An In-Depth Look at CEASE FIRE
by Ted Okuda
One of the most unusual (and least known) 3-D movies ever made, CEASE FIRE began as an idea by director Owen Crump, who was well-qualified to spearhead the production. In the early 1940s, Crump scripted military-themed short films for Warner Brothers, in conjunction with the U.S. Army’s Department of Public Relations. During World War II, as a colonel of the Signal Corps, he supervised production for the First Motion Picture Unit in Culver City. Later, he produced the documentary short ONE WHO CAME BACK (1951), about the air evacuation of wounded U.S. soldiers who fought in the Korean War. The film was sponsored by the Disabled American Veterans, in cooperation with the Department of Defense.
"The dramatic story you are about to see was actually filmed on the battlefields of Korea."—
Opening title card for CEASE FIRE.
For many Americans, U.S. involvement in the Korean War (June 25, 1950 - July 27, 1953) was frustratingly unclear, limiting public support for such “patrol activity.” Spurred by the favorable reaction to ONE WHO CAME BACK (it earned an Academy Award nomination), Owen Crump envisioned a feature-length motion picture that would provide a better understanding of combat in Korea, enlisting a cast of real soldiers instead of professional actors. He recalled, “Often the war stories would report a quiet day on the front with only routine patrol action. I wondered if the public, other than ex-infantrymen themselves, realized just how hazardous routine patrol action is.”
Crump approached producer Hal B. Wallis, an old friend from the Warner Brothers days, with his concept, which bore the working title QUIET DAY. Wallis had already produced many acclaimed films—including CASABLANCA, THE MALTESE FALCON, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD and DARK VICTORY—and, now at Paramount Pictures, he produced SORRY, WRONG NUMBER, COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA and several popular Martin & Lewis comedies. He loved the idea.
The “story” centered on the last day of the conflict, as an infantry platoon learns that a “cease fire” is imminent. Wallis would later comment, “War doesn’t stop immediately...In the interval between the time that armistice terms are decided and the time that the fighting actually comes to a halt, contact with the enemy must be maintained, men must kill and be killed. What could be more tragic than these needless deaths? I wanted a picture based on this situation.”
Walter Doniger (ROPE OF SAND, TOKYO JOE, ALONG THE GREAT DIVIDE) fashioned a screenplay (completed May 1953) bereft of the glamorous and romantic elements typically found in a war-themed drama, adhering to Crump’s concept of “showing how the fighting looked to the individual soldier.”
With the cooperation of the Department of Defense, Crump and a six-man camera crew (Ellis Carter, Fritz Brosch, John Leeds, James Miller, Jack McEdward, Robert Rhea) arrived in Seoul, Korea, on May 24, 1953, and filming began on May 28, while the war was winding down (negotiations were in progress at Panmunjom). Major Raymond Harvey, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, served as technical advisor, with Captain Gene M. Brooks as technical supervisor (“Film Project Officer”).
The locale was the area occupied by the Army’s 7th Infantry, within three miles of infamous battle sites Old Baldy and Pork Chop Hill (the subject of a 1959 movie). The crew established their headquarters in the division command post; their camouflaged tents and nearby foxholes earned the bivouac area the nickname “Outpost Paramount.”
Crump outlined the mission to Sgt. Frank Praytor of Pacific Stars & Stripes:
“We will be striving for a movie that will show people exactly what is going on over here. We are going to try to show all the vast operations, all the elements that support an action that involves just a few guys on the front line...It will make history in two ways. It will be the first 3-D movie ever shot in a theatre of operations. It will also be the first 3-D, full-length feature ever filmed using non-professionals in their actual environment.”
Wallis championed the 3-D format and felt it was ideally suited for the subject. On March 14, 1953, Boxoffice reported: “Wallis declared he and his associate Joseph Hazen ‘do not regard 3-D as a passing fancy, nor do we believe that its interest relies on a so-called gimmick value.’” Crump and his crew shot footage on the front lines using the studio's Paravision 3-D camera--the first 3-D camera sent overseas. There were no special effects. All uniforms, vehicles, firearms, and even explosions were real.
