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3-D Movies and the 1950ís


by Guy Belleranti

As the popularity of television grew in the early 1950ís the motion picture industry found itself losing customers. To regain viewers movie executives began trying new and different things. One of these was the release of 3-D movies.
Actually, using 3-D in film wasnít a new phenomenon. Innovators had experimented with various 3-D technologies since the silent film era. However, it wasnít until the 1950s that 3-D was attempted on a larger scale.

The basic principal of 3-D involved using two cameras spaced apart so their images approximated what two eyes would see. The exposed film from one camera was laid over the film of the other to produce a single movie print with offset images. The print when projected would produce a double image. Special polarized glasses could then be worn, and the viewer would see a 3 dimensional scene.
The first 3-D film during the decade was Bwana Devil. Premiering in November of 1952, the movie starred Robert Stack (of TVís The Untouchables and Unsolved Mysteries), Barbara Britton, and Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson in the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films). The film was set in Africa and dealt with man-eating lions attacking railway workers. While the movie itself was not very good, some of the 3-D effects were.

Over the next couple of years many more movies were released in 3-D. Among these were 3-D versions of House of Wax, Hondo, Dial M For Murder and Kiss Me Kate. For a time over 5,000 American theaters showed 3-D movies. There were also 3-D movies produced in Germany, Britain, Japan, Mexico and Hong Kong.

However, the 3-D fad didnít last. Some viewers suffered eyestrain and headaches from watching 3-D films. In addition, if the projection wasnít done perfectly by the theater the film was just a blurred mess. As a result, the regular version of a film often had more viewers than the 3-D version.

As the 3-D fad died the film industry turned to other ways of competing with television - widescreen aspect ratios, CinemaScope, etc.

However, use of 3-D in film did not disappear entirely. Todayís technology has far surpassed that of the 1950ís, and many 3-D movies are now shown on huge screens at a number of IMAX theaters.

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