It was very nostalgic to relive the making of our 3D movie, "Sangaree." Fernando and I had a wonderful time filming it and a great time promoting it.

As a matter of fact, I showed the article to our son, Lorenzo, who revisited that era with me.  He was very impressed with what his father and I went through making "Sangaree” together.

Wonderful memories…wonderful times.

Hollywood will never be like it was in the 50’s…

Thank you for sharing a very personal recollection with me.


Arlene Dahl
October 12, 2017



An In-Depth Look at SANGAREE

by Hillary Hess

"Sangaree" began as another in the long string of lucrative productions from the Pine-Thomas unit at Paramount Pictures.  By the time it was released, the movie had racked up an impressive list of firsts: the first 3-D production from Paramount; the first 3-D film in Technicolor; the first 3-D film based on a best-selling novel and the first 3-D film billed with an A-list cast.  And all was accomplished with a 17-year-old camera!



"The BIG 3-D Attraction That's Worth Waiting For!"

Co-producers William H. Pine and William C. Thomas were known in the industry as “The Dollar Bills” due to an enviable track record of dozens of economically produced films which never lost money.  The secret to their success was in market research.  They would travel the country, listening to feedback from theater owners on what kind of pictures they'd like to see, including the various elements Pine-Thomas referred to as “plus-factors,” and they'd incorporate that information into their productions.  According to Pine, “Every time we start a picture we try to get all the plus-factors we can before starting."  Consequently, there was always a built-in audience waiting for their productions.


One sure-fire project was a film based on “Sangaree," the best-selling historical romance novel by Frank G. Slaughter, set in post-Revolutionary War Savannah, Georgia.  On February 25, 1952, it was reported that Pine-Thomas purchased the movie rights to the novel, which follows Dr. Tobias Kent, a former indentured servant charged with overseeing the plantation of his recently deceased adopted father, General Victor Darby, as well as bringing medical enlightenment to Savannah.  His primary opposition is the General's daughter, Nancy, whose antagonism towards Kent turns amorous.  From the beginning, the producing team planned on bringing this period piece to the screen in Technicolor, another of those “plus-factors.”

Edward Ludwig was slated as director, and for the lead roles, several names were floated in the trade papers.  Earl Wilson announced in his May 26, 1952 column that Clark Gable and Lana Turner were to star.  Considering his well-known reluctance to star in “Gone With The Wind,” it may have come as a relief to Gable to learn he wouldn't be forced into another southern costumer when Harrison Carroll reported four months later William Holden would take the male lead.  Lana Turner was also out, and for the first time, Arlene Dahl's name was attached to the movie.




Described in the “Sangaree” pressbook as “the 3-D girl: Delicious-Delightful and Delovely,” Arlene Dahl had made a name for herself at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, her red-haired beauty proving an irresistible attraction in Technicolor. 
However, it was around this time the attraction between her and her husband, actor Lex Barker, best known for his role as Tarzan of the Apes, had waned, and the couple was estranged.  It wouldn't be long before there was an exotic new leading man in her life, on and off the screen.

But first, on November 10, 1952, it was announced the imposing veteran British character actor Francis L. Sullivan was the first to be officially cast as the film's dramatic and literal “heavy,” Dr. Bristol.  “Sangaree” would be one of his last film appearances, as he would pass away in 1956 at the age of 53.  In that same report, “tentative” female lead Dahl was to be paired with John Payne. A few days later, Miss Dahl's appearance in the movie was a sure thing, and she began to campaign for her current real-life love interest, Fernando Lamas, to star opposite her.      


With a suave and self-assured screen presence granting him a successful film career in his native Argentina, Fernando Lamas found his niche in the United States as M-G-M's “Latin lover.”  In fact, it was Arlene Dahl who acted opposite Lamas in his Metro screen test.  Any flames from their first pairing were not fanned as each was then spoken for, but this time was different.  Pine-Thomas agreed with Miss Dahl and took the request to M-G-M, which agreed to the loan-out, turning the hero Dr. Tobias Kent into Dr. Carlos Morales.  His star was rising and Look Magazine awarded Lamas a special award in February, 1953 as "The Most Talented Newcomer."