Captain Brooks later described filming conditions in an article for American Cinematographer (September 1953):
"To those of us in the Army, who were assigned to work with the unit, surprises were in order immediately. In the first place, one look at the size and the bulk of the 3-D camera told us this would be a project of some extra proportions. As project officer, I had to figure out some way that the camera and sound equipment plus the other necessities of picture making could be transported into location areas. After many trials with such transport equipment as two-and-a-half ton trucks, medium tanks and tank retrievers, we found the best way to move the camera was to carry it on an M-39 armored personnel carrier, which is built like a tank but has a flat back and an area for carrying personnel. This vehicle was found to be best because it could carry the camera smoothly and carefully into areas where trucks could not move; also, the vehicle was maneuverable enough to climb over obstacles and into areas where even tanks would have some difficulty. I didn’t tell the crew about the additional reason for using the armored carrier, but they soon figured it out for themselves: The heavy steel-plated vehicle is a convenient moving ‘foxhole,’ in the event artillery rounds are encountered, and also offers fair protection against anti-personnel mines...
"The next problem came when we began filming re-enacted actual combat situations in the area in which they were happening. There is little use in Korea for ‘blank’ ammunition so it was mutually decided that we would use the real stuff. It is a disturbing and not altogether comfortable thing to see tracer ammunition, live grenades and 105mm artillery pieces fired within inches of a valuable camera and its preoccupied crew...for explosions we did not have the specially constructed paraphernalia used in Hollywood; a boulder hurtled through the air by a blast of TNT could be a serious camera hazard. This was partially solved by using old (and often bullet marked) GI helmets to direct part of the blast...
“I’m glad to say there were no casualties.”
“To achieve the greatest possible realism, [our] actors were to be battle veterans of a company that had been pulled out of the line for rest.”—Hal Wallis
“Fighters one day, actors the next. That was the sudden switch of fourteen GI’s who play themselves in CEASE FIRE.”—From the press book.
In the film, fourteen soldiers are sent on a reconnaissance patrol, ordered to set up an observation post on “Red Top Hill” (based on Pork Chop Hill), behind enemy lines. The real-life soldiers selected from the 7th Infantry Bayonet Division and cast as members of the fictional “Easy Patrol” were: Capt. Roy Thompson Jr. (as “Lt. Roy Thompson”), Cpl. Henry Goszkowski (“Patrol Sgt. Goszkowski”), Sgt. Richard Karl Elliott (“Elliott”), Sfc. Albert Bernard Cook (“One Ton”), Pvt. Johnnie L. Mayes (“Mayes”), Cheong Yul Bak (“Kim”), Sfc. Howard E. Strait (“Strait”), Pfc. Gilbert L. Gazaille (“Eddie a.k.a Bad News”), Pfc. Harry L. Hofelich (“Hofelich”), Cpl. Charlie W. Owen (“Owen”), Col. Harold D. English (“English”), Pfc. Edmund Joseph Pruchniewski (“Pruchniewski”), Pvt. Otis Wright (“Wright”) and Pfc. Ricardo Carrasco (“Carrasco”). The inclusion of Mayes, an African-American soldier, and Cheong, a Korean scout and translator, reflected President Truman’s “New Army” in accordance with Executive Order 9981 (issued July 26, 1948), which abolished racial discrimination in the U. S. Armed Forces.
of the soldiers received an on-screen credit, to underscore they were not professionals. Though the men generally stuck to the script,
Crump allowed them the freedom to draw upon their experiences and improvise. The performances may have lacked polish yet
one of them revealed star potential.
