutes of narration and dialog. He then filmed the added scenes in color and 3-D, for which he was paid the hefty sum of $250. This, incidentally, was Coppola’s second feature film; the first, “Tonight For Sure” was also a “nudie-cutie.” Oddly, neither achieved the artistic or commercial success of his later non-nudie-cutie films (whose names escape me at the moment).
All films in 3-D Rarities have been restored and mastered from original 35mm elements, meticulously re-aligned shot by shot for precise 3-D registration. I first saw 3-D Rarities at a special showing at this year’s National Stereoscopic Society’s 3-D Con, presented by Bob Furmanek to an appreciative audience of 3-D photographers and fans. Mr. Furmanek revealed in the Q&A following the show that this is just the tip of the 3-D iceberg, that major studios are sitting on a wealth of 3-D treasures they have yet to release to the public. One can only hope they change their flat-world view and make these films available to us all. In the meantime, we have 3-D Rarities to keep us happy.
Note: While this DVD can be viewed in 2D on any TV or computer with a Blu-ray player, to fully enjoy these films in 3-D, you need:
- A 3-D HDTV
- Compatible 3-D glasses
- Blu-ray 3-D player or Playstation-3 system
- High-speed HDMI cable
The producers of this incredible collection have a web site rich in images and information. The best price for 3D Rarities is from Flicker Alley.Robert Bloomberg is a stereo photographer, filmmaker, musician and graphic artist whose award-winning 3-D shows have been presented worldwide, including locally at the San Francisco Exploratorium, Mill Valley Film Festival, and Oakland Museum. He has been honored with a lifetime fellowship “For Distinguished Scholarship and Extraordinary Knowledge of Stereoscopy” by the National Stereoscopic Association, and served for many years as its Regional Director for Northern California as well as being Stereo Technical Advisor for the Photographic Society of America. He took his first stereo photo in 1980 and has been acting as a 3-D Johnny Appleseed ever since. Visit his web site for more 3D thrills.