Bwana Devil began the modern 3-D era of movies and for a while threatened to single-handedly end it.
The world’s first full-colour three dimensional (3-D) film premiered at the Paramount Hollywood and Downtown Theatres in Los Angeles on Thanksgiving Eve (26 November) in 1952. The audience – wearing special polaroid glasses – witnessed the odd experience of having a pointing hand or a dancing foot, or a tossed spear or pouncing lion coming right out of the screen.
There was some controversy about the love scenes in the film because the 3-D effect gave audiences a feeling of personal participation in the romancing which made some viewers uncomfortable.
The plot of Bwana Devil concerned a brave white engineer (Robert Stack) who built a railroad in Africa – or rather on a sound stage loaded with potted palms – but two man-eating lions opposed the project. Barbara Britton played his wife, who came to stay with her husband despite the dangers of the jungle.
Nigel Bruce was the doctor who ministered to the wounded until he himself became the victim of a lion. The climax came when Stack and Miss Britton faced the two lions with only a faulty rifle for protection.
Critics unanimously panned the lethargic film – made in just 22 days on a shoestring budget – listing it as one of the worst films of 1953.
The major studios did not invest widely in 3-D (they mostly saw it as a passing novelty despite the claims by director Arch Oboler that it would “revolutionise movies”), preferring instead to focus on wide-screen technology, culminating in the introduction of CinemaScope with its wider and bigger screens.
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