Sixty years ago today, Warner Bros. premiered one of the greatest 3-D movies of all time: HOUSE OF WAX, starring Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni and Charles Buchinsky (a.k.a. Bronson.) Directed by Andre DeToth and produced by Bryan Foy, it told the story of a crazed sculptor seeking revenge for the fiery destruction of his wax museum.
Based on the 1933 horror classic MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, this WarnerColor re-make was the first feature film from a major studio to be photographed in Natural Vision 3-Dimension. (Arch Oboler's BWANA DEVIL, distributed by United Artists, had been the first.) Natural Vision utilized two strips of film, representing left and right eye views, and was projected in perfect synchronization on two projectors. This superior 3-D process utilized Polaroid filters and glasses, and should not be confused with the red/blue anaglyph 3-D system, which appeared primarily in comic books and magazines during that time.
It was also the first feature to be heard in WarnerPhonic Stereo sound, a new 4-channel process that utilized a full-coat 35mm magnetic track for the left, center and right speakers behind the screen, and a mono optical track for the surround channel. The 35mm full-coat audio was on a separate roll that was interlocked with the two projectors that ran the left/right 3-D images, and the surround track was on the right print of the feature. (The left print contained a mono optical composite track of the entire four channels, and served as an emergency audio back-up in case the dubber went out of sync with the picture.)
Sadly, this pioneering WarnerPhonic audio is lost today. The only surviving element of the original stereo mix is the mono surround channel. (The stereo sound that you are hearing on the film today is newly created by Chace Audio from mono elements. It is NOT the original WarnerPhonic sound.) The tragedy of this stereo audio not surviving is the fact that it was an important element in the original presentation of the 3-D film. With fully directional sound, and sound effects that emanated from the sides and rear of the auditorium (during the fire in the wax museum, for instance) it helped to immerse the viewer in the action, adding an important element to the superb realism of the dimensional photography. As an example of the important role of sound in this presentation, the New York Paramount installed 25 surround speakers throughout the huge auditorium.
The gala world premiere took place on April 10, 1953 at the magnificent 3,600 seat Paramount Theatre on Times Square. All the stars from the film were there, and the film proved to be a tremendous moneymaker for the studio. Boosting ticket sales was the stage show headlined by RCA recording star Eddie Fisher, making his first appearance back from a tour of duty in Korea. He performed such hits as "Any Time," "I'm Walking Behind You," "Wish You Were Here" and "Tell Me Why." The bobbysoxers lined up for hours to see the popular crooner, and filled the massive theatre for six shows a day!
The phenomenal success of this film opened the floodgates for 3-D movies. Within the next 14 months, Hollywood produced 50 features, and nearly two dozen shorts and cartoons, all in the Polaroid 3-D process. Titles include KISS ME KATE, HONDO, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, MISS SADIE THOMPSON, DIAL M FOR MURDER, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, CEASE FIRE, I THE JURY, and many more.