Swimmin’ at Ya

For Blu-Ray fans, 2017 is turning out to be quite a bonanza (nice that SOMETHING good is happening this year); for 3-D aficionados, it’s beyond our wildest dreams.

Just how wild are our stereoscopic dreams?  For true buffs of the process, I can think of no better answer than the title SEPTEMBER STORM, a 1960 adventure that for us depth-devotees is one of the format’s entries that help comprise the 3-D Holy Grail.  And it’s now available on a dynamite Blu-Ray from the folks at Kino-Lorber, in conjunction with that grand bunch at the 3-D Film Archive.

A rarely seen 20th Century-Fox pic, SEPTEMBER STORM is historically relevant, as it’s the first advertised American CinemaScope movie in 3-D (rumors still fly about 1955’s Son of Sinbad).

In fact, SEPTEMBER STORM is such an obscurity that I wasn’t even sure if the movie ever existed in 3-D, and, if it did, whether it was entirely shot in the process, or just used for certain sequences.  I never met anyone who had actually seen it in three dimensions.  And, people who saw it flat (generally on TV) were magnanimously unimpressed.

Truth be told, flat, the movie ain’t much, even with the Mallorca locations in CinemaScope.

The cast is certainly of the B-variety, not necessarily a bad thing, and the story, by noir veterans Steve Fisher and (screenplay) W.R. Burnett, carries a high pedigree, but isn’t exactly Little Caesar, High Sierra or White Heat.  The movie was produced for Fox by Edward Alperson’s unit and directed by Hollywood professional Byron Haskin.

The cast comprises a foursome of interesting personalities.  Joanne Dru, an actress I’ve always liked, is costarred with Mark Stevens.  Supporting backup is provided by the always reliable Robert Strauss and newcomer Asher Dann.

So, what’s the story?  Supermodel Dru likes to be adventurous, and takes a New York breather to explore the deep-sea wonders of Mallorca, Spain.  There she meets supposed boy-millionaire local Dann, who does his best to loosen her bikini.  Not that she’s opposed to this hunky sidebar, but all that takes a back seat with the arrival of dubious explorers Stevens and Strauss, a red-flag duo if ever there was one.  They want to hire one of Dann’s boats to recover a buried treasure off the coast of one of the adjoining islands.  This becomes problematic for several reasons:  A) it turns out that Stevens may have intentionally arranged a wreck, causing the earlier discovered fortune to sink for his personal salvage, and B) Dann is a nothing but a Latin beach bum, babysitting a fleet of yachts for an absent millionaire.  There’s also C), Strauss wanting to ravish Dru – a hormonal tsunami that can never end well.

Nevertheless, off they go and the passions, fashions and trash-ons clash on…and on…and on.

Character development is weird in the movie; Strauss is scumbag evil at one moment and then Stalag 17 lovable the next.  The raw Burnett touch is scantily evident, save some of Dru’s smack-down lines, beautifully delivered by the actress (when Stevens wants a private conference, she snaps “I bet you do!”).  A pre-climactic moment where Strauss’ character’s worm finally turns, does have a nasty edge to it, but, again, is short-lived.

Stevens and Strauss nonetheless make a good team of rogues.  Even when playing 100% good guy, Mark Stevens always had a sleazy air about him, which probably explains why he never became a major Fox star.  He is an able actor, however, and turned out to be an even better director (Cry Vengeance, Time Table).

That said, the true star of SEPTEMBER STORM isn’t the cast or dazzling location settings, but the 3-D.  To this, we can’t credit director Haskin enough.  He’s done a monumental job.  While there are not any genuine “coming at ya” moments, the entire movie is spectacularly framed and designed for the process.  Every shot perfectly composes the requisite center/foreground/background action.  Simple bits, comprised of the cast walking across the deck of the boat, surrounded by rigging, become thrilling.   Ditto scenes in nightclubs, cabins, and, natch, the underwater stuff.

The various nightclub sequences, taking place over a period of days, apparently were shot in one establishment, and in a single shoot.  A sensational sultry-eyed blonde dances by in nearly every take, suggesting that she was possibly some suit’s girlfriend.  I say this because, in Hollywood, such things are known to happen.

While ads reasonably showed a shark attacking Dru and Co., nothing really that frightening compares with Robert Strauss in 3-D.  Fortunately, Joanne Dru more than makes up for this shocking horror.

In fact, the perfect use of 3-D throughout lends credence about other rumors revolving around the producer’s and director’s finer cinematic excursions.  For many years, Alperson’s 1953 classic Invaders from Mars, directed and designed by William Cameron Menzies (who, himself, achieved a 3-D expressionistic funfest with The Maze), was discussed as a Third Dimension offering that survived only in standard flat versions beyond the editing room.  Furthermore, Haskin’s work on George Pal’s H.G. Wells masterpiece, War of the Worlds (also 1953), was likewise whispered to have been lensed (at least partially) in the process.