“Back in Hollywood I eagerly waited for the first rushes of CEASE FIRE. They arrived by Air Force transport, and the moment the screen came alive I realized how right had been the decision not to send a Hollywood cast to Korea...I was suddenly electrified by one of them. He was a square-faced lad, not particularly handsome but a natural actor. He responded to each situation in the story, and he displayed emotion without exaggeration or distortion; he was able to communicate. With mounting excitement, I ran the film through a second time. There was no question: this boy had it!”—Hal Wallis
Nineteen-year-old Ricardo Carrasco from El Paso, Texas, was given a pivotal role: an ill-fated private killed in action during the final hours of the war. But Carrasco didn’t care about play-acting or the perks that came with being involved in the moviemaking process. Well aware that Communist Chinese Forces were planning a counterattack on Pork Chop Hill, he was far more concerned about the soldiers under his command that he left behind. “He kept insisting he ‘had to get back up there,’” said Crump. “Every day he’d ask how long it’d be.” To Crump’s amazement and Wallis’ ire, Carrasco turned down Wallis’ offer of a studio contract.
To appease Carrasco, Crump revised the script and filmed the death scene earlier than scheduled, to allow him to return to his company in time for combat.
Pfc. Carrasco was killed on July 6 during the counterattack on Pork Chop Hill. Crump was deeply shaken. "If I had just made him stay—as I could have done simply by saying 'you can't go'—he'd have hated me the rest of his life." Crump said sadly, "He was determined to go. That kid was a hero. He felt a very strong moral obligation to his friends." To spare his mother, Mrs. Petra Carrasco, the pain of seeing her son perish on screen, his death scene was later reshot with a stand-in.
Only a few weeks earlier, he had written a letter to his mother about his movie role. He was concerned that even a dramatized depiction of his death might upset her: “Don’t be scared when you see it, Mom, it’s just acting.” His body was shipped back to El Paso a month later, where private services were held on September 9, followed by a funeral the next day. He was buried at Ft. Bliss National Cemetery with full military honors.
On February 3, 1954, Ricardo’s parents and family members attended a screening of CEASE FIRE at the Ellanay Theatre in El Paso. “I saw my son,” said his mother. “He seemed just like he was when he was at home. He was always wise-cracking, but in the picture, he seemed a little moody. That was the way he always was when he had a problem on his mind. I wish that there were no more wars or suffering. Not for myself, but for all of the other mothers who lost sons in wars. It’s terrible.”
Grief-stricken over the loss of her son, Mrs. Carrasco passed away on March 3, 1955, at the age of forty-eight.
On July 27, Crump and his crew filmed General Mark W. Clark, Commander-in-Chief of the United Nations Command in the Far East, signing the armistice in Panmunjom. After shooting wrapped on August 7, the “cast” returned to their platoon.
In late August, the crew spent two days aboard the U.S.S. Lake Champlain in Yokosuka, Japan, filming scenes of F-84 Thunderjets of the 49th Fighter Bomber Wing in operation at the Fifth Air Force. For scenes depicting the close air-ground support between infantry forces and the Air Force, the camera was set up at the end of the runway, to photograph pilots rushing to their planes and F-84s speeding down the field for take-off, passing just twenty-five feet above the camera. According to Capt. Gene M. Brooks, Army film project officer, "This should lend quite an interesting—if not startling—effect. The planes appear to be coming at the audience."
From August 24 to September 2, Doniger and Crump revised the script and dialogue; the Panmunjom scenes in the war correspondents tent were rewritten on September 3. It was decided to re-dub the soldiers’ dialogue using actors for the recording sessions. The fact that original voices were “looped” in post-production was never mentioned in the press, perhaps because it would have negated some of the hype around non-actors playing the roles.
Thomas Pryor's September 27 column in the New York Times reported:
“The first three-dimensional picture of actual warfare, CEASE FIRE, now is being assembled into feature-length form for release in November by Paramount. Owen Crump [is] supervising the editing of some 140,000 feet of negative...Approximately 7,000 feet of film—the duplicate print used in the stereoscopic process brings the total to 14,000 feet—will go into the finished production.
“Crump and his chief cameraman, Ellis Carter, literally shot CEASE FIRE in the dark. They did not see a single frame of their work, much of which was done under adverse weather conditions, until they went into the Paramount projection room two weeks ago. All of the negative was shipped direct to the studio for development and inspected by Hal Wallis...His short, cabled messages saying things were going fine didn't relieve the tension for Crump and Carter. Twice Wallis asked for more footage about certain pre-battle preparations and that made the boys feel better.”
