Typical America! With more and more of us catching on to the wonders and pleasures of 3-D Blu-ray, the majors are pulling back on platter and TV/monitor production (although still big and growing overseas, particularly in Asia). That said, the indies are stepping up to the plate in grand fashion, and 2017 has given us stereoscopic fans a plethora of primo titles from the 1950s Golden Age.
Key to this momentum is the exemplary work of Twilight Time, which has released no less than THREE primo titles – two comprising part of the depth format’s A-line Holy Grail. All of these entries are collector-worthy, but be forewarned, as is the company’s policy, these offerings are available only in limited editions; when they’re gone, they’re in Blu-ray heaven and eBay (price gouge) hell.
1953’s MISS SADIE THOMPSON is an A-list 3-D pic with amazing pedigrees, primarily its star power (Rita Hayworth, Jose Ferrer, Aldo Ray). The third movie version of Somerset Maugham’s 1921 story Miss Thompson (adapted, in 1922, to a smash play, Rain, by John Cotton and Clemence Randolph, that starred theatrical icon Jeanne Eagels), SADIE updates the saga of a sensuous prostitute’s arrival on an American atoll marine base to modern day (the 1950s, to you). Let’s get something straight right now, there’s NEVER been a bad movie Sadie (Rita’s predecessors being Joan Crawford, who wuz robbed of a deserved Oscar, and Gloria Swanson); for that matter, there’s never been a lousy Rev. Davidson (Ferrer, Walter Huston, Lionel Barrymore). Aldo Ray, as the alpha member of our horny military, is likely the best Sgt. O’Hara (following the serviceable footsteps of William Gargan and, most remarkably, director-turned-actor Raoul Walsh).
The updates (screenplay by Harry Kleiner) are mostly to encompass modern warfare, Rita’s Sadie being correctly compared to the impact of an A-bomb.
The movie was co-produced by Hayworth’s studio, Columbia, along with her production company (the star’s brother, Eduardo Cansino, Jr., appears in a bit). The picture had Rita singing a number of original songs (one, The Blue Pacific Blues, by Lester Lee and Ned Washington, was nominated for an Academy Award). Yeah, she was dubbed by Jo Ann Greer, but “hearing” Rita isn’t as amazing as SEEING Rita, especially in three dimensions. True there’s nothing in this excellent adaptation that comes out of the screen at ya, save perhaps Sadie’s arrival with one of Rita’s exceptional gams (not to be confused with Rita Gam) hanging and swaying from the back of a truck, but there ARE compensations. Hayworth doing probably the sexiest rendition of The Heat is On in 3-D is a guaranteed perspiration percolator – with The Movie’s immortal Gilda doing an Eisenhower Era version of twerking in and around the camera whilst the heavy-breathing soldiers pant and moan in a smoke-filled, steamy bar.
The pic was lavishly shot in Technicolor by Charles Lawton, Jr., in Kaua’i, Hawaii. The exteriors are quite gorgeous, almost rivalling its star. Ferrer goes a little over the top with his “she’s a prostitute” harangue (still a big no-no word in 1953), but, then again, as a fake, lustful Christian practitioner, that’s his job. SADIE was part of Columbia’s continuing assault on the still-prevalent Code, what with From Here to Eternity simultaneously sweeping the country and the box office; thus, Harry Cohn’s commitment to 3-D, at least at the dawn of SADIE‘s filming, was quite commendable. Sadly, by the time the movie was ready for release, the craze was on the wane. SADIE, even though it had a special 3-D trailer in release for months before its unveiling, and an enticing teaser ad of a sweaty Hayworth under the tag, “Rita turns it on in 3-D!,” was short-changed after its premiere. Only a handful of theaters in major venues were given the SADIE stereoscopic treatment; the thousands of houses across the country and abroad (with the exception of the UK) only got the flat standard 2-D version. A real disappointment, as the inclusion of depth really ratchets up the intimacy.
