restricted access 9. The Glass Web: 3-D, TV, and the Beginning of the End of Classic Noir
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9 The Glass Web 3-D, TV, and the Beginning of the End of Classic Noir NEW SCENE-SATIONS! YOU ride with death on the roller-coaster! The walls of the horror-house close in on YOU! YOU dodge the bullets! And YOU do the loving! —from one-sheet poster for Man in the Dark (1953) While for many fans and critics the notion of color and widescreen, if not stereophonic , noir is downright blasphemous, 3-D noirs appear—depending on one’s perspective or prejudices—as either preposterous or fantastical. 3-D was originally developed, like Eastmancolor, CinemaScope, and magnetic sound, in response to the “catastrophic decline of the movie audience,”1 and was originally considered to be most compatible, like the former new technologies, with those genres historically associated with fantasy and spectacle such as the Western (Hondo [1953]) and science fiction (It Came from Outer Space [1953]), the musical (Kiss Me Kate [1953]) and action adventure (Bwana Devil [1953]). However, studios were eager to exploit three-dimension and apply it to other, less scenic, episodic, special effects–driven genres such as the “meller” or “thriller.” In fact, the first 3-D films produced at Columbia, Fox, and RKO were crime films: respectively, Man in the Dark (1953), Second Chance (1953), and Inferno (1953). The first Mickey Spillane adaptation, I, the Jury, was also shot in 3-D, and Hitchcock, always intrigued by the technical possibilities of the medium (see, par excellence, Rope), made Dial M for Murder. If Dial M for Murder—which, at first glance, seems “like the epitome of photographed theatre”2 —suggests the cinematic potentiality of the Kammerspiel, The Glass Web constitutes a different 213 The Glass Web sortofsolution,adistinctivefusionof3-Dandfilmnoir,magiclanternand“black film.” Equally or more provocatively, Jack Arnold’s picture represents an uncommon mixture of classic Hollywood cinema and TV, a witch’s brew of the “silver” and “small screen” that reads, in retrospect, as both retro and prescient, démodé and sibylline. 3-D In the penultimate chapter of H. Dewhurst’s 1954 Introduction to 3-D, “The 3-D of Today,” the author writes: Theyearof1953willnoteasilybeforgotten,ifonlyfortheburstingofthe“3-D” bombshelluponanill-preparedandastonishedworld.Thegrowingmass-audiencesofTelevisionandtheconsequentdeclineintheastronomicalattendance figures in the “legitimate” cinemas of the world triggered off a “spontaneous” appearance of a panacea for all ills in a resuscitation of the dormant “true” three-dimensional stereophonic projection.3 Thecapitalizationoftheword“Television”andthescarequotesaroundtheword “legitimate,”asifcinemahadbeenspontaneouslydelegitimated,offertypographic evidence of the moribund state of the motion picture industry in the early 1950s. (The concluding chapter of Dewhurst’s tome is, appropriately enough, “Stereo Television.”) “True” 3-D—“3-D film in depth”—was the Next Big Thing, a magical wand to ward off the encroaching medium of television.4 In the wake of 3-D’s first so-called novelty period (1838–1952), the second era ofconvergence(1952–1985)beganwiththe“briefbutprotean”movieboomfrom 1952 to 1955.5 On November 26, 1952, the first American feature film in 3-D and color, Arch Oboler’s Bwana Devil—shot in “Natural Vision” with a dual 35mm Mitchell camera rig—premiered in Hollywood. Although critics were underwhelmed , not to say appalled, two Paramount theaters were filled to capacity, and audiences sporting polarized glasses were thrilled by the tossed spears and snakes hanging like fruit from trees.6 By December, Bwana Devil (“A lion in your lap! A lover in your arms!”) was raking in money and breaking attendance records .7 The now canonical image of the Bwana Devil audience, 3-D-glassed heads canted toward the screen, still speaks to the utter novelty of the moment. Classic film noir is historically associated with a particular film stock, blackand -white, as well as technology, 2-D. However, just as there are color noirs such as Leave Her to Heaven, Niagara, and Vertigo, a number of 3-D noirs appeared in the wake of Bwana Devil. The first was Man in the Dark, which Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia, halted in mid-production and ordered rewritten for 3-D in order to capitalize on the phenomenon. While Lew Landers’s Man in the Dark “SO REAL . . . YOU FEEL YOU CAN TOUCH THEM!”: RKO advertisement for 3-D film Second Chance, starring Robert Mitchum (Russ Lambert) and Linda Darnell (Clare Shepperd). 215 The Glass Web employs a classic noir device, amnesia, to tell the story of Steven Rawley (Edmond O’Brien), a reformed ex-con who tries to remember his criminal past in order to recover the loot he stashed before he went under the...


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