Fernando’s Hide…a-wayyy Too Much!

My “jones” for 3-D movies, 1950s cinema and Technicolor just got gobsmacked by the recent Kino-Lorber/Paramount Home Entertainment/3-D Archive Blu-Rays of 1953’s SANGAREE and 1954’s JIVARO, both starring the era’s (and process’s) undisputed King of the Bare-Chested Perspiration, Latin lover, Fernando Lamas.

The pics (and the pecs) were originally released through Paramount’s B-plus-budget subsidiary Pine-Thomas; however, by the early 1950’s, much of their product didn’t differ from the look of the ‘A’s, or from the similar stuff being churned out by Universal-International, Columbia and RKO.

Pine-Thomas extravaganzas often relied on the reboots of costumes, props and sets leftover from the likes of Cecil B. DeMille (both Bill Thomas and Bill Pine originally began apprenticing for C.B.).  Their early efforts were cheap, even by Monogram standards, but, by the time they discovered Technicolor (which became increasingly more affordable after WWII), things changed.  For one thing, they were able to lure nabe-fave-names into their lair (Lamas, Arlene Dahl, Rhonda Fleming, John Payne, Ronald Reagan) and, on occasion, even got major contract players and directors to participate (James Cagney, Charlton Heston, Jane Wyman, Nicholas Ray).  The supporting casts were always top-notch and the photography frequently superb.

With the advent and (sadly, brief) popularity of 3-D in the early Fifties, The Dollar Bills (as they were known in the industry) leaped into the fray with a vengeance, promising way more than they could deliver, and with Paramount going along for the ride (the latter, at an embryonic point, even announcing White Christmas in 3-D!)  The majority of the Paramount 3-Ds were Pine-Thomas; however, several other titles did eke by: Hal Wallis’ Cease Fire (a semi-documentary on the Korean War, also available from Kino-Lorber), Flight to Tangier (costarring Joan Fontaine and Jack Palance), and, most notably, Money from Home, with Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis.

The Bills’ efforts not only filled the coffers at box-offices across the country, but beat other studios to some Third Dimension firsts.  Those Redheads from Seattle (likewise available from Kino-Lorber) was the first released 3-D musical to cross the finish line, ahead of MGM’s Kiss Me, Kate and RKO’s The French Line.  It was also the first 3-D title to be shot and released in Technicolor, which, trust me, makes a BIG difference.

While Redheads appealed to the musical crowd, the diehard action fans anxiously salivated from the teasers announcing SANGAREE, a period piece oozing with sex and JIVARO, an up-the-Amazon sanguinary opus promising gory battles and shrunken heads galore.  Each pic would costar a redhead (not necessarily from Seattle, although one was), the studio’s lusty, busty answers to Maureen O’Hara:  Arlene Dahl and Rhonda Fleming.  Lamas, whose emoting with Dahl ended up spilling over off-camera (i.e., gossip column gold) was, according to Paramount ballyhoo, the result of a casting call that rivaled Scarlett O’Hara (bear in mind, “hooey” comes from ballyhoo).  The movies remain tremendous fun, look fantastic (in these splendid new 1080p restorations) and often show Golden Age 3-D at its in-your-face best.  So put on your glasses, and start the kernels a-poppin.’

 

“Indentured servants make good” serves as a suitable mini-review of 1953’s SANGAREE, a lush-looking torrid 3-D romance, based on a “scandalous” novel by Frank G. Slaughter (a sorta bedside companion to Kathleen Winsor’s shocking Forever Amber, as it’s a period piece about illicit love and even has a plague – because what 18th century immorality tales don’t?).  Of course, it’s easy to champion white slaves when they look like Fernando Lamas and Patricia Medina.  Lamas, aka Carlos Morales, is now DOCTOR Carlos Morales, thanks to kindly colonies nobleman General Victor Darby (Lester Matthews), who took the young servant under his wing.  Darby is dying and has bequeathed his land to the grateful Morales, rather than his own weakling son Roy (Tom Drake), also a G.P. (and, no doubt, a weak one). Giddy graduate Carlos trots (if not canters) back from his “up North” medical school to the plantation a full-fledged sawbones.  Since it’s hot in Dixie, Fernando must take off his shirt whenever possible.  Riding up the river on a barge to Savannah, and eager to start practice, Morales runs afoul of rumors surrounding an over-privileged she-witch, aka, Darby’s wild daughter, Nancy (Dahl); you know the type – as evil as she is beautiful.  Heaving and hoeing, Doc meets a beguiling fellow passenger, and before you can say “remove your clothes,” that shirt is off again, and the pair be a-clinchin’ an’ a messin’ without da benefit of clergy.  The lady ain’t no lady, as she likes her lovin’ rough, and bites Fernando square-on in the biceps (a much-publicized moment in the ads).  It takes Lamas longer to figure out what we-uns already know – this hellion is none other than Nancy herself (the cat-and-mouse carnal byplay between the Latin and the deceitful redhead kinda makes them a dirty Lucy and Desi)!  Of course, by the time the doc docks, she’s smitten as much as he is (as indicated, off-screen as well; Lamas and Dahl wed within a year of SANGAREE’s wrap).

