Many great cinematographers photographed the 1950's 3-D films, including Oscar winners John Alton,

Joseph F. Biroc, Robert Burks, Floyd Crosby, Daniel L. Fapp, Lee Garmes, Sam Leavitt, Lionel Lindon,

Russell Metty, Ray Rennahan, Charles Rosher, Archie Stout, Karl Struss and Paul C. Vogel.

Why are there occasional flat scenes in vintage 3-D movies?



Nearly every Golden Age 3-D feature has occasional flat shots due to camera malfunctions during principal photography. These films were photographed with dual-35mm rigs and the cumbersome camera systems delivered a very high-quality stereo image but they were certainly not infallible.









Many of the camera errors were not caught until the next day when screening dailies and with tight schedules, the cost of re-shooting was usually not an option. Those shots could be printed flat and cut into both the left/right 35mm camera negatives and they would optically offset one side in order to place the image slightly behind the stereo window. Most viewers would barely notice the brief insertion of a flat shot into the film.

That being said, why are there so many flat underwater shots in REVENGE OF THE CREATURE?

Revenge of the Creature (1955)  Directed by Jack Arnold  Underwater production photo showing Charles C. (Scotty) Welbourne maneuvering his underwater camera

As CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON was wrapping production in early November 1953, this syndicated column from Bob Thomas appeared in newspapers throughout the country.

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3-D movies had a brief revival theatrically in late 1953/early 1954 with such three-dimensional hits as HONDO, MISS SADIE THOMPSON, CEASE FIRE and KISS ME KATE. However, 3-D production at the studios was dead and Universal-International dismantled their underwater camera rig. A few months later, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON was a big hit and had many 3-D bookings throughout the country in the spring of 1954.

The final nail was put into 3-D's coffin with the decision to pull depth treatment from the highly anticipated release of Alfred Hitchcock's DIAL M FOR MURDER. The World Premiere took place in Grace Kelly's hometown of Philadelphia on Tuesday, May 18, 1954 at the 2,200 seat Randolph Theater.

After one preview performance on May 18 and four showings on the 19th, the manager frantically contacted the studio and said that people were staying away in droves. He asked for permission to drop the 3-D and show it flat.

On Sunday May 23, a Philadelphia Inquirer headline proclaimed: "Play's the Thing as Philadelphia Fans Spurn 3-D for 2-D Version of DIAL M."  Mildred Martin wrote: "The first audiences proved to be a jury that could not only make up its mind, but could make it up in a hurry. In exhibitors' own terms, DIAL M literally died. And after just four performances on Wednesday, some long-distance telephoning to report complaints, the increasing skimpiness of customers--a good many of them making no bones of their dissatisfaction--permission was given to throw away the glasses and hastily switch to the 2-D version. Whereupon business at the Randolph took a turn for the better."

On May 26, 1954 a Variety headline announced 3-D Looks Dead in United States.



It was during this volatile climate for 3-D exhibition when RETURN OF THE CREATURE was in pre-production. The decision was made to shoot the sequel in 3-D and the studio's camera department hastily assembled another underwater rig. After satisfactory tests in the studio tank on June 12, 1954, it was sent to the location in Florida.

Second-unit filming began at Marineland on June 25 and the camera began to malfunction immediately during the first shots taken in the oceanarium. Over the next several days, Daily Production Reports mention multiple instances of delays due to camera issues.

June 25: "42 minutes lost camera repairs."
June 28: "25 minute delay checking camera for mechanical failure."
June 29: "Camera breakdown, lost 30 minutes."
June 30: "Lost one hour and five minutes, camera trouble."



On July 1, while doing underwater location work at Silver Springs, "Underwater 3D camera glass blown out and ruined work at 11:30." Director of Photography Charles S. Welbourne retrieved his own underwater camera and they photographed scenes flat for the next two days.

At this point, they were already over budget and a day behind schedule.  The 3-D camera was repaired and put back into service on July 3.

July 3: "Stripped gear on camera at 3:50."
July 13: "Lost 25 minutes due to camera #3 breakdown."
July 16: "Delay in morning due to trouble with underwater camera."

When principal photography wrapped on August 5, nine days of the thirty-five day shoot had been plagued with camera breakdowns. Other than HONDO, there is no other 3-D feature from the 1950's to have had these many technical issues during production.



The production team in Florida were not able to view the dailies in 3-D but producer William Alland and nervous executives were screening them stereoscopically at the studio in California. The decision was made to avoid costly re-shoots on location and just print the problematic footage flat. The film was running over budget and they must have figured that not many people would see it in 3-D under the present theatrical climate.

Ironically, UI urged exhibitors to play the film in 3-D and REVENGE OF THE CREATURE went on to have many successful 3-D playdates in the spring of 1955, including nearly half of the premiere engagements.

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Efforts to photograph a high-quality 3-D image onto a single-strip of 35mm film had been ongoing since the late 1940's. The system was not perfected and put into use until July 1966 with the production of Arch Oboler's THE BUBBLE. Full details about the development of Space-Vision can be found here.

With respect to converting these flat shots into 3-D today? The prices for a quality conversion start at $25K per minute and on VERY limited restoration budgets for vintage 3-D movies, that is not financially feasible.

For more information on the production of REVENGE OF THE CREATURE, we very highly recommend
"Universal Terrors 1951-1955: Eight Classic Horror and Science Fiction Films" by Tom Weaver with David Schecter, Robert J. Kiss and Steve Kronenberg.