The final cut ran a taut 75-minutes. During production, the title had changed from QUIET DAY to THE FIGHTERS to A QUIET DAY: CEASE FIRE! to, finally, CEASE FIRE. Technical advisor Major Harvey remarked, “I wasn’t much interested in working on this thing until I saw the film. It didn’t take long to realize that this was like revisiting Korea. I could smell the honeybuckets and hear the noises of the place. This movie will make every Korean war veteran proud of his part in the big show.”
In September, composer Dimitri Tiomkin
was hired to write a music score for CEASE FIRE. Tiomkin, who had just won two Oscars for HIGH
NOON (1952)—one for the music score, the other for that film’s theme song, “Do
Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’” with lyrics by Ned Washington—was no stranger to
wartime movies, having composed scores for HOME OF THE BRAVE (1949), THE MEN
(1950) and TAKE THE HIGH GROUND! (1953).
In October, Tiomkin also wrote the song “We Are Brothers in Arms” (with
lyrics by Washington), which is heard throughout CEASE FIRE. In his Hollywood Reporter review, Milton Luban praised the score: “Enhancing
the realism and excitement of the picture is Tiomkin’s pulse-tingling music,
[the] stirring theme, ‘We Are Brothers in Arms,’ being effectively used and
promising to become a big hit.”
CEASE FIRE was in post-production when 3-D movies began to perform poorly at the boxoffice. Some mediocre films and poor projection had resulted in a rapidly growing lack of interest among moviegoers. The reasons are explained in Jack Theakston's article, "What Killed 3-D?"
On September 23, Variety reported that Paramount had “no intention of scrapping 3-D and concentrating on any single photographic process” and that the studio would make films in virtually all formats (with the exception of CinemaScope, a widescreen process owned by 20th Century Fox), determined by the dimension best suited to the particular story. “If the story does justice to the medium,” said board chairman Adolph Zukor, “then the producer can’t go wrong.” He cited CEASE FIRE as a perfect example of a film made even better by 3-D, noting that 3-D scenes showing the enemy on a hill some distance away emphasized the realistic qualities of the action. “Advancement of the 3-D technique has now caught the attention of scientists in all lines, now that it has gained public acceptance. Not only is work being carried forward in improvements in methods already devised but also experiments in the development of 3-D without glasses.” Zukor went on to boldly predict, “There is reason to believe that within eighteen months the industry will have 3-D which won’t require the use of glasses.”
"The players in this picture are soldiers—actual fighting men who were in combat in the last hours of bitter conflict. Some have now returned to their homes. Others are still in service. Some were wounded or killed in action. To these soldiers and the men of the United Nations Command, this picture is respectfully dedicated."
On September 25, Hal Wallis was notified that the Breen Office, which enforced the moral guidelines set by the Motion Picture Association of America Production Code Administration, would not grant their seal of approval to CEASE FIRE because the unadulterated G.I. language included “three hells and one damn.” Barney Balaban, president of Paramount Pictures, requested an appeal on October 12; on November 12, three days after a critics screening, the nine members of the MPAA’s board of directors upheld the PCA ruling.
An “astonished” Crump remarked, “I was trying to catch an honest movie where all the soldiers wouldn’t sound like heroes or Boy Scouts...I didn't attempt to put words in their mouths. I would describe a situation and ask them how they would talk under such circumstances. I wrote lines, if you want to call it writing dialogue, only in the sense that I suggested phrasing to emphasize dramatic points...There were a lot of four-letter words we left out.”
Wallis wrote to Joseph Breen on November
17, asking why the Breen Office allowed “damn” to be used in DEATH OF A SALESMAN
(1951) and THE CAINE MUTINY (released in 1954) yet not in CEASE FIRE. Although Wallis continued to contest the
decision, writing to the National Council on Freedom from Censorship on the
same day as the film’s Broadway premiere, the offending words—all four of them—were
excised from the general-release version.
(Six months later, the MPAA okayed the line “Go to Hell, Father”—directed
at the character of a Catholic priest—in Columbia’s ON THE WATERFRONT, a
decision that infuriated Paramount production chief Y. Frank Freeman.)
