Billed just somewhat accurately as "the first 3-D musical" upon its 1953 release, Those Redheads From Seattle appears on 3D Blu-Ray as yet another title rescued from oblivion by the 3-D Film Archive. Set in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, a "boomtown" called Dawson sprouts up in the Yukon territory with a casino called the Klondike Club being its social focal point. However there's still plenty of moral high ground in the town who don't approve of the gambling and burlesque shows going on there, and Vance Edmonds, a transplant from Seattle, often prints editorials about this in his newspaper. Someone at the club gets fed up with this and shoots him, hoping to put a stop to the paper altogether. Meanwhile back in Seattle, Vance's wife (Agnes Moorehead) is keeping their home under control with their four daughters, the youngest of them, Nell (Kay Strother, half of the singing group the Bell Sisters) being blonde but the other three redheads and the title characters: Connie (Cynthia, the other Bell Sister), Kathie (Rhonda Fleming, who you can also see in 3D in Inferno) and Pat (Teresa Brewer), who aspires to be a professional singer the most although the entire family is musically talented, partly at the insistence of their mother. Mom is quite strict and traditional however, wanting the girls to sing hymns at their church and not any of that immoral up-beat stuff- in this era it was also considered quite risqué for a girl to show as much as her ankle onstage as well.
Before he's shot, Vance mails a letter home saying that things are going OK for him but not great up north, so Mom decides for the whole family, including their pregnant cat, to make a surprise trip up to see him- not knowing that he's been shot since news traveled slow in those days (no email or cell phones, you see.) On the way up they meet Joe (Guy Mitchell, who likely could have inspired Harry Connick Jr.'s look a few decades later) who is also headed to Dawson to sing and dance at the Klondike Club. The girls take a liking to him right away, but of course Mom has her reservations. Kathie also quickly falls for the club's owner Johnny Kisco (Gene Barry), who knows who shot her father but isn't quite sure if he should reveal this- at least until the girls suspect him of it. Before that comes to a head however the girls integrate into the town rather quickly. The whole family has to decide what to do with the newspaper after Vance's death and stay there for a while, with Pat becoming a dancer at the club despite Mom's severe disapproval.
Five songs are performed in the movie, but I wouldn't quite call this a "musical" since my definition of that is when the cast breaks into song and dance spontaneously for the sake of the movie. Here all the songs are performed on stage or in other situations when they reasonably could have in the real world- for example the Bell Sisters sing "Take Back Your Gold" on the boat up north while playing a game that requires them to sing a song. There's a couple of good stage numbers at the club as well, of course played to the audience there. While this might not seem like a movie that calls for 3-D, it's used here in a way I haven't quite seen in any other movie of the past or present. The effect is quite strong the instant the Paramount logo opens with the familiar mountain pushed far into the screen with the stars and lettering pushed outwards. Through the entire movie this sense of depth remains not quite as strongly, but as obvious to the picture as the colors. There's a few well-placed 3-D gimmicks including characters subtly thrusting things they're holding at the camera, and an amusing sequence where barrels filled with liquor are shot with the contents gushing out towards the audience before a herd of booze-happy mountain men crowd around to catch it. Unfortunately by the time this movie made it to theaters, the technical problems of 3-D at the time had given the technology a bad name and Paramount gave theaters the option to play it in plain old 2D. Reports of some of the 3D engagements were less than enthusiastic as well, mainly from the two film projectors refusing to stay in proper sync. The extras on this disc tell that story.
Shot with Paramount's "Paravision" 3D camera rig, similar to the "Natural Vision" camera that shot many of the other famous 1950s 3D movies, the effect again is very immersive. If you've watched any of the more recent 3D movies and have failed to notice much of an effect, you'll be in for a revelation here. In fact, this is another older movie that today's filmmakers need to take a look at to see how 3D should be done. While the theatrical showings in 1953 might have had a few flaws, Bob Furmanek and company have seen to it that it looks as good here as it possibly can. They have pointed out that the biggest problem with this movie was the vertical alignment wasn't consistent throughout the film prints, causing one eye's view in some shots to appear higher up than the other. When a new film print of this movie was projected in Hollywood in 2006, the projectionist was said to have had to "ride" the framing knobs through the showing to keep them lined up- all of that has been done more precisely for this 3D Blu-Ray transfer.
