When 3D movies came to town

Last updated 05:00 09/01/2013
3D Movie

Through the looking glass: β€˜β€˜One Dimension Too Many?’’ was the heading on this photo of an audience at the Tudor published in 1953.

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Audiences gave the visual skulduggery of Man in the Dark a mixed reception when the first 3D (three dimensional) movie opened in Wellington on April 20, 1953.

Patrons had put on the special Polaroid glasses and paid increased prices at the Tudor in Willis St to be right in the picture for the anticipated thrills that came with the third dimension of depth.

The experience was rated as worth seeing only as a demonstration of the medium's possibilities.

What audiences saw held little that was new or exciting storytelling.

Man in the Dark was a so-so, exploitative black-and-white remake of a 1936 thriller The Man Who Lived Twice.

Wellington saw the movie before London, Paris or Sydney.

Columbia Pictures had flown prints to New Zealand from the United States soon after the world premiere at the Globe Theatre, New York, on April 2.

Six sessions were required on the first day to meet the reported phenomenal public demand.

Special projectors, a new screen and improved seating were included in the refit, which temporally closed the Tudor while it was prepared for the arrival of 3D.

A room was set up containing special ultra-violet germicidal lamps for treating the cardboard frame glasses that patrons wore while watching the movie.

After each use the glasses were treated for eight hours to prevent contagious eye infections being spread.

The practical problem of renting and collecting the glasses contributed to the American 3D movie cycle of the 1950s being so short.

Another drawback was the delay while changing reels because two projectors used had to be in synchronisation. When Man in the Dark reached Wellington, the shortcomings of the early 3D movies were not yet fully apparent.

Film censor Gordon Mirams said: "It seems clear that, at least at the outset, ‘the shock appeal' of the new technique is being played up."

The Dominion's review of Man in the Dark echoed that opinion.

"The first 3D tells a mediocre crime story which serves merely as a hook for these sensations: a policeman fires a gun point-blank at you; a surgeon's instruments jab at your head; a spider swings in front of your nose; a wild sequence gives you the feeling of being on a roller coaster," the reviewer said.

Edmond O'Brien starred in the movie as a convict who has brain surgery to remove his criminal traits.

Unfortunately for him his memory is erased at the same time and he is bewildered when gangsters expect to him to know where the loot is hidden.

By Christmas 1953 the arrival of action 3D movies had been overshadowed by happier screen memories of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation and Sir Edmund Hillary's conquest of Mt Everest.

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- The Wellingtonian

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