Little more than a month before production was to begin, Patricia Medina, a British actress with considerable experience in costume dramas, was cast as Martha Darby, the third element of the story's love triangle.  If Miss Dahl's character owes something to Scarlett O'Hara, Medina's character is Jezebel.  Rounding out the main cast was Tom Drake, the boy next door from “Meet Me in St. Louis,” now in “Sangaree” as Dr. Roy Darby, new lord of the plantation, and stalwart friend of our hero.

As “Sangaree” moved closer towards production, Hollywood was experiencing what might well have been another revolution of its own.  Instead of Al Jolson in blackface singing from the screen, this time it was Robert Stack in a bush hat, shooting at lions landing in the audience's collective lap. “Bwana Devil,” introduced movie-goers to Natural Vision 3-D, the visual novelty making it a surprise hit in spite of being an “inept quickie” so described by columnist Bob Thomas.  As with the tumult created by the part-talkie “The Jazz Singer,” the studios found themselves scrambling for space on the 3-D bandwagon.  Paramount was no exception, chiming in the January 7, 1953 Daily Variety that it already had its own 3-D system, though no titles in the format were yet in the works.


The “Sangaree” cameras began rolling in standard 2-D filming on January 13, 1953, with initial focus on exploiting the palpable chemistry between the two leads.  As reported by Harrison Carroll, “After their first love scene in “Sangaree,” Arlene exclaimed, 'When this man kisses you, you can't remember what lines come next!'” Another item in the trades exclaimed, “It must be love with Lamas.  In “Sangaree” he's letting Dahl theft the close-ups.” 

“Actually, Fernando directed the love scenes.” confirms Arlene Dahl in a recent interview with the 3-D Film Archive. “Before we shot the scene in the morning, the night before, we would rehearse and decide what we would do, and how we would do it, so we came prepared with each scene, much to the director's delight and chagrin...He (director Edward Ludwig) put up with us!  He said 'Okay, how would you kids like to shoot this film?  Now I set it up and now let's see what you can do with it and see if I like it.' so we showed him what we rehearsed the night before and he said 'Okay, let's shoot it.'”

But even reality needs some movie magic now and then, so the producers brought in their veteran director Lewis R. Foster to “build up the torrid sequence.”  Foster was about to begin production on Pine-Thomas' next 3-D feature, “Those Redheads from Seattle,” but had recently directed Dahl in “Jamaica Run,” making him the logical choice to get more out of her in the love scenes.


After twelve shooting days, 3-D fever caught up with “Sangaree.”  80-year-old Adolph Zukor, chairman of the board at Paramount, summoned producers Pine and Thomas with the plan to make “Sangaree” the studio's first “depthy.”  It seemed like a natural; the film had just begun production, and costume dramas tend to show off new filmic processes well. (Think “Becky Sharp” and three-strip Technicolor.Paramount had dubbed their 3-D system “Paravision,” the camera described in the February 28, 1953 edition of the Motion Picture Herald as being “developed by Paramount's Farciot Edouart in 1937, for which he won an Academy Award.”  Zukor explained that the 3-D camera was not used 17 years ago because “business was good” at the time and “there was no reason” to make the change.  All spoken in pure Hollywood ballyhoo.  But with a few kernels of truth.



Edouart did indeed receive the 1938 Scientific and Engineering Award for the camera, but then it was known as the Paramount dual screen transparency camera. 


Edouart was Paramount's process photography expert, honing the technique of rear projection backgrounds to as fine an art as it ever became.  The camera for which he received the award was of a special design consisting of two 35mm cameras (originally Bell and Howell and later replaced with Mitchell) facing each other, with mirrors between them approximately five by seven inches in size, placed at a 45-degree angle.  The idea was to film a background plate twice as wide as normal to provide more room for the action in the studio.  The rig provided as close to the same perspective as necessary, the resulting twin films being projected on screens placed beside each other with the join camouflaged by some piece of set decoration.

