Verily, Blu-ray 3-D is better than most theatrical 3-D! Paramount’s fourth and last 3-D production went out to theaters only in 2-D, so for all practical terms this Kino/3D Archive restoration is a depth-format premiere. Expect a kissing scene or two: lusty Fernando (¿Quién es más macho?) Lamas and demure Rhonda Fleming succumb to the sweaty allure of the tropics. He pushes the sex appeal more than she does! Together they take a 3-D trek to where the headhunters roam, into a jungle to secure a golden treasure.
KL Studio Classics
1954 / Color / 1:66 widescreen / 92 min. / Street Date March 26, 2019 / 34.95
Starring: Fernando Lamas, Rhonda Fleming, Brian Keith, Lon Chaney Jr., Richard Denning, Rita Moreno, Marvin Miller, Morgan Farley, Pascual García Peña, Nestor Paiva, Gregg Barton.
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Film Editor: Howard Smith
Original Music: Gregory Stone
Written by Winston Miller, story by David Duncan
Produced by William H. Pine, William C. Thomas
Directed by Edward Ludwig
The cumulative credits for the William H. Pine and William C. Thomas producing unit at Paramount don’t yield any huge classics or boffo successes. The ‘Dollar Bills’ stayed in business because their modest shows were consistently profitable. They also helped to keep the works of the studio machine greased, unlike big name producer-directors that preferred to film in far-flung locations. The irony is that the average Pine-Thomas show is an adventure tale set someplace far away and exotic: Jungle Flight, Captain China, Swamp Fire. Stock shots would suffice for views of Hong Kong or Singapore, and everything else seemed to be staged around Paramount’s on-studio lake set. A Pine-Thomas cast might feature a B-plus star name, as long as they weren’t expensive — John Payne worked for them fairly often.
Pine-Thomas tried to produce in color, even if the process had to be weak Cinecolor, as with the western El Paso. But their ‘B’ pictures always looked glossy enough to be marketed as soft ‘A’s. In late 1952 the 3-D craze hit with Arch Oboler’s Bwana Devil, and P-T was one of the industry outfits that strived to rush 3-D product to the screen. The studios feared that TV would soon eliminate mid-range theatrical fare. A few near-hysterical trade articles claimed that 3-D was the wave of the future, that every show was going to be a ‘depthie.’
Pine-Thomas slipped their 3-D costume adventure-drama Sangaree into theaters by May of ’53. Their musical Those Redheads from Seattle arrived in October, followed in November by the non- P-T Paramount 3-D picture Cease Fire! By that time the 3-D momentum was already cooling, for several reasons. Fox’s Cinemascope was making a bigger splash, as “The Miracle You See without Glasses!” Viewers tired of eyestrain from chronic poor projection. A surfeit of shoddy features was preventing 3-D from reaching beyond the fad-novelty stage. Despite a number of excellent “A” productions, by 1954 many pictures finished in 3-D were being released flat-only, even most bookings of Alfred Hitchcock’s superior Dial M For Murder.
Pine-Thomas’s Jivaro arrived a few months earlier, right when the exhibitors’ anti- 3-D backlash hit. As reported at the 3D Film Archive, the jungle show was the first 3-D picture to be given a flat-only release. When spears and arrows flew forward, the exaggerated depth effects were lost. I wonder if 1954 audiences laughed, when Jivaro paused for a headhunter chief to poke a shrunken head forward at the camera; the flat prints of Dial M for Murder wisely deleted some setups designed to showcase 3-D effects. For over sixty years, 3-D screenings of Jivaro have been limited to a few special festivals. This Kino 3-D disc can fairly be touted as a Premiere.
Jivaro is probably the most satisfying of the three Pine-Thomas 3-D shows. Fernando Lamas once again performs shirt-optional, with the idea that he’s some kind of sex symbol for the day. In the trailer for Sangaree Fernando just comes off as a lecher, describing the ‘shape’ of 3-D with his hands while staring at Arlene Dahl’s chest. Perhaps Dahl asked for a raise, for Rhonda Fleming takes over for Jivaro, leading reviewers to wonder if 3-D works better with flaming redheads. Fleming had just been a knockout in the excellent 3-D attraction Inferno, one of Fox’s final non-Cinemascope releases.
