May 24, 2017

43rd Seattle International Film Festival: Those Redheads From Seattle (1953) Come Home, In 3D!

I had the opportunity to see Those Redheads from Seattle at the TCM Film Festival this year, but it is so much more appropriate that I saw it for the first time in Seattle, the city where it premiered at the Paramount Theater in 1953. Last night Robert Furmanek, archivist and founder of the 3D Film Archive was on hand at the SIFF Uptown Theater to introduce this 3D Technicolor musical extravaganza for the 43rd Seattle International Film Festival and held a brief Q&A after the film.

Furmanek began by asking how many redheads were in the audience, and amusingly enough it looked like there were a good dozen in attendance. He provided a useful background on the film and a brief history of 3D. Though Redheads was the first 3D musical to be released, most markets didn't present the film in the format. Furmanek discussed some of the challenges of projecting three dimensional cinema, from lack of the proper filters to headache-inducing out-of-sync visuals. He also showed the audience an original projector filter and a pair of "Original Magic Viewers" from 1953, in addition to sharing a brief clip showing restoration comparisons (these are always incredible to see).

Despite the fact that its plot is driven by death, deception and violence, Redheads is an essentially lighthearted film. It has all sorts of ridiculous contradictions (a wife who adores her husband, but has the shortest grieving period ever when he dies, a location that requires ten days of sled travel to access at the beginning of the film, though a character leaves the same place from a boat at the edge of town at the end). You just have to sit back and enjoy the silliness of it all, and it is enjoyable.

There is a redhead count of four in the film: Agnes Moorehead as the matriarch of the Edmonds clan; Rhonda Fleming, Teresa Brewer and Cynthia Strother as sisters. The blonde Kay Strother is the often overlooked little sister and with sister Cynthia starred as The Bell Sisters (they a popular singing duo making their screen debut). This jumble of movie stars (Moorehead, Fleming) and vocalists (Brewer, Bells) works pretty well. They keep it lively with dancing, singing and wisecracks and don't let you think too much about the tragedy of their situation.

Gene Barry handles the male lead originally meant for John Payne. You can see what the latter actor could have done to add intensity to the role, but Barry has sufficient charisma to make it work. Singing star Gene Mitchell doesn't have quite the same impact. As good as he is when he sings, his Sinatra-style laidback persona doesn't pop on the screen. He registers as a bit of a cinematic void, though his relaxed presence has a certain appeal; he doesn't seem to be trying too hard to win anyone over.

The film's five songs were written by a variety of reliable tunesmiths, including Jay Livingston, Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael. Teresa Brewer's rendition of Baby, Baby, Baby was a hit at the time and released as a single. I liked her performance and Mitchell's take on Mercer and Carmichael's I Guess It was You All the Time. The Bell Sisters are also cute in their comic performance of Take Back Your Gold.

I've only attended a few 3D films in a theater, so I'm no expert, but this was the first time I really enjoyed the format. While there were plenty of gimmicky shots of things like newspapers, parasols and beer glasses flying at the audience, the film didn't rely on those moments for entertainment value. This was the first time I felt that the composition of the film was arranged to take full advantage of that depth. Director Lewis R. Foster seems to have understood how to make the most of the format, grouping his actors and staging action so that you truly feel a part of the scene.

The restoration was amazing, from the clean sharp image to remarkably good sound. Sometimes the sound levels changed a bit, which could be mildly jarring, but it was always sharp and clear. I felt like the best had been done with the material at hand and the improvement was remarkable.

At the post screening Q&A I asked Furmanek which film the 3D Film Archive was planning or hoped to restore next, and he described the reality-based, 1953 Korean war film Cease Fire! I was struck by how different that was from the film we had just seen, which is also dramatically different from the Archive-restored science fiction film GOG (1954) that made its screen debut before that. At this point I will line up for anything this group produces. If they wanted to attract a wider audience to the wonders of 3D, they've got a convert in me.

Yesterday the 3D Film Archive's restoration of the film was also released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

Check out my full SIFF 2017 coverage here.

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