Whether Edouart realized his camera was ideal for 3-D photography after seeing the Natural Vision rig, or if he was aware of it already in 1937, is unclear, though a tantalizing item appearing in the December 4, 1937 Los Angeles Times suggests the latter, and at the prompting of a screen legend: “At Paramount, Harold Lloyd was consulting engineers to find out if stereoscopic, or three-dimensional photography, is yet deemed feasible.  He wants to film some sequences of 'Professor Beware' that way...” 


The circumstances may be purely coincidental, but present a compelling possibility. Regardless, it seems reasonable by Paramount's numerous mentions of its precedence over Natural Vision years later, the studio intended to avoid any accusations of infringement.  During pre-release publicity for “Sangaree,” Edouart said of his 17-year-old camera, “But no one seemed interested in in it until 'Bwana Devil' made more money in its third week than 'The Greatest Show on Earth' made in its first week.  Then I couldn't get the camera oiled up fast enough.”


According to Daily Variety, shooting resumed on January 27, 1953 with the new-old Paravision camera, adding, “Remaining footage will be shot in 3-D and upon completion of the regular shooting schedule, the early portions lensed within the last fortnight, will be re-shot in 3-D.”  Columnist Bob Thomas reported the switch to 3-D upped the budget to $2 million, “the biggest picture bill for (Pine-Thomas).  Edward Ludwig was directing a scene with Francis L. Sullivan, who could fill the screen in any dimension.  The director told me he was filming the story as he would an ordinary style of film, except for some action scenes.  The audience may be ducking punches and missiles hurled in the fight sequences.  The new technique requires more lighting, he added, and closer spacing.  'When I did a banquet scene, the actors couldn't figure why I placed them right next to each other.' he remarked.  'But they appear several feet apart when you see them on the screen.'”  

The additional lighting proved an irritation to Arlene Dahl's naturally sensitive blue eyes, which had suffered during previous productions involving the massive lighting required for three-strip Technicolor photography. 


(Courtesy of David Starkman and Susan Pinsky.)


Not all the challenges were unique to 3-D production.  Syndicated columnist Harrison Carroll related some of the more colorful mishaps which occurred during filming:

 “There were a few tense moments on the “Sangaree” set when Arlene fell from a six-foot barrel.  She was out for several minutes.  Luckily, the only damage was a sprained wrist.”

“Alan Ladd's former stand-in, James Cornell, was painfully burned when a flaming log, tossed in a scene for “Sangaree,” hit him under the left eye.”

...and most disturbingly: “If it hadn't been for Harry Ray, makeup man on “Sangaree,” Fernando Lamas might have been asphyxiated.  Ray dropped into Lamas' studio dressing room at 7:30 am to find Fernando trying to shave and woozy from escaping gas which a cold prevented him from smelling.  Ray rushed the actor outside and opened up the windows.”

But once the production switched to 3-D, it garnered the lion's share of publicity.  “...Bill Thomas informs “Sangaree” is doing 3-D differently, “In one scene, the audience will seem to go into the screen.”  Swears he isn't kidding.  And another shot has flaming embers hurled at the audience.  Can't wait.”



Fernando Lamas and director Edward Ludwig.




To ramp up the anticipation, on February 16, 1953, Bill Pine introduced a special 15 minute preview of “Sangaree” rushes to 500 industry insiders and press at the Paramount Theater in New York. The reaction was favorable if reserved. “Remarkable effects were achieved in bits where the background was of importance. Latter came through in very sharp focus, as in one sequence which had actors close to the camera on a balcony overlooking a ballroom filled with dancing couples. Illusion of depth was startling. Closeups also came through fine but shot of crowd rushing towards the camera was disappointing and didn't seem very different from what the flat version would have looked like." 

Prior to the demonstration, Russell Holman, Paramount's eastern production manager, noted "the studio was working day and night on technical problems, inventions and developments of three-dimension.”  "After viewing a portion of 'Sangaree',” lauded columnist Bob O'Donnell, “I'm taking word back to Texas that Bill Pine and Bill Thomas have all of the scope, both in production and cast, that 'Gone With the Wind' had.”