Story-wise, Jivaro has a lot in common with George Pal’s far more expensive Technicolor production The Naked Jungle, which was released just a month later. It’s possible that the films share some jungle sets, although the Pine-Thomas picture has nothing that can compare with Pal’s impressive visual effects. Both pictures see an adventurous woman travel deep into the dangerous Amazon for a romantic hook-up with a dashing Man of Adventure. Eleanor Parker is a mail-order wife for a planter with an ant problem. Rhonda Fleming thinks she’s joining a fiancé to get married and live on his new rubber plantation.
Alice Parker (Rhonda Fleming) arrives in the ratty little trading village of Pedrone to reunite with her absent fiancé, Jerry Russell (Richard Denning). The ethical rubber trader Rio Galdez (Fernando Lamas) can’t bear to tell Alice directly that her man has been lying to her: Jerry is an alcoholic treasure hunter, and lives in a shack without a decent roof. Alice’s arrival is unexpected because native girl Maroa (Rita Moreno) has been jealously destroying Alice’s letters. Jerry has departed to the “Valley of The Wind” to sneak a rumored treasure away from the feared Jivaro headhunters. Alice doesn’t fully intuit the truth until after she’s been drenched in a storm and physically attacked by Tony (Brian Keith), who is not above tricking her into visiting his gold mine. She finds herself attracted to Rio, who has been both thoughtful and a gentleman. When a priest brings back Jerry’s medallion from deep in the forest, Rio leads a rescue expedition. Alice insists on coming along. The tough jungle trek is made more perilous by the presence of the greedy Tony and his partner Vinny (Morgan Farley), who are after Jerry’s gold. Unseen but everywhere, the Jivaros will attack outsiders, especially those that dare raid the golden treasure.
Jivaro is standard adventure fare enlivened by lead actors happy to have starring roles. The 3-D is excellent. The few brief shots of real jungle panoramas are flat, sometimes with foreground elements matted in to give a 3-D effect. Paramount’s studio-bound South America is created on enormous sets that look shiny and clean, like a fancy exotic garden. It’s big yet a little claustrophobic, and curiously artificial.
Nobody is going to confuse this jungle trek with an Indiana Jones adventure. One set-piece scene shows the group crossing a rickety rope bridge — as a group, even though the wise solution woud be to climb over one or two at a time. To our surprise, the bridge breaks, dumping everyone into the river, just like the bridge scene in The Wild Bunch. Otherwise the jungle trek is pretty standard stuff — they pass by a photogenic anaconda, worry about the ‘restless natives’, etc. The action finale takes place at a budget-sized jungle ruin, decorated with the gruesomely-slain bodies of Jerry’s expedition. Naturally, Tony and Vinny fill their packs with gold and try to make a run for it.
Although the show is not realistic enough to worry about details — it’s no The Wages of Fear — a few things do stand out. After perhaps two days’ trekking, Rio sends his loyal buddy Sylvester (Pascual García Peña) back for armed reinforcements. Sylvester’s force arrives in just one day, not four. If local riflemen were available, why didn’t Rio ask them along in the first place, instead of his gibbering native porters?
The story does offer some halfway entertaining side tours. Rio trades with the the local chief Kovanti, played broadly by Marvin Miller, covered with brown body makeup (see big image at top). Rio then putt-putts his boat back to a bigger trading post to trade punches with his dishonest business associate Pedro Martines (Lon Chaney, Jr.). But the main narrative thrust delays the expected trip to Jivaro country until the third act. Alice hangs around Pedrone, avoiding Tony and cozying up to Rio. ‘Waiting for Jerry’ drags on past the film’s midpoint intermission, while we admire the dimensionality of the 3-D images.
Amazingly, Winston Miller’s screenplay abandons any resolution for four or five interpersonal conflicts, keeping only the wrap-up of the Rio-Alice romance. Rio never straightens out the crooked dealings imposed on him by Pedro Martines. Alice never airs her differences with her slimy boyfriend Jerry: nobody ponders the notion that Jerry’s suicide gold raid was likely a desperate attempt to atone for his lies. And poor Maroa isn’t even given a moment to mourn her Yankee boyfriend. We learn precious little about the Jivaros, except that they work well in 3-D, sticking shrunken heads in our faces and firing little poison arrows at the camera, Three Stooges-style.
Finally, what became of the gold? With the Jivaros sent packing, why didn’t the expedition load up, and relocate their trading post to Beverly Hills?
