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Monday, January 27, 2014

Columbia Finds Quickest Route To 3D Money

Man In The Dark (1953) and A Race To Theatres

If a tree fell in the forest, Columbia would hear it and be there to cut up the logs. They'd apply spirit of competition to newest hula-hoop that was 3D and beat rivals to ribbon with Man In The Dark, aka The First Depth Pic From A Major Studio. 3D was a gold rush that began and finished quick as ones in the Klondike. Bwana Devil gave off whiff of fortune from December 1952, and by February '53, two-eyed cameras were grinding all over town. Warners figured to lead with House Of Wax, a hurry-up to April 8 open already set at New York's Paramount Theatre. Knowing that 3D amounted to little more than a horse race, Columbia sent Sam Katzman to Fort Ti, but that looked like May delivery at the earliest, leaving a good (or bad for Columbia) month and a half for WB to pan precious ore.

The horse race analogy was apt, most film men being inveterate gamblers. Tracks near H'wood were second home to many if not most. What was 3D but another steed to bet on? Columbia knew Man In The Dark was low-risk on low-budget. Starting it in February toward release four weeks later was a can-do, said the studio to Variety. Dust would be blown off a script from 1936 called The Man Who Lived Twice, that one done for cheap and starring Ralph Bellamy. Among yarns that creaked came plenty with the crook undergoing plastic or brain work to evade law, a far-fetch for any but B-makers (but wait, Bogart had done it in lush Dark Passage from 1947). Whatever the tatter of blueprint, Columbia would wrap Man In The Dark in eleven days, or so they imagined in 2/18 brag to Variety. Fact is, MITD took nineteen days to finish, six of those on location at Ocean Park Pier in Santa Monica where an amusement park and roller coaster finish took place (thanks to historian/depth expert Bob Furmanek at 3D Film Archive for this info).

Variety tabbed it a "three-cornered race" between WB, Columbia, and Paramount. The latter had Sangaree before cameras and was screening rushes to visitor exhibs. The torch lady got a real-life headline boost when papers told of an ex-con who offed his mistress after "brain surgery to correct criminal tendencies." This was but grease on the track toward now-set opening at NYC's Globe Theatre on April 8, Man In The Dark getting sez-me lick at House Of Wax and forty-eight crucial hours to collect admissions ahead of Vincent Price. Columbia claimed to have its own 3-D system, "developed secretly in the studio lab," so they told Variety on 3/4, the trade and hep persons knowing this was code for jerry-rig done over a weekend. All such fairgrounding was fun for guys who'd spent lives at biz shuffle, but hold on, plain-speaker Pete Harrison was about to blow the whistle on Columbia's cheap-jacking.

A BREAKDOWN NO EXHIBITOR CAN AFFORD, cried Harrison's Reports (4/11/53) after Columbia home-office projection of Man In The Dark, which turned into a fiasco for invited press and showmen. Better think twice about 3D installation after seeing this one was Pete's takeaway, him virtually alone among trade-writers for being nobody's toady. Seems Columbia's own projectionist botched the thing royally. Two intermissions required to thread dual machines saw one off to cock-eyed start that couldn't be fixed. Three attempts were made to sync up reels before a second part of the feature was skipped altogether. The crowd at one point sat forty-five minutes in the dark. After an end title and admit of the debacle, Columbia's crew ran the drop-out portion, which by now was salt to wounds. Said summating Pete: If Columbia, with all the technicians it has at its beck and call, could not correct immediately the faulty projection of its own process, you may imagine what difficulty the average operator would have. Consider yourself warned, Mr. Showman.

If There'd Been Award For Ugly Lobby Cards in 1953,
 Columbia Would Have Won In A Walk

Man In The Dark went on to perhaps undeserved reward. Crowds came with expected curiosity. Screw-ups happened, but hadn't that been case with much of 3-D so far? Part of the gag was being fooled, after all, just like with slickers on fairgrounds who hid the pea. Variety was merciful, but had to admit at least some of truth. "Picture looks like a rush job," which they well knew. Being trade-aimed, this may have been acknowledgement that we were all in a shell game together. The review admitted some of depth tricks doing a flop, and sepia prints took away much needed light. "Story, scripting, and performances all are mediocre," which even Columbia might have stipulated. So what did critics expect --- From Here To Eternity? Success, as always, was measured in boxoffice, Man In The Dark returning $1.3 million from burgle of domestic stubholders. Now the show is back for Blu-Ray assault upon home screeners, depth again a trick that works here, plops there. Would Greenbriar recommend? Very much yes, as this is a must, and fun for reasons well delineated by other reviewers. Twilight Time has released Man In The Dark on digital 3D in a limited edition. Let's hope they sell out quick and lease more depthies from studio vaultage.

More Greenbriar 3D HERE.


Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer speculates on 3D and "Man In The Dark":

A cheapie, no doubt, but ift he stills and lobby card are anything to go by, "Man in the Dark" must be a dark, moody little film. Having Edmond O'Brien as the lead is surely a plus, with that voice and delivery, but there's also a vulnerability about him--he's so much more the "everyman"--that a Burt Lancaster would not have. Those of your readership still in trade or practice would probably have no trouble recognizing that expression on his face, especially if there is a mirror at hand. As for Audrey Totter, whether possessed or possessing, she was also a natural for the noirs. And, of course, it's in 3D. I understand that Lew Landers, the director, tossed everything he could think of at the audience: fists, chairs, a cigar, a roller coaster, and maybe the kitchen sink. Did any of it actually leave the screen? "House of Wax" tried for some startling effects, most notably with the pitchman and his paddleball, but there was never the illusion of anything actually reaching out into the audience. The field of depth always extended from the screen towards the rear of the stage. Since "Man in the Dark" apparently wanted to follow up on the "lion in your lap" reputation of "Bwana Devil" with other things, I wonder if it succeeded.


9:03 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

This is, despite the budget and the rush to get it into theaters before HOUSE OF WAX, a well crafted enjoyable film that works. The average viewer knows nothing about dusted off scripts nor anything else. They walk in expecting that the results on the screen will live up to the hype. The secret to box office success lies in surpassing expectations. This film does that admirably.

10:02 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

I have the "Twilight Time" 3-D release "Man In The Dark" and I watched it with my wife Saturday night. We both thoroughly enjoyed the film and the 3-D was FABULOUS. At the risk of trotting out that old cliche': "If you haven't seen Man In The Dark in 3-D, then you haven't REALLY seen it." This picture was made for 3-D and it really delivers the goods (in spades!). I recommend it HIGHLY. (unlike another movie blog whom I generally agree with, but who reviewed the 2-D version(!?)and didn't like it. He's dead wrong. What was he thinking?)


1:40 PM  

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