Paramount sent Crump to New York where, between November 13 and 23, he engaged in a continuous round of interviews (newspaper, magazine, radio) and television appearances to promote the upcoming premiere. Similarly engaged were nine members of the G.I. cast, who turned up on various TV shows (including those hosted by Steve Allen, Dave Garroway and Ed Sullivan) and as contestants on the radio edition of I’ve Got a Secret. For added hype, Paramount distributed records of “We Are Brothers in Arms” to radio stations.
CEASE FIRE’s “Star Spangled World Premiere” in widescreen and stereophonic sound was held on November 24 at the Criterion Theatre in New York City’s Times
Square. On hand were General Mark Clark,
serving as host and volunteer sponsor, and the cast, in addition to military
notables, United Nations representatives, the 60-piece First Army Band, Fort
Dix’s crack drill team, and a large detachment of National Guard troops. Pre-screening festivities were televised by
WNBT-TV, with Tex McCrary as master of ceremonies.
The premiere took Capt. Roy Thompson Jr., who played the leader of the onscreen patrol, by surprise: “We didn’t know if it was a training film or what. They just said it was a picture of some sort. Most of the guys were very unimpressed.... The director would just tell us what the scene was, and we’d talk like we do in real life. Months later, I’m on national guard duty in Oshkosh, Wis., when Paramount Studio calls up and invites me to see the movie. My wife just couldn’t believe it.”
Critical response to CEASE FIRE was overwhelmingly positive:
Bosley Crowther, New York Times: “A robust, hair-raising realization of the ruggedness of the foot soldiers war in the ugly hills of Korea...To the credit of Mr. Crump and his associates, including the soldiers who comprised his ‘company,’ their achievement—though largely re-enactment—must be said to have a harsh, authentic ring...And though the soldiers who do the performing demonstrate no professional acting skill, their crude and cryptic behavior is as G.I. as the uniforms they wear or the formidable paraphernalia of rifles and grenades they tote.”
Kate Cameron, New York Daily News: “By far the best 3-D picture to reach the screen!”
Arthur Winsten, New York Post: “A very unusual picture. One of the best to come from any war, and the best thing of its kind by quite a margin...almost as if you’ve been under fire yourself.”
Rose Pelswick, New York Journal-American: “None of Hollywood’s war dramas, no matter how realistically made, can possibly compare to CEASE FIRE.”
John McCarten, New Yorker: “CEASE FIRE is the best three-dimensional film to date.”
Arthur Knight, Saturday Review of Literature: “An absorbing film.”
Hal Boyle, Associated Press: “It captures some of the heart-breaking loneliness and mind-cracking sordidness of Korea for those who never fought there, and will recall it for those who did fight there and left part of their youth behind.”
Frank Quinn, New York Daily Mirror: “Without hokum, elaborate histrionics, or classic verbiage. A graphic thrilling account.”
Alton Cook, New York World Telegram: “One of the most convincing war tales ever photographed.”
Jane Corby, Brooklyn Eagle: “A picture everyone should see. A new high in filmmaking.”
Jess Zunser, Cue Magazine: “Realism can go no further...the 3-D camera goes along with the slogging foot soldiers, lugging their rifles, bazookas, hand grenades, machine guns, flame thrower, and walkie-talkie. You are there.”
Ed Sullivan, Toast of the Town: “A great, great picture.”
John Beaufort, Christian Science Monitor: “CEASE FIRE is a credit to the professional film people who made it, and a faithful, graphic tribute to the fighting men about whom it was made. Stereoscopy adds much to the realism.”
Jack Hirschberg, Canadian Monitor Newspapers: “I think it is the greatest war film and one of the finest human documents ever photographed.”
Look Magazine: “New 3-D movie about a patrol on the last day of the war is a masterful blending of fiction and fact.”
Newsweek: “A remarkable film...factual effect which is reserved only for the finest war films...a work of art.”
Boxoffice: “A glowing tribute to Owen Crump who wrote the story and directed...a rich market for this masterful Hal Wallis production.”
