Monday, October 20, 2014
3D Classics On Blu Ray: Dragonfly Squadron (1954)
For fans of vintage 3D movies, 2014 has been a pretty good year. We've had four vintage releases so far this year, three of them from the Golden Age of 3D known as the 1950s. The most recent of which is a rare and wonderful treat, the 1954 Korean War drama Dragonfly Squadron, just out from Olive Films thanks to the efforts of the 3D Film Archive.
Dragonfly Squadron is in some ways a flipside of the other 3D Korean War film from the 50s, Paramount's 1953 release Cease Fire. While that film dealt with the end of the war, Dragonfly Squadron deals with the beginning. Opening in May of 1950, Dragonfly Squadron concerns the American efforts to train South Korean pilots to fly the Mustang P51 for air combat while the build up to the war is going on. John Hodiak, best remembered for Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat, is the Air Force Major tasked with training the pilots in 28 days. Things are complicated since at the base he's stationed to is a woman he had a fling with when she thought her husband was dead. Only the husband isn't dead and is right there with her. Needless to say, this makes for an awkward time. All the while, things are heating up on the northern side of the 38th Parallel.
Dragonfly Squadron was made by little tiny Allied Artists, formerly Monogram Pictures, the company best remembered for the cheap Charlie Chan movies done after Fox dumped the series and some early 40s Bela Lugosi quickies. Therefore, it's not as extravagant a war film as something like Bridges at Toko-Ri. However, it is not without it's merits. Chief among them is a wonderful who's who among serial, TV, and B Movie actors in the cast. Besides Hodiak, the film feature Barbara Britton, female star of the first of the 50s 3D features (Bwana Devil) as the love interest. Serial actor Herman Brix, known by this time as Bruce Bennett is the put upon husband. Gerald Mohr, best remembered for the schlocky subliminal horror film Terror in the Haunted House aka My World Dies Screaming as well as being a serial villain in the early forties, is Hodiak's second in command. Speaking of Charlie Chan, number three son Benson Fong is one of the instructors. Character actor Harry Lauter, star of the last Republic serial (the admittedly awful King of the Carnival) is another instructor who doesn't much like Hodiak due to an event that happened a couple of years earlier. Jess Barker is an obnoxious newspaper reporter who keeps giving Hodiak a hard time. But best of all is TV's Rifleman, Chuck Connors, as a hilariously tough talking Army captain. Connors steals the film from everybody the moment he shows up and keeps on stealing it.
Some will complain that the film is a little too soap-y and that there's not quite enough battle scenes. But again, this does deal with the beginning of the war. So it's naturally not going to have the same level of intensity as something like Cease Fire. But it tells a fairly compact story and keeps it moving. When the battle scenes do show up, they're pretty impressive. And the last half hour is not without it's suspense as the base has to run for it's life pretty much unarmed against an ever advancing column of tanks.
I will be quite honest here. Dragonfly Squadron is not the best of the vintage 3D movies on 3D Blu Ray. But that's okay, because it doesn't need to be. Like Twilight Time's release of Man in the Dark on 3D Blu Ray earlier this year, the very existence of this Blu Ray is cause for celebration. Especially when one considers that up until last year, the movie had never even been shown in 3D. Ever.
Though shot in 3D in the summer of 1953, Dragonfly Squadron was one of a handful of films from the Golden Age that went out flat due to declining interest in 3D. By the time the film was released in February of 1954, it seemed like only the really big studios--Universal and Warner Brothers mostly--were still gambling on 3D. So audiences never got the chance to see it the way it was meant to be seen. And it was believed that the 3D print was lost to the ages until the 3D Film Archive, headed up by Bob Furmanek, Greg Kintz, and Jack Theakston, managed to find a complete 3D print. Yes, the print has some dust and speckles on it. But the alignment of the film is perfect, and this is one of the deepest 3D films of the era to boot. The work the Archive did on bringing this film back from the dead is reason alone to add it to your collection. They did a thorough job on it and as a result, this is actually one of the best discs for 3D you can have. True, there's not much pop out, but the screen is so deep, it seems to go on forever. If your idea of a deep 3D movie is Avatar, you ain't seen nothing yet!
The Archive next has Arch Oboler's The Bubble coming out in November from Kino. While not my first choice, I am very interested in seeing what they did with that one since that one does have one of the best 3D gimmick shots of any 3D movie ever. There again, I did buy Kino's release of The Flesh and Blood Show, a movie I have never had the slightest interest in seeing (and still haven't watched). Until then, if you're a true 3D believer, you really do need to pick up Dragonfly Squadron. While you're at it, drop by http://www.3dfilmarchive.com for some fascinating 3D history and to say thanks to the guys who have managed to keep our 3D heritage alive all these years.
All photos used in this post are courtesy of http://www.3dfilmarchive.com