Fernando Lamas and Rhonda Fleming do pretty well keeping the hot’n’bothered romance in gear, even if their affair seems tame in context with 1954 fare like On the Waterfront. This show came a year before Brian Keith’s tough-guy breakthrough in Phil Karlson’s Tight Spot and 5 Against the House. His oafish bad guy Tony is so broad, he would give Popeye’s Bluto a run for his money. Morgan Farley’s unscrupulous boozer Vinny just seems like a rat, but Lon Chaney Jr. has a jolly good time in his brief footage putting crooked deals over Rio.
Rita Moreno’s part is nothing, not even as good as her innocent California Indian in the next year’s ‘Scope production Seven Cities of Gold. Rita’s dues-paying salad days would drag on for another half-decade. The semi-comic actor Pascual García Peña played in a number of classic Mexican features, but also has featured parts in RKO’s The Big Steal, UA’s The Beast of Hollow Mountain, and Warners’ The Black Scorpion, directed by this film’s Edward Ludwig.
Pine-Thomas didn’t as a rule court name directors. Edward Ludwig had been a veteran of short subjects, and at least moves the camera to better effect than Those Redheads’ Lewis R. Foster. The Ludwig picture that deserves to be sought out is the marvelous They Came to Blow Up America, a witty wartime spy chase with George Sanders. Capable 3rd-string leading man Richard Denning returned for Ludwig’s The Black Scorpion. If the three Pine-Thomas 3-D movies have an auteur, it’s the inventive Lionel Lindon, a cinematographer who took on every style and any technical challenge: slick romanticism (The Blue Dahlia, cutting-edge effects (Destination Moon, Conquest of Space), and 65mm (Around the World in 80 Days, Grand Prix).
KL Studio Classics’ 3-D Blu-ray of Jivaro is yet another impressive 3-D rescue by the experts at the 3-D Film Archive. It’s great that the 3-D elements survived; other studios saved money by dumping ‘excess’ film materials from their vaults. We’ll probably hear later on about the particular restoration problems for this title, but we know that the Archive always re-aligns the left and right eye elements to improve the depth effect — in these older ‘organic’ 3-D pictures, it was unavoidable that the setup couldn’t be exactly correct for every shot. We do note that the film stock for the optical composite transition pieces (dissolves, fades, effects) wasn’t as stable — quite a few scene transitions dip to screwy color for a moment before popping back.
We do receive a fine Blu-ray 3-D buzz from the genuine organic 3-D — when the screen is filled with jungle detail, the depth feeling is very good. The depth gives a special quality to the thatched buildings in Pedrone — when Alice putters around her boyfriend’s ratty room, it looks really flimsy. The only drawback are scenes filmed on the process stage. Lionel Lindon and RP whiz Farciot Edouart match the colors well, but the dimensionality of the up-front boat and people doesn’t continue into the flat background.
Kino’s audio commentary is enlivened by the presence of spokes-folk that know what they’re talking about. Hillary Hess and Jack Theakston carry most of the track; valued associate Jack Theakston is one of the most knowledgeable (and approachable) experts I’ve met on the subject of arcane film formats and processes. He’s also a great public speaker. Ms. Hess’ research-based comments are as good as ever; we learn that in England Jivaro was double-billed with the 3-D Cease Fire!, but even then not shown in 3-D! Restoration engineer Greg Kintz delves a little deeper into the technical details, and Mike Ballew takes a steep plunge into 3-D tech jargon: Parallax! The Interaxial! … and the dreaded ‘Reduced Interaxial!
Yes, that water tank is still in Paramount’s parking lot, and now that Marathon street has been swallowed up, tourists can see its blue sky backing from Melrose Blvd..
A new feature from the 3-D Archive is a ‘Shot-by Shot Stereoscopic Analysis.’ As nine minutes of Jivaro play, a text readout charts the particulars of the stereoscopic setup — what focal length of lens was used, what convergence setting, etc. It’s impressive, but I personally would need a commentary telling me what to look for to see why the settings were changed and what makes the requirements different for each shot.
A flat trailer is included, along with flat trailers for several other Kino 3-D releases… but the trailer for The Maze is in 3-D, too. We Blu-ray 3-D fanatics really appreciate Kino’s continued support for the format — we’ll buy them all.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Movie: Good +/-
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: Audio commentary with Mike Ballew, Hillary Hess, Greg Kintz, Jack Theakston; Stereoscopic Analysis, trailers.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? N0; Subtitles: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 5, 2019
Text © Copyright 2019 Glenn Erickson