Film Daily: “The sincere and solid ring of authenticity heightens the thoroughly realistic quality of this long-heralded Hal B. Wallis production.”
The Commonwealth Magazine: “One of the finest examples of a film in 3-D to date.”
General Clark and cast members appeared at the West Coast premiere in San Francisco at the St. Francis Theatre on December 22. Also present were Major Harvey (serving as emcee), Hal Wallis, Major General William F. Dean, the Sixth Army band, and an honor guard comprised of Korean War veterans.
“Gala Los Angeles Premiere” was held on January 12, 1954 at the Picwood Theatre
in Westwood. Attendees defied wintry
weather conditions (“a six-gun salute of rain, hail, thunder, lightning and an
earthquake”) for the festivities, which featured a 45-piece military band from Camp
Irwin, a military police drill team, and on-stage appearances by General Clark
and the stars of the picture. Also in attendance
were Major Harvey, Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson, Cecil B. DeMille, Mary
Pickford, Louella Parsons, Debbie Reynolds, Terry Moore, Gene Barry, Lori
Nelson, Tab Hunter, Lawrence Welk and Dimitri Tiomkin. Due to the television coverage (by KTLA) of
the event, some of the invited Hollywood stars, whose studio contracts did not
allow them to appear on TV in any capacity, avoided the cameras by entering the
theatre through a side entrance or opted out entirely.
With the L.A. police trying to maintain order among the assembled crowd and attempting to keep traffic moving, it was reported that a grocery store a block away from the theatre was robbed by “a bold bandit.”
The following day, CEASE FIRE began its regular engagements at seven L.A. theatres. It was screened in 3-D and stereophonic sound at the Picwood, Palace (downtown L.A.) and Vogue (Hollywood), and played “flat” at four drive-ins: Century (Hollywood), Gage (Bell Gardens), El Monte, and Van Nuys.
For forthcoming openings, a specially-filmed introduction by General Clark (directed by Phil Pemberton) was screened to introduce the feature.
Again, the reviews were favorable:
Edwin Schallert, Los Angeles Times: “If you want an advance glimpse of the kind of picture that will probably win an Academy award next year see CEASE FIRE. So uniquely genuine is this film...Everyone who figures in the action merits an accolade for the conviction, the humanness and the sympathy of his work...The picture is not all unrelieved seriousness. It is lightened with that brisk salty humor of a fighting man. There is hardly a member of the company who does not shine out at some moment in one respect or another, although Albert Bernard Cook, as One Ton, could readily acquire a movie contract. Capt. Roy Thompson [and] Cpl. Henry Goszkowski give authority to the whole enterprise.”
Milton Luban, Hollywood Reporter: “The most authentic war film made thus far [with] an amazingly proficient all G-I cast, an exciting music score by Dimitri Tiomkin, and the adroit use of 3-D utilized to almost place one in the battle lines...the 3-D medium makes the viewer almost a participant at the front...Dumps the war in your lap!”
Jim Lucas, Scripps Howard News Service: “From beginning to end, it gripped me as nothing has gripped me since I was a child. I found myself on the edge of my seat, my hands cold with sweat, my heart pounding. Those in front of me were frequently annoyed when I muttered words of caution to the guys on the screen. I marvel that I didn’t shout.”
Louella Parsons, Los Angeles Examiner: “I would like to recommend this film and salute Hal Wallis for producing it.”
Jimmy Starr, Los Angeles Herald & Express: “It’s grim, it’s authentic. I feel that CEASE FIRE is a must.”
The Film Estimate Board of National Organizations: “A new kind of war documentary has been developed by Owen Crump as he sought to make meaningful the phrase, a quiet day at the front...The audience has actually been there to see at first hand the rugged endurance, the unquestioning obedience, that the grim business of war demands. They have also seen the courage and wryly humorous fighting spirit of men in combat. The film is as moving and impressive as it is unpretentious.”
CEASE FIRE also garnered plaudits from the military:
VFW Magazine: “If shown to the general assembly of the United Nations, CEASE FIRE should accomplish more than all the speeches combined.”
