"You have never witnessed anything in the world like this before!" screamed newspaper ads for the first widely distributed commercial 3-D movie, Arch Oboler's "Bwana Devil," promoted with such irresistible come-ons as, "A Lover in Your Arms! . . . A Lion in Your Lap!" Now, laps are lion-bait again. 3-D is returning, this time on television. The 3-D Video Corp. of North Hollywood, Calif., has developed the apparatus to transfer 3-D movies to videotape so they can be shown over the air.
This silly miracle has already played on pay TV in Los Angeles and on free TV in New Orleans and Dallas and tonight at 8, Washington's WDCA-TV, Channel 20, offers the area's first 3-D telecast, a 1955 monster movie called "Revenge of the Creature," the creature in question being the one "from the Black Lagoon," which was a 3-D sensation the year before.
For weeks, area 7-Eleven stores have been selling cardboard glasses (one red lens, one blue lens) to wear during the broadcast. As of yesterday, says Channel 20 program manager Farrell Meisel, 90 percent of the 600,000 pairs of glasses available had been sold, at 50 cents a pair. Those who bought them and are planning 3-D parties should be advised in advance of certain cold realities about tonight's telecast. The film was made in black and white, but because of the anaglyphic 3-D process used for television transfers, it must be viewed on a color TV set for the 3-D effect to be seen. Don't ask why it works that way; it just does.
In addition, there will be no lions in laps. "Revenge" was one of the last 3-D films made during the '50s craze (which all came about, of course, because Hollywood was looking for ways to combat television with things TV could never do) and its 3-D effects are relatively subdued. About the most dramatic ones are a slide trombone sticking in your face and a shot of the creature reaching out toward the camera with his slimy, scaley, clawish paw.
Every now and then, during underwater sequences, a fish swimming by catches one delightedly off guard, and during interior sequences, like in the ichthyologist's laboratory, characters in the foreground stand out in fetching bas-relief from the background. If you don't expect to be knocked for a loop, and if you watch the picture from about six feet away in a darkened room, the 3-D presentation should be thrilling enough to make you forget, for about two hours, how very bored you are with television.
"I hope that chain holds," says one actor in "Revenge" as he eyes the restless gill-man bolted to the floor of a big tank. "Don't worry about that chain," says the hero--Famous Last Words dear to the hearts of horror movie fans everywhere. Naturally the chain will break and the creature will go off on a fairly tame sort of rampage. "Revenge" would, in fact, be pretty dull sailing in 2-D, but with all three of its D's intact it becomes an appealing combination of cheerfully dopey dialogue ("What I wouldn't give for a tall cold beer and short warm blond") and cute kinetic trickery.
We human beings do love our illusions, and 3-D is one of the more endearing gimmicks to have come out of desperately inventive old Hollywood.
As a purely incidental additional attraction in "Revenge," Clint Eastwood makes one of his first screen appearances during one brief scene. He plays a laboratory assistant in a white coat who says a rat is missing, then fishes what is obviously a mere mouse from his pocket. This was a horror movie, but in the '50s, there was a gentleman's agreement about how far to go in scaring an audience. Thus were mice cast as rats.
"Revenge" is not in the least bit frightening, but it is really kind of pretty.
"The films aren't that good, but 3-D is really popular," marvels Jack Fishman, vice president of 3-D Video, from his North Hollywood office. "Everyone's looking for Something Else, I guess. It really has been an event throughout the country." In New Orleans, the independent station that showed "Revenge" in February tripled its usual rating and beat out competition from the big bad networks. San Francisco, Fishman says, is having a veritable "3-D war," with two local stations there both promoting 3-D features; at one of them, the station manager appeared in a custom-made 3-D prologue, stuck a feather at viewers and said, "Let's see if this tickles your fancy." What a wild town San Francisco is.
Fishman says there are many other 3-D titles his company would like to transfer to videotape and not all of them are monster movies. Alfred Hitchcock's only 3-D movie, "Dial M for Murder," was revived successfully in theaters last year after years of exposure in a flat version only, and "House of Wax," the first big-budget 3-D movie from a major studio, is also trotted around from time to time. But Warner Bros., which owns both those films, has rebuffed 3-D Video's entreaties to make them available for 3-D television.
John Wayne's only film in 3-D, the western "Hondo," was also made for Warner Bros., but the rights have since reverted to Wayne's own company, Batjac Productions. According to Fishman, Wayne's son Michael is agreeable to having the film seen in 3-D on television but not with the Warner Bros. shield at the beginning of the film, where it is superimposed over a shot of Wayne with his back to the camera.
So, Fishman says, Wayne's son plans to find an actor to double for his late father, return to the original "Hondo" locations in Mexico and reshoot the opening frames so that the Batjac logo can replace the Warner logo. Isn't that an awful lot of trouble and expense to go to just to take a poke at Warner Bros.? "He said he doesn't care; this is what his father would have wanted," says Fishman.
There are around 100 3-D titles that could be, or have been, transferred for telecast, including the MGM musical "Kiss Me Kate" in particularly glorious Technicolor, Jane Russell in "The French Line," Rita Hayworth in "Miss Sadie Thompson," two pell-mell Three Stooges shorts, cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny, Popeye and Casper the Friendly Ghost ("Boo Moon"), and the self-explanatorily titled "Gorilla at Large," which was shown in L.A. this month. Fishman calls that one "a B-minus movie with an A cast," including Anne Bancroft, Lee Marvin, Raymond Burr and Lee J. Cobb.
It isn't very likely that 3-D will sweep the escapist industries of America the way it did in the early '50s--when there were 3-D comic books and bubblegum cards as well--nor would there be any significance to it if it did. 3-D TV is a toy, but one that is terribly entertaining every now and then; for a visual medium, normal TV is woefully bereft of visual thrills. Although the 3-D effects in tonight's transmission will not seem as dramatic as in 3-D films shown in theaters, the picture has clarity and depth. Fishman concedes "there is a little bit more double-imaging than we would like," but says most of that has been confined to backgrounds, so that foreground objects appear without halos or fringes.
The three bottom lines on this are, a 27-year-old monster movie in slightly wobbly 3-D is still likely to be more amusing than whatever current 2-D television junk is playing on the other channels. Bring on the creature; it's every lap for itself.