While enthusiasm for 3-D and Paravision seemed particularly robust at the time, so many articles mentioned the need for Polaroid glasses as a necessary evil for the time being. Louella Parsons wrote, “Eventually I hope we will not have to use Polaroid glasses.”  Co-producer William Pine addressed the question of the public's continued acceptance of the 3-D specs with, “When sound first came in, Hollywood was worried about whether movie-goers would resent noise in the theater after years of peaceful silence.” 


Nevertheless, the effect one enjoyed while wearing the glasses was undeniable.  Bob Thomas wrote in his column, “The color is also good, and the illusion of reality is remarkable.  I watched some scenes of Arlene Dahl and Fernando Lamas.  One scene gave amazing reality to Miss Dahl's contours in a low-cut gown.  Bill Thomas is the producer of the Paravision film, 'Sangaree.'  I asked him how it felt to be a pioneer.  'They walk over the bones of pioneers,' he replied grimly.”

On February 20, Adolph Zukor filmed a special 3-D promo on the "Sangaree" set for exhibitor screenings.





Certainly 3-D was the popular subject of the day, and one of the main selling points of “Sangaree,” but with such high-profile stars, the publicists found much else upon which to report.  In her March 8, 1953 column, Lydia Lane reported, “Sir Charles Mendel, English diplomat and connoisseur of women, selected Arlene Dahl as the most beautiful girl in Hollywood.  “She has grace and delicacy,” Sir Charles said. “Here is an 18th century face.”  It was interesting that when I visited Arlene on the 'Sangaree' set at Paramount, she was playing a woman of this 18th century era and was dressed in an elegant white satin gown brocaded in gold.  I watched her play a love scene with Fernando Lamas, the handsome Latin who is also her leading man in private life.  Later in her dressing room, I told Arlene what Sir Charles had said and she smiled, 'I love this period.  I particularly admire the femininity of it...Their clothes were elegant and because their waists were laced in with tight corsets, they had to keep their posture straight – they couldn't slump.  But they couldn't keep themselves laced all day so they were forced to take rest periods.”




After filming wrapped on March 3, the couple took a five day vacation in Palm Springs before reporting to work at the RKO Pathe lot in Culver City on March 10 for "The Diamond Queen." Briefly considered for 3-D lensing but eventually shot flat, the Warner Bros. release was finished on April 2. The following weekend they flew to New York to meet with the press and begin ballyhoo for "Sangaree."
Miss Dahl recalled how much they enjoyed the promotional tour on the “Dollar Bills'” dime, “We had our honeymoon before we got married!”


When interviewed by columnist Earl Wilson for his nationally syndicated column It Happened Last Night, the couple offered, “We shot both 2-D and 3-D,” Arlene said, “and we nicknamed the cameras 'the monsters,' because it had two heads.”  “Like so many producers,” spoke up her beau, Fernando Lamas. 

“It was great!” Lamas added.  “I had a fight scene and knocked the guy down – and the guy is out in the audience's laps.”  And “Miss Dahl agreed there's a wonderful thing about 3-D for actresses; the camera doesn't make you look 10 pounds heavier, as 2-D pictures do.”


However, neither she, nor Lamas believed 3-D would last.  Nor did Paramount.  Only a few weeks before the premiere of “Sangaree,” Daily Variety reported the studio was dropping all 3-D productions - including "Knock on Wood" and "Red Garters" - with the exception of those in the pipeline from independents Pine-Thomas, Nat Holt ("Flight to Tangier") and Hal Wallis (“Money from Home” and "Cease Fire")“Paramount's reasons for calling off all its 3-D production plans are something besides esthetic. Studio considers the process valuable only on a temporary basis and when the pictures contain gimmicks.”


Also mentioned in the article are Paramount's efforts to create a 3-D format which did not require the use of glasses.  It's a safe guess they were talking about VistaVision, which was not 3-D in the stereoscopic sense, but much like CinemaScope, would be intimated as such due to increased visual grandeur of the format.  When introduced with "White Christmas" in October, 1954, VistaVision would be recommended for exhibition in 1.85:1.