The Military Order of the Purple Heart, Inc.: “The closest to real warfare the movies can get...It’s the tops.”
Major General Clark Ruffner, Chief of the Army’s Information Division: “I’ve been in the Army 30 years, from private to general, and this is the only realistic motion picture of war I’ve ever seen.”
Major General William F. Dean, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient: “CEASE FIRE was so realistic it made me sweat.”
Brigadier General Frank Dorn, General Services Deputy Chief of Information: “When you get into superlatives, you are bound to run out of words and expressions. So, I suppose the best way to describe the picture is the word superlative, itself.”
Midwest premieres (in 3-D) were held on January 27 in two Kansas cities, at the Co-Ed Theatre in Manhattan and the Colonial Theatre in Junction City. Both were located near Ft. Riley; in Manhattan, civic leaders sponsored a dinner for Korean War veterans.
A special 3-D screening of CEASE FIRE was held in Chicago on January 7 at the Century Theatre, drawing the “biggest turnout in years” with over a thousand civic leaders, military officials, exhibitors and media people.
Yet when the film began its opening engagement on April 30 at the McVickers Theatre (on a double bill with the Bob Hope comedy CASANOVA’S BIG NIGHT), it was shown flat instead of in 3-D—an indication of the growing apathy toward the process. Nevertheless, it didn’t diffuse the enthusiasm of Mae Tinde of the Chicago Daily Tribune, who raved: “Seldom have I seen an audience so raptly attentive as the group present at the preview of this film of a part of the Korea story, photographed in the blood streaked ‘Land of the Morning Calm.’ The viewers were predominantly army men, the majority with battle stripes, and their reception, at least during the first half of the picture, seemed a guarantee of its validity of approach, as well as background.
"A couple of privates, obviously familiar with the streets in the towns and the rocky crags of the mountain country in which the battle scenes took place, made only nervous comments such as, ‘They’re bunching up’...or ‘Stay down, you knuckle head,’ as a patrol moved up on reconnaissance...the film is tensely realistic, revealing the awful anonymity of the helmeted men who were dots on the map as they probed into fluid enemy lines.
"Originally intended for 3-D projection, it is being shown locally in the conventional two dimensions, which, I am sure, does not detract in the least from its genuine merit and blunt realism.”
On February 12, CEASE FIRE opened in 3-D at the Plaza Theatre on Piccadilly Circus in London. The flat version went into wide release throughout London beginning March 8. The supporting feature (also shown flat) was the Paramount 3-D feature, JIVARO, retitled LOST TREASURE OF THE AMAZON for UK release.
In late March, CEASE FIRE finally had its Korean premiere, for the 7th Infantry. All of the combat veterans who were still with the division said the film looked “too much like Korea,” attesting to its authenticity.
In mid-October 1953, Paramount had been the first studio to offer exhibitors the option of booking their new 3-D releases in flat versions. By early 1954, many exhibitors opted to play CEASE FIRE (and other 3-D titles) mostly flat. Few moviegoers had the opportunity to see the film the way it was intended to be seen.
Despite an initial string of successful 3-D engagements in major cities, CEASE FIRE did not perform to its full potential at the box office. Historian John McElwee confirms that it received 452 bookings in 3-D (a total of $264,000 in domestic rentals) and 11,570 flat bookings ($571,000 in domestic rentals). Those figures reveal 46% of the total domestic rentals came from 3-D bookings which comprised a small fraction of the playdates. If more theatres had played CEASE FIRE in 3-D, it would have possibly done much better at the boxoffice.
There were certainly enough potential venues. In January 1954, International Projectionist reported that “some 5,000 theatres in the nation have been equipped for 3-D.” In a related article, also from January 1954, Motion Picture Daily quoted J. Harold Booth, executive vice-president of the Polaroid Corp., asserting that 3-D had “finally found a secure place as a medium to enhance entertainment values” and citing a Wall Street Journal estimate that the rise in better pictures and better projection gave 3-D productions a boxoffice advantage of at least 15% or more, with many 3-D engagements running as much as 60% ahead of conventional film showings.
