INDICT AND CONVICT
When 3 strip was replaced by single projection, with It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and quickly followed by a string of bummers, purists had hoped there would be some way to resurrect the thrill of the original process, and George Stevens was very briefly a savior when he started making The Greatest Story Ever Told with the format, but three days into filming, he switched to Ultra-Panavision. Not to be left behind by American widescreen mania, the Soviet Union came up with Kinopanorama, a Cinerama-ripoff, used for the 1966 travelogue entitled Russian Adventure, hosted by Bing Crosby. (It world premièred in 3 strip at the McVickers Theatre in Chicago.) Then Stanley Kubrick made the announcement that he would use the 3 panel system for 2001, only to abandon his intentions. It was a matter of economics, because overhead costs for processing and showing Cinerama became prohibitive. It was also assumed that most audiences wouldn’t know the difference between the one and only Cinerama and the single projection, except for the missing two visible lines. But it turned out the movie makers were only fooling themselves in foisting the new substitution as equal to the real thing. (When This is Cinerama was re-released in 1973 in 70mm, the response was considerably less than enthusiastic.) Listed elsewhere on this site, some of the “new and improved” Cinerama—Circus World, for one, and definitely Battle of the Bulge—are as bad as those I’ll list on this page but personal animus is used to determine egregiousness, and the following four films are at the very bottom of the pit. What constitutes a roadshow can be argued, but inarguably these killers—Custer of the West, The Hallelujah Trail, Ice Station Zebra, Song of Norway and Krakatoa, East of Java—aren’t anywhere close. The extreme shoddiness, insulting fakery, stupid plots and bad acting put them in a separate class, and certainly they are up to their impotent if not criminally inaccurate titles. There’s not a memorable moment of savagery in Custer (so lacking of excitement that even the runaway traincar climax garnered mocking laughs); not a single laugh in Hallelujah Trail (quickly noted by theatre managers who pulled it from roadshow within several weeks after opening); not a second of suspense in the stultifying, clumsy Zebra; unbelievable are the fjordian depths of nauseous Sound of Music imitation in the ineffable Song of Norway. And how a movie company could launch an expensive hardticket campaign for Krapatoa (sic) without fact-checking its actual location confirms that movie executives and makers were well into the Hollywood drug scene long before it became fashionable and newsworthy. (Their excuse was the word “East” had a more attractive measure of the exotic.) The death of the reserved seat attraction can be attributed to many things—for example, Vietnam, the sexual revolution, drugs and a subsequent casualness altering our formal movie going habits—but these five movies are indisputably additional causes.
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Text COPYRIGHT © 2003 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.