Now there’s a lot of prejudice back at home, ’cause the 18th century 1% don’t be wantin’ some swarthy immigrant, ex-slave doctorin’ up their ailments.  And then there’s the aforementioned female version of Lamas, ex-indentured servant Martha (the amorous Medina), who, opted to marry Roy, but doesn’t let that get in the way of her goal to screw every eligible male in sight (truth be told, Nancy’s biting addiction aside, Martha is way hotter; of course, since it’s the 1950s, the adulterous latter ends up in a rather ugly way.

The (dare I say) climax comes after tons of fighting, killing, hard loving and racism – everything that made America grate.

A bit slow-paced for its reasonable 94-minute running time (pedestrian director Edward Ludwig, was never more than competent), SANGAREE is nonetheless vastly entertaining.  It’s also beautiful to look at, thanks largely to Lionel Lindon’s and W. Wallace Kelley’s impressive camera work.  The production is quite handsome, belying the typical Pine-Thomas budget; the standing backlot river sets (seen in millions of Paramount trop-pics) and leftover costumes and baubles from DeMille adventures such as Reap the Wild Wind and Unconquered give the show ultimate bang for its buck.  Natch, the 3-D is what makes SANGAREE, and there are some nice effects. The movie actually started filming in standard 2-D, but the possibilities of “depthy” eyebrow-raising optics prompted studio head Adolph Zuckor to choose the movie for Paramount’s first stereoscopic effort.  The “sex stuff” is, by today’s standards, tame enough to run on the Cartoon Network, but, that said, immensely amusing; indeed, draped boobs do occasionally swing out at the audience, and I’m not referring to supporting cast members Francis L. Sullivan, an uncharacteristically skeevy John Sutton, Charles Korvin, Willard Parker, Roy Gordon, Bill Walker, Voltaire Perkins, Don Megowan, Emile Meyer and Paul Newlan .  Warning: the screenplay by David Duncan and Frank L. Moss has some cringe-worthy moments, including rah-rah encouragement to “assault her.”

The Paramount publicity, coupled with the ancillary Pine-Thomas P.R. was a hoot.  Early-on, the Bills’ attempted Scarlett O’Hara search for the actor who would portray Carlos Morales took “stretching the truth” to levels never before thought possible.  While everyone worth their salt in Hollywood wanted the role, it was Cary Grant, according to Pine-Thomas, who was out in front.  The idea that Grant would be campaigning to be in a Pine-Thomas pic in 1953 is as outrageous as Lamas (likely signed before any “search” was made) being considered for His Girl Friday or North by Northwest.  Cary Grant was certainly aware of industry trends, and it is possible that the superstar expressed a fleeting interest in the 3-D process; but that’s probably as far as it went.  Lamas, briefly under contract to MGM, and on-loan to Pine-Thomas, never held on to anything resembling major star power; by 1960, he was a supporting player in the risible The Lost World remake (sharing billing with Frosty the poodle); soon, he drifted into TV, where he found a more lucrative career balancing diminishing on-camera appearances with directing (Arlene Dahl later claimed that Lamas personally directed SANGAREE’s love scenes).  Dahl, along with Rhonda Fleming, became Pine-Thomas babes, known primarily for their flaming red hair – an essential for Technicolor.  It should be noted that additionally two other MGM stars, Clark Gable and Lana Turner were bandied about as SANGAREE leads (was never gonna happen), then, Paramount’s own William Holden, who, after Sunset Boulevard and the (then) upcoming Stalag 17 would be another pipedream choice.

The 3-D rollout for SANGREE is textbook worthy.  “[L]ike peeking through a keyhole!” teased the ads showing a shirtless Lamas in the clinch with Dahl (of course, using one eye to “peep” such naughty things wouldn’t give you the 3-D depth, but, well…still great hype).  Lamas and Dahl, a hot couple by shooting’s end, went out on national tours to promote SANGAREE, the former particularly keen on the Third Dimension process.  A special 3-D trailer, featuring the pair, is included on the Blu-Ray, as is the standard release 2-D version (both SANGAREE and JIVARO contain the regular “flat” editions).

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Like all the other Kino-Lorber/Film Archive 3-D Blu-Rays, SANGAREE looks wunderbar; it sounds great, too (with a decent score by Lucien Cailliet).  Additional supplements include a 1955 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation with Lamas and Dahl, plus a 3-D before-and-after restoration demo.

SANGAREE is an iconic title from 3-D’s Golden Age, and one I never thought we’d see in Third Dimensions.  Thank you, Kino and 3-D Film Archive.

 

Overall, 1954’s JIVARO is a way better flick than SANGAREE, for the simple reason that it’s a way better 3-D movie.  Hollywood was sure learning fast how to use the process for peak effect; alas, the audience’s brief “shiny toy” fascination with Third Dimensions would be all but gone by year’s end.  JIVARO, mostly, had a “flat” release, often under alternate titles Lost Treasure of the Amazon and, later, Headhunters of the Amazon (unlike SANGAREE, you had to look hard in the ads to find the “3-D” tags).