Despite being composed during production for the standard aspect ratio of 1.37:1, Paramount recommended “Sangaree” for presentation in 1.66:1 as reported by Weekly Variety, adding, "Stereo pix, which must he viewed through Polaroid glasses, considerably shrink the picture as it appears on the screen. Larger image remedies that effect but brings up the problem of light loss.” 

  

Regardless of the volatile industry landscape, they still had a picture to sell, and it was an accomplishment. “Making 3-Dimension pictures is much more trying on the players.” Dahl told Alice Pardoe West, “It's the most sensitive camera yet developed.  With Technicolor it makes every hair stand out and if you stand one inch too close to a marked position, say a table or something, it can throw the whole scene off.” 

Miss West also reported a tidbit which sounds like total invention by some press agent, “Fernando gave Arlene a jeweled, gold-rimmed pair of polarized glasses to use when she looks at her 3-D picture.”  Miss Dahl recently confirmed the story to be true.  Lamas indeed had a jeweler fashion the glasses especially for her.  Does she still have them?  Unfortunately, Miss Dahl admits losing track of the glasses after having moved about fifteen times, “They're in between Bordeaux and Hollywood someplace.”



By this time, 3-D was gaining an unfortunate reputation for “inferior story subjects,” Pine and Thomas, ever mindful of the mood of the movie-going public, elected to minimize that third-dimension in publicity, and emphasize “the film's other attributes—performances and plot.”  Fernando Lamas must have gotten the memo, as Jimmie Fidler quoted him during his first trip to the Big Apple in April, “Most of the pictures made in 3-Dimension so far have featured gimmicks or have somewhat overplayed the 3-Dimension qualities by playing scenes in the audience's lap.  We preferred to make our picture an important and legitimate production, using 3-Dimension as a plus value and presenting the historical epic naturally.  Pardon me if I seem a little bit prejudiced, but I think everyone agrees that Arlene Dahl is a beautiful woman.  Wait until you see her in 3-Dimension.  It brings out every beauty and all the allure of a beautiful actress.  It adds new excitement to her personality.”





While Fernando Lamas remained in Hollywood to begin 3-D filming of "Lost Treasure of the Amazon" (re-titled "Jivaro") starting May 20, the Pine-Thomas sales machine went into high gear sending their leading lady on a hectic thirteen day tour of several major cities, beginning with the May 27 premiere in Savannah, followed by Atlanta and Birmingham, after which Miss Dahl went to New York City to open the movie at the Victoria Theatre.  Ads for the Victoria premiere enticed movie-goers with the promise that the first 100 patrons would receive a gift from Arlene Dahl herself. She handed them permanent Polaroid glasses in a promotion which surely enhanced the 3-D nature of her screen appearance!




     


Reviews were generally positive, emphasizing the appealing visual aspects over the more measured dramatic elements.  “Sangaree” was praised for its lush Technicolor, restrained use of 3-D, and the attractiveness of its stars.  Singled out for its sensational nature was one particular moment which deviated considerably from the book, and addressed with great enthusiasm:

“Girl Gets Boy – In The Lip!”  - The Cincinnati Enquirer 6/10/53

“Another kind of thrill is the amorous scene between Lamas and Miss Dahl early in the picture, during which she visibly bites his lower lip after a particularly intense kiss and embrace. Wow in any medium.” - Daily Variety 5/27/53

“I think I know how it feels to sit in an electric chair, after seeing that.” - Walt Hackett, “Hackett in Hollywood” 6/28/53

“You can't beat that on television.” - Indianapolis Star 5/30/53

“It was my idea.” laughs Miss Dahl in describing the scene. “I wanted to get his attention.  I wanted Fernando to be surprised, which of course he was!  (And) which made it even better.  We were each trying to top each other in that film, which made it a lot of fun!  Edward (Ludwig, director, content to let his leads direct their love scenes) said, 'Keep it in! Keep it in!'” 



In spite of such onscreen heat, some young viewers at the State Theater in Petaluma, California must have felt the movie still needed some extra oomph.  As reported in the July 7, 1953 Press-Democrat, “A group of boys walked to the front of the theater during the second show of 'Sangaree,' lit a package of giant firecrackers with an extension fuse, returned to their seats in the balcony.  Then a few minutes later the firecrackers went off just as everyone in the theater was intensely watching a very dramatic scene.”  Everyone's a critic.