In a nutshell, MISS SADIE THOMPSON remains one Hayworth’s best roles, as well as one of the greatest 3-D movies ever made. The supporting cast is aces, too, and features such familiar and/or roguish faces as Russell Collins, Rudy Bond, Harry Bellaver, and, probably most famously, Charles Bronson (still billed as Buchinsky), in the second of his 1953 appearances in three dimensions (the other being House of Wax).
Twilight Time has gone the distance in presenting MISS SADIE THOMPSON the way it was meant to be seen. While the 3-D edition pales in replication of hues and tones (the Technicolor in the flat prints does pop more than in the surviving 3-D left-and-right elements; both are on view in this limited edition Blu-Ray), the clarity is incredible (with only slight bleeding, and that being relegated to background action). The original stereo tracks have long been lost, but the mono sound is superbly buoyant and dynamic, and features a wonderful early George Duning score (available as an IST).
An interesting extra, filmed before the big 3-D resurgence in 2010, discusses the impact of the process, but, in reality, you really have to see it to get it. Be prepared to have your active glasses actively steamed; you also might want to keep a cold compress within forehead distance.
Another “A” title from 1953, INFERNO remains a genuine 3-D classic from its Golden Age. The dubious but successful combination of film noir, Technicolor and three dimensions, INFERNO tells the sordid tale of illicit lovers who plot and execute a plan to leave the woman’s wealthy injured husband in the Mojave Desert to die.
How the sinister narrative elements and the elements of nature intertwine, ultimately proving the existence of karma, is a cinematic sight to behold.
Of course, much of the triumph of INFERNO belongs to the terrific people involved in its creation. Producer Darryl F. Zanuck liked it well enough to bypass Fox’s big CinemaScope buildup, and had it shot on-location, rather than on desert studio mock-ups. Director Roy (Ward) Baker did an exceptional job of conveying the infinite terror of desolation and hopelessness, utilizing the depth of the Mojave vastness to the 3-D max. Baker, probably best known for his Hammer Films (Quatermass and the Pit, The Vampire Lovers) was nonetheless a master at conveying human survival instincts (which his 1958 blockbuster A Night to Remember more than demonstrated) Writer Francis Cockrell, who penned nearly two dozen top-notch episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, did a marvelous job as well, concocting a tight, suspenseful script. The magnificent Lucien Ballard grasped the possibilities of the process with his outstanding Technicolor photography (poifectly balanced by Paul Sawtell’s tense music). Best of all is the lead, Robert Ryan, who can never do any wrong – aces as always – as the despised, cuckolded millionaire named Donald in an acrimonious marriage to a trophy wife…hmmm. The difference is that this Donald is a fighter, and learns humility, courtesy of hitting rock bottom and battling nature for his life.
The skeevy lovers, Rhonda Fleming and William Lundigan, do themselves proud as the conniving, murderous couple, while the standout support of Larry Keating, Henry Hull, Carl Betz and Barbara Pepper couldn’t be better.
Much of the movie relies upon Ryan’s narration voiceover; it’s one of his most unique performances. While there are a few gimmicky things thrown at the audience, nothing can compare to the scenario, which, for a change, is worthy of the stereoscopic effects. While we’re on that subject, what makes this a 3-D classic is the use of space. Ryan, agonizingly crawling over and down the perilous, cliffside craggy landscape, breathlessly puts you in the action, feeling the character’s vertigo as he peers at his needed descent. You’ll genuinely understand the gulp in his throat, as you’ll experience it as well, with dizzying results. These are spine-tingling moments (an accompanying flat trailer highlights this sequence with a dull effect, leaving non-glass wearers wondering what’s the big deal. In 3-D, it IS a big deal).
The film elements of INFERNO 3-D beautifully append the natural ones. Aside from some minor background registration, they’re in amazingly excellent shape. A featurette supplement contains interviews with Fleming (not only one of the Queens of Technicolor, but of 3-D – starring in three entries, this one hand-down being the best) and Ryan’s daughter Lisa. Fleming discusses the deceptive Mojave locations as being faux stifling, as the actual climate during the shoot was near freezing, causing her to fall ill for nearly a week. A perfect thriller double-bill with the 3-D Dial M for Murder, INFERNO admirably displays the peaks the process could reach when taken seriously.
