INDICT AND CONVICT
Before 3 panel was firmly replaced by single projection blowup with It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and quickly followed by a string of aesthetic and box office bummers, purists had hoped there would be some way to resurrect the thrill of the original system. So did Cinerama venue owners desperate to fill seats. With the Cinerama travelogues as return engagements exhausted, nothing new would be available until The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and the grand finale How the West Was Won. In order to supply filler, remolds of other widescreen processes were counterfeited as and under the auspices of Cinerama: Cinemiracle’s Windjammer and the put-upon Scent of Mystery, originally filmed in TODD-70 and retitled Holiday in Spain, were advertised as being made available in your choice of Cinemiracle or Cinerama. No matter the versions—including Super Cinerama and TODD-AO—they all flopped. A second boat excursion entitled Flying Clipper, filmed in something tagged Wonderama requiring dual projection, was retrofitted as the “new” Cinerama, rechristened Mediterranean Holiday and shipwrecked far from the box office. For the European market, Cinerama reconstituted the 1962 French epic Lafayette and the 1964 American-Hungarian comedy The Golden Head, both Super Technirama productions, as Super Cinerama roadshows and got more distressful results. Viewers interested in true 3 panel clearly heard the death knell in the ersatz. Very briefly George Stevens was a hoped-for savior when he started making The Greatest Story Ever Told in the 3 strip format, but a few days into arduous filming he switched to Ultra-Panavision. (The fast turn around was probably presaged by poor 3 panel footage of vistas and makeup & wardrobe tests.) As last ditch effort to fulfill theatre owners’ calls for new stuff and as a gesture towards detente sanctioned by the U.S. Department of State, Cinerama was granted distribution rights to the 1966 travelogue Russian Adventure. Appropriating some of the better clips from several previous Moscow 3 strip productions, the compilation was promoted as real Cinerama but was heavily rectified Kinopanorama. (The two ramas and Cinemiracle were basically compatible.) Narrated with smooth emptiness by anti-Commie Bing Crosby, it would have a highly touted world premiere in March, 1966, at Chicago’s McVickers Theatre, utilizing its three projections dormant since The Best of Cinerama ended a dismal 9 week run in mid-December, 1964. Not clear is whether genuine 3 projection was showcased for Russian Adventure in other cities; 70mm prints of the movie, with its two seams, were confirmed to have been subbed for the real thing. Then Stanley Kubrick made the announcement that he would use original Cinerama for 2001, only to abandon intentions as a matter of economics, to say little about the quandary many Cinerama houses would be in after having yanked the three projections in favor of single. Listed elsewhere on this site, some of the “new” Cinerama—Circus World, for one, and definitely Battle of the Bulge—are as bad as those listed on this page but personal animus helps determine egregiousness, and the following films are at the very bottom: Custer of the West, The Hallelujah Trail, Ice Station Zebra, Krakatoa East of Java and Song of Norway. The extreme shoddiness, insulting fakery, stupid plots and bad acting put them in a separate class. There’s not a memorable moment of vivid savagery in Custer (so lacking of excitement that even the runaway train car climax garners mocking laughs); not a single praise-be-to-sobriety laugh in Hallelujah Trail (noted by many theatres which quickly pulled it from reserved seat to popular prices); not a second of suspense and genuine thrills in the stultifying, clumsy Zebra and Krapatoa (sic); and nauseous are the fjordian depths of Sound of Music imitation in the ineffable Song of Norway. The collapse of the reserved seat attraction is attributed to many things—the Vietnam war, the sexual revolution, drugs and the subsequent casualness accelerating the abandonment of the traditionally formal “downtown” experience. These last five shitfests speeded up not just the demise of the roadshow era but also the fate earned for Cinerama abusing its legacy.
(At Chicago’s McVickers: The Hallelujah Trail, running 9 weeks; Russian Adventure, 11. At the Cinestage: Mediterranean Holiday, 13; Ice Station Zebra, 10; Krapatoa, 12, non-roadshow. Song of Norway opened at the Cinema 150, running 14 weeks, and at the Edens for 7. Custer of the West opened non-roadshow and in 35mm.)
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Text COPYRIGHT © 2003 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.