"From a production point of view, this war melodrama is worthy of a major studio, for the characters are believable, and the dangers to which they are subjected hold the spectator in tense suspense...The romance is fairly interesting. There is no comedy, for all is grim. The photography is good."
Pete Harrison, Harrison's Reports: March 6, 1954
"The picture winds up with an all-out tank attack which is repelled by defending planes, containing thrills that pack a wallop."
Motion Picture Daily: February 9, 1954
Preserving a Lost 3-D Film
by Bob Furmanek
THE MAZE was Allied Artists first venture into 3-D film production. Originally announced on February 9, 1953 for lensing with the Natural Vision camera, it began filming on April 21 in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 utilizing the studios newly designed twin-camera rig.
On June 11, the studio optimistically ordered 1,000,000 Polaroid glasses from the Natural Vision Corporation. In addition, they contracted with the Westrex Corporation’s subsidiary Sound Services Inc. to mix the mono audio elements into three-channel magnetic stereophonic sound.
on June 30, 1953 in nine cities, THE MAZE went into general release on July 23
and was a huge success. Encouraged by the early boxoffice reports, Allied Artists
quickly made plans to produce additional 3-D films.
On July 16, they announced four titles for 3-D and widescreen filming: DRAGONFLY SQUADRON; HOUSE IN THE SEA; HOLD BACK THE NIGHT and RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11. However, by the time they were ready to begin production in mid-August, 3-D lensing was dropped on three of the four titles. Interest in the process was beginning to decline so Allied adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
HOUSE IN THE SEA began filming August 17 on location in Apple Valley, CA. The title was changed to HIGHWAY DRAGNET on December 15 and it opened as a supporting feature to DRAGONFLY SQUADRON in three Los Angeles theatres on January 27, 1954.
HOLD BACK THE NIGHT sat on the back-burner for quite a while and was finally announced in November 1954 with Neville Brand and Richard Baseheart as the stars. After further delays, production finally commenced on February 15, 1956 with John Payne now in the lead.
RIOT came the closest to an actual three-dimensional start but on August 5, Variety reported, “Walter Wanger's Allied Artists production, "Riot in Cell Block 11," will be filmed in 2-D instead of 3-D because of regulations at Folsom Prison, where much of the shooting will be done. Prison officials put a two-week limit on the use of the location."
Veteran director Lesley Selander was signed on July 21. Two days later, Lt. Col. Claire E. Towne at the Department of Defense approved John C. Champion’s script. It was the first 3-D feature to require Pentagon approval.
On August 5, Variety reported that former professional basketball and baseball player Chuck Connors was signed for the pivotal role of Capt. Warnowski. He was receiving good reviews for his recent appearance with Burt Lancaster and Virginia Mayo in SOUTH SEA WOMAN.
Barbara Britton also joined the cast on August 5, having made a strong impression in the first color 3-D feature, BWANA DEVIL.
On August 6, Col. Dean Hess USAF reported to Allied Artists to serve as Technical Advisor on the film. In June 1950 and over the next twelve months, he had been commanding officer of the “Bout One Project,” a U.S. Air Force mission to train South Korean pilots to fly the P-51D Mustang. In that one year, he had flown a total of 250 combat missions. His 1956 autobiography BATTLE HYMN was filmed by Universal-International with Rock Hudson in the lead role. Click here for more information.
Principal photography began August 12 on location at Warner Hot Springs, near Riverside, CA. They would remain there until August 20 and then moved to the Allied Artists Hollywood studio on Sunset Boulevard for interior shots.
Production moved to Iverson’s Movie Ranch near Chatsworth on August 26 for two days of shooting. On August 28, the pyrotechnics were a bit too much for a local resident and ten months later, he took action. On April 28, 1954, Variety reported that Allied Artists was being sued by an individual claiming he was "thrown from his bed and injured at 4 AM last August 28 from an explosion of between 15 and 50 sticks of dynamite.”
Unfortunately, no further information is available on this lawsuit.
moved to Whiteman Air Park, near Pacoima, for hangar and airfield scenes and filming
was completed circa September 1.
The camera rig built by the studio technicians and first used on THE MAZE had twin-mirrors and a fixed interaxial. DRAGONFLY was photographed primarily with 50mm lenses by Harry Neumann and the result on-screen was a very deep stereoscopic image. There were some vertical alignment issues in the extensive location footage and they were fixed optically in post-production. For that reason, a number of shots cut into the left/right 35mm negatives are dupes with an increased level of grain.