This was also an early non-anamorphic widescreen film, shown in a 1.66 aspect ratio which is maintained on this disc. As for the quality of the picture itself, there's a definite graniness throughout which is likely inherent in how it was shot. The color doesn't quite "shine" the way you might expect, again partly from a likely intended look but also because of the shape the film elements were in. There's no sign of excessive film wear however, and this is another case where when hearing the challenges of making this transfer you'll be thankful for it looking as good as it does. The disc also includes a 2D viewing option which shows just the left eye's view, sampling this it appears watchable but really takes away a big part of the picture.
In the "premiere" venues the sound was presented in discrete 3-channel stereo- the traditional stage channels but no surrounds. This was played off of a third machine in the projection booth from another reel of 35mm film with full magnetic coating- I got to see one of these in action at the Cinerama Theatre in Seattle. This of course also has to stay in perfect sync with the film projectors to work properly. The bad news is that like the WarnerPhonic track for House of Wax the multi-channel tracks for this movie have been lost, but the good news is that a fairly accurate re-creation was done from the existing elements. Encoded as a 3-channel DTS Master Audio Track, it's a lively mix with most of the music isolated to the left and right (I went up close to the center speaker a few times and heard no music at all in that channel, similar to more recent digital mixes) with some dialogue and sound effects also venturing into the left and right. The levels of the left and right channels on this disc seem to be a bit higher than the center however, with music often drowning out dialogue. There's also a transfer of the mono track available, in 2-channel DTS Master Audio that stays centered as it should.
A very informative commentary track accompanies the movie- most of it with Hillary Hess with 3-D Film Archive's Bob Furmanek and Jack Theakston with Greg Kintz appearing in a separately-recorded portion around the middle of the film. While they talk a bit about the movie itself including the story and the actors, the main focus is on the technical aspects which of course delighted me and likely will anyone else interested in the history of 3-D filmmaking. They give plenty of time to the problems the 3-D presentation had, reading quotes from reviews of the first showings. I'd always found it a bit frustrating that the industry gave up on 3-D for so long after that, as it seems the problems with it were so notorious but I haven't heard anything about what was done to fix them until digital projection came along decades later. The work done to restore the movie for this disc is discussed as well, with the statement "this was a really tough film to bring back to life" summing it up.
Separately there's a 3D segment with Greg Kintz talking more about the restoration, showing before and after comparisons of a few shots showing the alignment problem as well as the faded color and general poor condition of parts of the film. A "Stereophonic Sound Demo" is kind of a waste of time, as it just re-plays Guy Mitchell's "Chick-A-Boom" number inside a graphic of a theater screen with analog waveforms on the sides and above the picture- I would have liked to have seen how the mix was actually done instead. In 2D there's an interview with star Rhonda Fleming at the 2006 Hollywood showing of the new film print, and the theatrical trailer is included (in 2D but flagged for 3D) from an analog video source with a lot of dot crawl and appearing to be stretched from 4x3. Amusingly it includes text saying the movie is actually in "4-D" with "4 Delightful singing stars". A 1970s porn film called The Starlets later used the term "4-D" in its advertising, with the fourth dimension being something not suitable for family discussion.
Those Redheads From Seattle is yet another essential title for any 3-D enthusiast's collection- that applies to just about everything the 3-D Film Archive has done so far, although A*P*E still has a few caveats being that it really isn't a very good movie. Redheads however should appeal to anyone who appreciates a good classic.
Now if I may editorialize for a bit, I do need to point out that while 3-D Film Archive remains committed to restoring more vintage 3-D movies and putting them out on Blu-Ray, the fact remains that hardware support for home 3-D is alarmingly declining. None of the major TV manufacturers are including 3-D in any of their models for this year in the US (there are a handful of projectors that still include it), and this prompted me to buy an LG set with 3-D while it was still available when I hadn't been planning on buying another TV for a few more years. While the 3-D on my previous Sharp TV was adequate, this LG blows that out of the water with not only a better picture but also much more affordable glasses- you can even use the same glasses you might have brought home from the theater with it. While the commentary on this disc discusses how 3-D movies came and went rather quickly in 1953 (it was likely recorded before this year's announcement from the electronics manufacturers and thus that isn't addressed), I think it's safe to say there have been far fewer problems with home 3-D and it can only improve with each generation of displays- but only as long as the manufacturers continue to include it! Having 3-D disappear from home displays would be a huge mistake, rendering discs like this to not be viewable to their full potential and less likelihood for more to be released. I'd even argue that if not a single new 3-D Blu-Ray disc were released after this, the discs that have been put out from 3-D Film Archive plus the hundreds of other recent 3-D movies that have been issued are reason enough to keep including it on at least some displays on the market for a long time to come.