For many, the crème de la crème of this 3-D trio is the guilty pleasure of the bunch, 1954’s THE MAD MAGICIAN. True, on the surface, it appears to be Columbia’s retread of Warners’ House of Wax, and, yeah, it kinda is. But, oh, what fun! In the new widescreen dimensions (in cahoots with the 3-D ones), THE MAD MAGICIAN offers the Wax star (the never not entertaining Vincent Price), the Wax scripter (Crane Wilbur) and producer (Bryan Foy), the same time frame (turn-of-the-century) and an overly familiar Wax plot (innocent artiste Price is screwed by greedy scumbags, who drive him insane with a vengeance). The kick in this beautifully shot black-and-white horror epic (by Stagecoach’s Bert Glennon, with the left and right elements being in near-pristine condition) is the direction by the underrated John Brahm, who specialized in baroque period extravaganzas (often on a limited scale). Indeed, there are more than passing nods to Brahm’s accredited Laird Cregar masterpieces, The Lodger (mad Price’s alter ego booking rooms in the B&B of a crime-obsessed couple) and Hangover Square (a ghoulish bonfire sequence). Add a bombastic “fright” score by Emil Newman, and you have just what the psycho ordered.
The cast is superb, with Price, as wannabe prestidigitator Gallico the Great, wreaking havoc upon those who wronged him by impersonating the villains (once he’s exterminated the scoundrels in sanguine horrific fashion); to this effect, the victim roster comprises John Emery (purposely made up to look like Price trying to look like Emery), and the 6’ 4” terror star’s height twin (or Vincent Van Grow), towering actor Donald Randolph. Thrown into the mix is Gallico’s skank ex-wife, who left him for Randolph, nicely portrayed by Eva Gabor. Her inevitable murder is a highlight in this depth-defying homage to Grand Guignol. The young lovers (a detective and a showgirl) are attractively rendered via the physical forms of Patrick O’Neal and The Wild One‘s Mary Murphy (a massive ad campaign featuring Murphy in 1950s stripper tights may have disappointed randy viewers, but she still delivers the goods in 1900 Florodora girl togs). There’s also Jay Novello, Corey Allen, Tom Powers and Lyle Talbot.
The 3-D is a hoot, particularly the rather extreme ploy of removing Randolph’s head from his elongated torso (which Price then carries around in a Gladstone bag).
But the wow factor doesn’t stop there; Twilight Time has enormously sweetened the pot by including the two 3-D Three Stooges shorts, SPOOKS and PARDON MY BACKFIRE, as supplements. I’d normally recommend the Stooges’ two-reelers as a perfect lead-in for MAGICIAN, but hesitate only because the Moe, Larry and Shemp violence far surpasses anything Price can come up with (a garage hot wire going up through Larry’s nose till it comes out his ear; Benny Rubin getting blow-torched in the ass, as he screams, “Help, help, I’m losing my mind!”). But guys in gorilla suits NEVER get stale, nor 3-D mad doctors spritzing hypodermics at the audience. So, throw all caution to the wind and program the above at your own discretion.
Should mention though, like all Twilight Time titles, these 3-Delights are limited editions, and I’ve been told that MAD MAGICIAN is perilously close to being sold-out. So order today!
MISS SADIE THOMPSON. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 1.0 DTS-HD MA. Twilight Time/Columbia Pictures Industries. CAT #: TWILIGHT226-BR. SRP: $29.95.
INFERNO. Color. Full frame [1.33:1; 1080p High Definition]; 1.0 DTS-HD MA. Twilight Time/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment. CAT #: TWILIGHT275-BR. SRP: $29.95
THE MAD MAGICIAN. Black and white. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 1.0 DTS-HD MA. Twilight Time/Columbia Pictures Industries. CAT#: TWILIGHT259-BR. SRP: $29.95.