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The picture, while having a romantic subplot, is pure action from start to finish; it practically comes with a strong aroma of popcorn from the jut-out opening credits (accompanied by Gregory Stone’s music score).  Director Ludwig is more in his element here while Lamas and his gasping perspiration ducts (enacting a near 92-minute topless Chippendale’s chicken dance) likewise seem to be having a better time up the Amazon than in 18th century Savannah.

The familiar Paramount backdrops and jungle scenery again nostalgically take us where Hope and Crosby, Dorothy Lamour, Dr. Cyclops and the studio’s various thesps appearing in renditions of Joseph Conrad’s Victory had long before trod (most recently, the banyan tree-friendly backlot was home to the cast and crew of The Naked Jungle); some second unit location work was lensed in Florida.

The plot, borderline similar to Bert I. Gordon’s later Cyclops! (with treasure and headhunters more realistically standing in for uranium and radioactive mutations) concerns the life and times of devil-may-care trader Rio Galdez.  While he may double-deal, he doesn’t appreciate it when karma boomerangs back to him – although he’s generally a good egg, or, more precisely, a Spanish omelet.  Leveling a trading post when brutish conman Pedro Martines screws him out of a commission, Rio reluctantly agrees to transport ga-ga gorgeous Alice Parker in a search for her missing hubby, Jerry (“Pipple dunt come here to make friends,” he warily warns the determined vixen).  Once “Chesty” Galdez removes his shirt, Ga-Ga starts feeling the heat, but remains true to her spouse until she discovers he’s a scumbag, out to cop a mythical treasure jealously guarded by cannibals and headhunters.  He’s also a drunk and Richard Denning – two strikes against you when you’re a supporting player and not the lead (a la Unknown Island).  Denning’s creepy cohorts, led by slimy Brian Keith, are tagging along – ready to kill the hottie couple, once the loot is discovered.  Keith, who thinks he’s God’s gift, intends to take Ga-Ga for his own, even though he refuses to remove his shirt.

Yeah, yeah – you’ve seen this before, but, folks, we ain’t kidding when we say JIVARO has ji-mojo!  It really moves.  And it looks sensational in Technicolor (thanks again to Lionel Lindon’s first-rate 3-D photography).  The 3-D effects are exactly what one expects and wants – and then some.  Lots of items thrown at the camera, plus some great foreground/center/background layering.  And, how could you NOT wanna see a movie where a shrunken head is shoved out of the screen in your puss?  The short answer:  you can’t.

Surprisingly, for 1954, David Duncan’s and Winston Miller’s script and Ludwig’s direction allows for some rather gory sequences.  Headhunters don’t mess around.  And Lamas and Fleming do sweat and pant a lot; truth be told, while genuine lust spurted off the screen in SANGAREE, Fleming is a superior lead over Dahl. She was always more game, and did many of her own stunts, so there’s that.  And she’s a 3-D queen (this movie, plus Those Redheads from Seattle and Inferno).  As further incentive, JIVARO gives viewers a chance to see Rita Moreno and DeMille’s Madam Satan, Kay Johnson, in 3-D (both as native women)!

Personally, for me, JIVARO holds a special part of my youth.  I vividly remember it being on New York City’s Million Dollar Movie for an entire week, and recall trying to watch every showing.  I was fascinated by the pic, trying to imagine what it looked like in Technicolor (we still roughed it with B&W TV in dem daze).  Turns out I was pretty close. I especially tried to come to terms with costar Lon Chaney, Jr. in color, which then seemed to my nine-year-old self to be an impossibility. When, several years later, I discovered that it was also in 3-D…WHOOSH (sound of my mind being blown).  I can also remember that this movie more than any other permanently (because of the violence and prolific pit stains) made the Amazon (and other jungles) an off-limits travel trip.

The Kino-Lorber/Paramount/3-D Archive Blu-Ray of JIVARO is one of the best stereoscopic releases ever (and, for the 3-D Archive, that’s saying quite a bit).  It looks and sounds terrific, and is Third Dimension fun from the get-go.  Extras include audio commentary by Mike Ballew, Hillary Hess, Greg Kintz and Jack Theakson, plus a shot-by-shot 3-D mini-analysis.  It makes me yearn for the remaining 3-D Paramounts:  Money from Home (which we’ll probably never see) and Flight to Tangier (that Technicolor rom-dram-thriller costarring Joan Fontaine and Jack Palance).  I’ve never seen the latter in any version, but, boy would a Kino-3-D Archive release make my day!

SANGAREE.  Color. Full frame [1.37:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Paramount Home Entertainment/#-D Film Archive.  CAT# K22804.

JIVARO. Color. Widescreen [1.66:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA.  CAT # K22806.

SRP: $34.95@

 

 

 

 

 

 

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