Youthful mischief makers notwithstanding, “Sangaree” did the Pine-Thomas winning streak proud, as reported in the June 5, 1953 Daily Variety, “'Sangaree,' 3-D feature, teed off with long lines at the Victoria today, giving the house its biggest opening in years. Film is heading for a first day figure of a smash $7,000 and business is running ahead of 'Come Back, Little Sheba,' which opened last Christmas week, and 'Affair in Trinidad.'”  By
 October 7, Variety reported, "Paramount’s 'Sangaree' is listed as a $1,500,000 grosser in the depth market; after this the company believes 'Sangaree' can do about $500,000 in 2-D theatres domestically.”

In the June 6 issue of Boxoffice, Paramount was the first studio to publicly express concern over the quality of 3-D projection in theaters across the country. Sloppy presentations were contributing to an increased apathy from the public toward stereoscopic films.  On June 14, 3-D pioneer John A. Norling told the New York Times, "The technical mis-handling of 3-D motion pictures to date threatens the art with an early and untimely death." More information can be found in What Killed 3-D?


"Sangaree" did excellent business in Europe as the first 3-D film to be shown widescreen in London and Paris.


Two years after filming, the adventure was revisited on the January 25, 1955 broadcast of the Lux Radio Theater, with Miss Dahl reprising her role opposite Cesar Romero, standing in for Lamas.


Radio, though, could not deliver the most compelling aspect of “Sangaree,” namely the lush and very appealing visuals, presented for the first time in three-dimensional Technicolor.  Pine and Thomas described their production with, “The period is exciting. The costumes are colorful, and the charms of our feminine stars Arlene Dahl and Patricia Medina are dealt with most flatteringly in the depth photography...If we were to put into one sentence what we have found out from our work in 3-D, we would say, '3-D demands more, but it also gives more, and gloriously.'”  

Columnist Walt Hackett crowed, “Whatever your opinion of 3-D pictures to date, I believe you'll be thoroughly convinced that 'Sangaree' represents the greatest step forward to perfection in the amazing new entertainment medium.”

Other reviews concurred. “The 3-D photography is, with few exceptions in which players are out of focus, splendid and the depth process here is used to tell a story rather than to throw things at the audience," pronounced the Waco News Tribune. "When objects are hurled, as in the spectacular barroom brawl, there is good reason for it.”  

The London Observer noted, “Its producers claim that with it, 'real three-dimensional motion pictures have come of age.' The claim seems premature, but there is little doubt that Paramount's piece is technically the most accomplished Three-D picture to date. Its stereoscopic effects are not only startling, but apt at times to give real pleasure.”


Real pleasure indeed!  Arlene Dahl described the strength of 3-D as its “intimacy.” In a drama which primarily involves attractive performers in beautiful costumes and settings, that intimacy provided by the 3-D format makes for a truly enjoyable experience.  Add to that the genuine romance played for the Paravision camera, “Sangaree” occupies its own unique niche among Golden Age 3-D productions, one which continues to delight.

In addition to being a pioneering achievement in 3-D motion pictures, “Sangaree” remains a pleasant and colorful memory for Arlene Dahl.  “Fernando and I were engaged in 1953 and we married in the spring of '54, so this was the height of our romance.”  But when asked if she would have liked to continue making 3-D films, she demurs,  “I didn't want to hand out glasses for the rest of my life.”


We extend our sincere gratitude and appreciation to Arlene Dahl for sharing her candid and insightful memories of this most memorable production!


  

  








 



A pressbook supplement contained specially-designed ads emphasizing the 3-D thrills.





"Sangaree" was available for 2-D bookings starting in October, 1953. Paramount offered a new trailer and exhibitors playing it flat could use the official poster snipe from National Screen Service - or design their own.

    








 




SANGAREE will be restored from original 35mm elements by the 3-D Film Archive.

Watch for a 3-D Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics in 2018!