by Bob Furmanek
This page will be updated from time to time with articles and information on lost 3-D titles from the Golden Age.
After it was a smash hit on Broadway, TOP BANANA went on tour for a year
playing in major cities across the country. Phil Silvers and the cast
finished their successful run at the Biltmore Theater in downtown Los
Angeles on June 27, 1953. During that engagement, Harry Popkin (D.O.A., AND THEN THERE
WERE NONE) negotiated with producers Albert Zugsmith (TOUCH OF EVIL, THE
INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN) and Ben Peskay to film TOP BANANA exactly as
it had been presented on stage in sold out performances across the
country. They packed up the sets and costumes and moved the entire
company over to the Motion Picture Center Studios in Hollywood. That's
where the film was photographed and not on the Winter Garden stage which has
been claimed for many years.On July 21, 1953, filming began in 3-D widescreen 1.85:1. The idea to film in 3-D was to give the audience a choice
seat at a top Broadway show. The producers envisioned this format as a
new way to inexpensively film stage shows and present them in theaters
across the country. They developed a rather complicated tracking
shot for the opening of the film. The camera would represent the viewer and approach the box office and buy tickets, enter the lobby and proceed to a fifth row, aisle seat. Lights would dim, the overture would play and the show
would begin. (This elaborate opening was abandoned in favor of a static
shot of the theater marquee, which then dissolves directly into the
stage show.) It was photographed with Natural Vision cameras, the same
rigs that had filmed BWANA DEVIL, HOUSE OF WAX, FORT TI, CHARGE AT FEATHER
RIVER, DEVIL'S CANYON, THE MOONLIGHTER, SOUTHWEST PASSAGE and GOG.
The film was in post-production in September 1953 just as THE ROBE and
CinemaScope premiered and 3-D was starting to decline at the box
office. While shopping the property around for a distributor (the film
was independently financed) the producers announced on October 27 they would release
TOP BANANA flat only, citing the public’s lukewarm response to the
current 3-D releases. In early December, they signed a distribution deal
with United Artists. Later that month, the success of some new 3-D
releases (KISS ME KATE, HONDO, CEASE FIRE and MISS SADIE THOMPSON)
prompted UA to announce on December 10 that a 3-D version would be
available for exhibitors. Unfortunately, that is the last reference to
any release of the stereoscopic version of this film. When it was sneak
previewed, shown to the trades and released in February 1954, it was
shown flat only.
The film was photographed on Eastmancolor negative film 5248 (25 ASA tungsten) and processed by the Color
Corporation of America laboratory (formerly SuperCinecolor/Cinecolor) in
Burbank. Release prints were made by Pathe Labs. Color Corporation went out of business the following year. Apparently,
all of the original elements were junked at that time. The 35mm left/right negatives
were probably stored under Roadshow
Sadly, the only material in the United Artists archive today is an
edited 35mm release print of the right side. That is the version which
has been released on home video and it's missing about 15 minutes of
footage. There are no negatives, color separations, interpositives, dupe
negatives, nothing. However, the missing 15 minutes does survive in both an uncut
16mm Kodachrome print struck in 1954 and an original, faded 35mm release
print now at the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
The 3-D footage is not completely lost. In June 2003, I made a very interesting discovery. While examining an original
35mm trailer, I found that certain shots in the trailer were from the
opposite eye of the surviving 35mm print. While the negatives may be gone, at least a few moments now survive in 3-D!
Bob Furmanek is an award-winning
producer, writer and motion picture archivist/historian.
He is available for research and consultation work with respect to 3-D and aspect ratio information.