The bad rep that SEPTEMBER STORM has carried with it for more than half a century relies wholly upon its flat version (or, if viewed on pan-and-scan 1970s TV broadcasts, a flat-flat version).  Reviews cite its ugly photography and bad color – a standard (and often valid) claim on Fox/DeLuxe titles (again, more so for the faded, grainy blown-up, full-frame/non-scope TV prints).  The ghosts of co-cinematographers Lamar Brown and Jorge Stahl, Jr., can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

This new transfer of SEPTEMBER STORM mercifully puts those negative comments to rest.  In 35MM, CinemaScope and 3-D, the rectangular visuals look terrific.  And, damn, could that sucker Robert Strauss swim!

The music score, cowritten by Eddie Alperson, Jr., is a mixed bag.  The downside of nepotism, Junior’s accomplishments never lost Cole Porter any sleep.  His title song to dad’s earlier Fox pic Mohawk remains a classic of good-awful filmmusic that my late pal Ric Menello and I would frequently warble before collapsing in spasms of laughter.

SEPTEMBER STORM keeps the Eddie, Jr., legend going.  The title (and nightclub) tune is authentically bad, but in a way that is addictive.  Proof of this is the fact that I’m still quoting the inane lyrics (by Jerry Winn) and can’t stop humming that theme; it may eventually drive me insane.

If 3-D collectors haven’t already added this title to their libraries, I heartily recommend that they do so.  It’s a fantastic demo platter of how much the process can enhance a project.

But it doesn’t stop there.  The 3-D Film Archive gang won’t let it.  As with many of their releases, the supplemental material is as good, if not better, than the main attraction.  With SEPTEMBER STORM, they have gone beyond sweetening the pot.

First of all, the original 3-D release (limited as it was) was accompanied by a bizarre puppetoon-esque short, entitled SPACE ATTACK, also in 3-D; it is included here so that one can actually recreate the 1960 experience.  The short is a tiny-tot-geared painless pastiche – an odd choice to pair with SEPTEMBER STORM, as the feature attraction is definitely not kiddie-oriented.

In addition, there is a pristine copy of a British 3-D 1953 short (never released in the process), HARMONY LANE, a two-reeler variety show (with notable performers being Max Bygraves and Dora Bryan).  Aside from one number (only surviving in a flat rendition, but seamlessly integrated into the mix), the 3-D is quite good, save a ballet number, which is outstanding – an ideal example of the heights inventive Third Dimension could ascend (the short’s director, Lewis Gilbert, best known here for the excellent Bond flick You Only Live Twice, discusses the pic in a 1995 filmed interview).

Best of all is a new interview with SEPTEMBER STORM‘s only remaining star, Asher Dann.  It’s easy to see why he got the part.  At 77, the still gregarious thesp exudes an overabundance of charm (which he states was his best attribute).  I was also amazed how good an actor Dann could be.  I thought he was just another foreign import, one of the many throngs of international actors and actresses recruited for American productions during the late 1950s-early 1960s.  Turns out he’s a native New Yawker; he sure had the Spanish accent down poifectly.

Dann is genuinely stunned by the interest in SEPTEMBER STORM, but is told that it’s because of the 3-D availability.  He memorably recalls the giant green Natural Vision 3-D monolithic cameras (resembling the Xenomorphs from It Came from Outer Space, but with two eyes), newly christened as StereoVision, and remembers seeing a Third Dimension print at Fox; but emphatically insists that the picture was never released that way.  He had done personal appearance duty in key cities and swears STORM only played in standard CinemaScope (memory does have a tendency to play tricks on one, as the StereoVision lobbycards, posters and TV spots exist, the latter also included in this release, along with a “flat” theatrical trailer).  I’ve since discovered, that, in actuality, the movie wasn’t shot in CinemaScope at all, but in spherical NaturalVision.  The prints were then converted to SuperScope (a fake rectangular format, promoted by Howard Hughes during the last years at RKO).  The materials were then cropped and anamorphically squeezed in the lab, and finally released in true CinemaScope prints.

Dann likewise insists that while another actor was up for the part (likely, Fox contractee Nicos Minardos, whom studio mogul Spyros Skorus desperately tried to catapult to stardom), he’s convinced he got the role due to his expertise at gin rummy, a game Alperson was addicted to (and one the producer played relentlessly with Dann and Strauss during the shoot’s off-time).  This is totally believable since, as indicated above, in Hollywood such things are known to happen.

Dann further reports that the bonding between the four principles was tremendous, a fantastic foursome (and, revealed in an enticing wink-wink-nudge-nudge instance, one that he won’t elaborate on).

The greatest part of Dann’s reminiscing is that the interview itself is shot in 3-D; the former actor laughingly tells the crew that Alperson told him to stop gesticulating so much, as it was intrusive and annoying.  This is a habit he couldn’t break, and a bona fide plus for this extra, as his protruding arms and hands comprise the main “look out, duck!” portion of this jam-packed entertainment package.

Dann, whose non-acting career was far more interesting than his on-camera/stage one (he was the original manager of The Doors), eventually made his fortune the way so many unrecognizable movie folk have:  in real estate.  Because in Hollywood, such things are…well…

SEPTEMBER STORM.  Color.  Widescreen [2.39:1; 1080p High Definition] 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  Kino-Lorber Classics/3-D Film Archive.  CAT # K21238.  SRP:  $34.95.

septemberstormCOVER

 

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