Historian Dr. Robert Kiss offers this perspective:
“There were many well-promoted 3-D openings of the movie at premiere houses with heavy footfall in major cities, as well as at major venues in medium-to-large-sized towns. Both the New York and Los Angeles premiere engagements were swiftly followed by numerous 3-D screenings within New York State in general, and within the Greater Los Angeles area, where CEASE FIRE opened simultaneously in 3-D at three large-capacity venues. Beyond this, there were 3-D openings during December 1953-February 1954 in major cities including Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Denver, El Paso, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Nashville, Philadelphia and Washington, as well as in medium-to-large-sized towns including Asheville (NC), Burlington (NC), Montgomery (AL), Newport (RI), Newport News (VA), Passaic (NJ) and Providence (RI)—which might make the seemingly dismal statistic of 3.75% of bookings having been in 3-D look not quite so dismal after all, in view of the size and prestige of the venues involved.”
After theatrical bookings ended in 1954, CEASE FIRE disappeared and remained hidden in the vaults for more than forty years. We can find no trace of any domestic television broadcasts until June 6, 1998 when it began running on the popular cable channel, American Movie Classics. In September 2006, a new 35mm print was struck for the World 3-D Film Expo, presented by SabuCat Productions at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.
This timely and important motion picture deserves to be widely seen again and you will soon have that opportunity. The 3-D Film Archive is restoring CEASE FIRE in 3-D, widescreen and stereophonic sound from original 35mm elements for release on 3-D Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics in the summer of 2017.
Most 3-D movies of the era used the format to accentuate and exaggerate artifice. CEASE FIRE is the rare production to employ the stereoscopic process to heighten reality, emphasizing the brutality of combat, the vastness of a cold, unfamiliar terrain and the isolation felt by a patrol of valiant fighting men. Part-documentary, part-drama, part-cinéma vérité, the film remains a unique and remarkable achievement.
Original 1953 radio spot promo for CEASE FIRE.
To read original articles about Pfc. Ricardo Carrasco, American Cinematographer and Pacific Stars & Stripes on filming in Korea, the New York/Los Angeles premieres and the censor issue, click here.
Special thanks to Andrea Kalas and Laura Thornburg at Paramount Pictures, Joe Rubin and Ryan Emerson at OCN Digital, Frank Tarzi and Bret Wood at Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Mike Ballew, Dr. John Bishop, Eckhard Büttner, John Geary, Hillary Hess, Greg Kintz, Dr. Robert Kiss, Thad Komorowski, John McElwee/Greenbriar Picture Shows, Jack Theakston and Tom Weaver.
Lobbycards, Pressbook Art, Newspaper and Trade Ads
“First Combat-Zone 3-Dimensional Film Readies Operations at 7th Division” by Sgt. Frank Praytor, Pacific Stars & Stripes, May 25, 1953
“El Paso GI Plays Leading Role In Battlefield Movie” by Jim T. Lucas, El Paso Herald-Post, June 30, 1953
"Movie Company Plans Memorial for El Paso Soldier Killed in Korea" by Jim T. Lucas, El Paso Herald-Post, July 18, 1953
“Filming a 3-D Feature In The Korean Battle Zone,” by Gene M. Brooks, American Cinematographer, September 1953
“Hollywood Report” by Thomas M. Pryor, New York Times, September 27, 1953
“Dialogue ‘Too Hot’—So GI Film Snafued” Los Angeles Daily News, November 13, 1953
“Fans Defy Wintry Winds For ‘Cease Fire’ Premiere” by Jimmy Starr, Los Angeles Herald Examiner & Express, January 13, 1954
“’Cease Fire’ Is Grim, Realistic Movie of War in Korea” by Mae Tinde, Chicago Daily Tribune, May 4, 1954
“The Movie Star You Never Saw” by Hal Wallis, Reader’s Digest, November 1959
“Killed in Korea Twice in One Day” by Resa LaRu Kirkland, The Washington Times, May 27, 2011
“Cease Fire: High Noon in Korea” by Warren M. Sherk, Dimitri Tiomkin website, October 2, 2013