On September 14, Paul Dunlap was hired to score the film while 3-D movies were quickly declining 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 detail in our article, "What Killed 3-D?"
By the end of September, the situation had gotten worse. Both Universal-International and Paramount began offering exhibitors the option of booking their new 3-D films in flat versions instead and theater owners jumped at the opportunity. In the October 17 edition of Harrison's Reports, the editors blasted Paramount on the reasons given for their decision.
On October 17, Allied Artists placed an ad in the trades saluting their branch managers and DRAGONFLY is listed as a 3-D release. But one week later on October 24, they placed a different ad to announce their upcoming fall releases and there is no mention of 3-D whatsoever.
At this point, the studio decided to cut their losses and quickly wrapped up post-production before the 3-D title overlays for several shots had been completed. They remain flat in the film today.
three-dimensional films were going to have a short-lived revival with some
important new titles about to hit theaters.
Beginning October 28, MGM tested KISS ME KATE in six cities with three playing the flat version and the 3-D engagements did 40% better business. Based on this test, the studio ordered an unprecedented 300 Technicolor left/right 3-D prints in order to meet the anticipated demand. On November 4, Hollywood Reporter stated, "This almost two-for-one business in favor of goggle-wearing ticket buyers indicates that 3-D is not dead, not dying, nor is it even sick."Another trade ad on December 12 announcing the National Championship Sales Drive is for a flat release. Two days later, on December 14, Daily Variety reported that Allied Artists would be testing the stereoscopic version of DRAGONFLY in four cities in the early months of 1954. However, for reasons unknown, the test engagements never took place and the film was not available for booking in 3-D.
It opened flat in its first pre-release engagement on January 27, 1954 in three theaters and five drive-ins in the Los Angeles area. The general release date throughout the country was March 21, 1954. In most cities, the supporting feature was either WORLD FOR RANSOM with Dan Duryea (based on the TV series China Smith) or HIGHWAY DRAGNET, one of the films initially announced by Allied Artists for 3-D lensing.
In a 1967
article about John Champion, Hollywood Reporter stated that DRAGONFLY SQUADRON
had cost $300,000 to produce and the final gross was $700,000.
out of circulation for many years and received a very limited release on VHS tape in
the early 1980’s. The flat transfer was
taken from a washed-out 16mm print with a muddy audio track that sounded like
it was recorded underwater.
Anaglyphic conversions of vintage 3-D films were pulling good ratings on television at the time and Medallion TV announced plans to convert DRAGONFLY to the inferior red/blue system. Thankfully, it never happened.
John Champion's modest but ambitious film certainly deserved better treatment.
RESTORING DRAGONFLY SQUADRON
We acquired the rights in 2009 and began our preservation work just in time. The various stock shots used in the final battle scenes were deteriorating with vinegar syndrome and began to affect the surrounding footage as well.
The 3-D world premiere took place on September 14, 2013 in Hollywood at the World 3-D Film Expo. It was great to finally see it on the big screen but unfortunately, there were some problems with the presentation. Technical issues in the booth required the film to be shown in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 and the Intermission card was placed in the wrong spot. Timing was inconsistent between the left/right 35mm prints and an audio glitch caused the sound to run out of sync for nearly two minutes. In addition, the opening credits were flat due to a mislabeled element when the new prints were made.
All of the problems have now been fixed in this stunning new 3-D Blu-ray release from Olive Films.
Greg Kintz, Technical Director for the 3-D Film Archive, has meticulously restored this lost 3-D film in 4K from the original left/right 35mm elements. The timing between both eyes has been precisely matched; the Intermission card is in the correct place; the dynamic optical audio track has been fully restored and is in sync; the baked-in vertical alignment errors have been painstakingly corrected shot-by-shot; the opening titles are now fully three-dimensional and the film has been mastered in the correct aspect ratio of 1.66:1.
DRAGONFLY SQUADRON on 3-D Blu-ray is truly better than ever before!
Special thanks to Greg Kintz; Ryan Emerson and Joe Rubin at OCN Digital Labs LLC;
Richard Dayton and Eric Aijala at YCM Inc; Kit Parker and Jack Theakston.