by Bob Furmanek
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 widescreen, color and 3-D. The concept 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 Productions.
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!
The following pre-1960 3-D films are lost:
A Cocktail at Sloppy Joe's - 1953 (one side exists) - anaglyph
A Runaway Taxi – 1925 anaglyph
Acrobatiks - 1953 - never released (William Cameron Menzies)
American Beauties – 1953 anaglyph
American Life - 1953 – Bolex 16mm
Bandit Island - 1953 (one side exists) anaglyph - Lon Chaney
Bowery Scandals – 1953 anaglyph
Carmenesque - 1953 (partial of one side exists) - Lili St. Cyr
Caribbean Nights – 1953 (never released)
Chicago Cubs vs. Milwaukee Braves – 1953 – Bolex 16mm
Cleopatra Follies – 1953 anaglyph
College Capers – 1953 (have anaglyph, need left/right 35mm)
Edwin S. Porter tests - 3 reels - 1915 - anaglyph more info here: Home
Elementals, the - 1953 - Ray Harryhausen animation tests
First in Fashion for ’54 – General Motors
Foodini in Four Dimensions - 1953 (one side exists)
Fun in the Sun - 1953 - never released (William Cameron Menzies)
Holsum Bread commercials – 1953 – Bolex 16mm
I Was a Burlesque Queen - 1953 (3-D segment is lost) anaglyph
In Tune with Tomorrow - 1939 (we have one side)
Indian Summer - 1953 – Bolex 16mm
Luna-cy – 1924 anaglyph
M.A.R.S aka Radio Mania 1923 (one side exists)
Movies of the Future - 1923 (segments survive) anaglyph
Ouch! – 1925 anaglyph
Packaging – the Third Dimension 1953 – Bolex 16mm
Parisienne Life aka Paris Life – 1953 anaglyph
Persian Slave Market – 1953 anaglyph
Plastigrams – 1924 anaglyph
Polaroid on Parade - 1936
Polly Wolly Doodle – 1953 (never released)
Power of Love, the - 1922 – anaglyph First 3-D Feature
Sangaree - 1953 - 3-D trailer with Adolph Zukor for Paramount tradeshows
Sears training film – 1953 – Bolex 16mm
Selected Views of Yosemite Valley - 1922 (one side exists) anaglyph 3-D Holy Grail
Southwest Passage - 1954 (4 of 9 reels are lost)
Stereoscopiks – 1924 anaglyph
Sunday in Stereo – 1953 – Bolex 16mm
This is Progress – 1954 – General Motors 16mm
Top Banana – 1954 (left side is lost)
Zowie – 1925 anaglyph
More information on the 1953/1954 titles can be found in:
If you have ever come across prints of these films, please let us know!