Film: Very Good
Extras: Very Good
Region: A, B. C
Released: March 28, 2017
Genre: 3D / Adventure / Action
Synopsis: Three men and a hot model battle storms, sharks, egos, and greed to reach a sunken wreck packed with Spanish gold.
Special Features: Feature film in 3D and 2D / 2016 interview with actor Asher Dann in 3D and 2D (15:04) / 2D colour Theatrical Trailer for CinemaScope release / 2D B&W TV Trailer for 3D release / 2 Bonus shorts in 3D and 2D: 1955’s The Adventures of Sam Space aka Space Attack (9:12) + 1953’s Harmony Lane (28:09) / 2D 1995 interview excerpt with Harmony Lane director Lewis Gilbert (2:31).
The fact a producer would go to the trouble of filming a 3D movie with underwater gear and see it released flat by studio Fox, then disappear from distribution makes the creation of September Storm an absurdity, and yet in spite of these unintentional mishaps, this orphan film became a high-profile restoration project for the 3-D Film Archive, co-funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign.
According to the film’s co-star and one-time film actor, Asher Dann, indie producer Edward L. Alperson was reportedly in good relations with several production heads at Hollywood studios – high stakes gin rummy appeared to be the glue that kept them friendly and collegiate – and he’d made several films spanning a nearly 25 year career, of which the original Invaders from Mars (1953) remains his best-known. With Fox backing a theatrical release and licensing CinemaScope to this tale of an underwater treasure hunt, Storm set about filming in Majorca, Spain, exploiting the clean, translucent water and bright sunlight.
Like related sunken treasure genre films Underwater! (1955) and Boy on a Dolphin (1957), widescreen and colour were used to sell the exotic tales of rival factions trekking out to deep waters and fight over sunken golden spoils, but Alperson upped the ante with 3D at a time when the format had been written off and mothballed by studios as passé. Who in their right mind would make a 3D underwater suspense thriller, and opt for another new format – Stereo Vision – tailored for anamorphic film formats?
Here’s how the film was touted in a vintage press piece, snipped from the 3-D Film Archives website:
The film’s pedigree is more than solid: former effects specialist and cinematographer Byron Haskin, and director of the Technicolor blockbusters Treasure Island (1950), The War of the Worlds (1953), and The Naked Jungle (1954); novelist and screenwriter W.R. Burnett (Yellow Sky, The Asphalt Jungle, and later The Great Escape) who based his script on a story by Steve Fisher (author of I Wake Up Screaming and screenwriter of numerous teleplays); and seasoned cinematographer Jorge Stahl and underwater cinematographer Lamar Boren (Underwater! and later Thunderball).
Star Mark Stevens had played tough guys (The Street with No Name) and directed a few crime gems himself (Cry Vengeance); co-star Joanne Dru had co-starred in Red River (1948) and All the King’s Men (1949); and Robert Strauss had appeared in numerous genre tales in TV and film. Each were veterans who probably had a blast shooting in Spain, some playing against type in what was typical for the underwater treasure sub-genre: a simple story with conflicts generated by frictions among a very small cast of characters.
Stevens was in familiar water, so to speak, playing opportunistic and morally grey treasure hunter Joe Balfour, but Dru was more than a pretty face as vacationing print model Anne Traymore who flirts with two suitors and seems to enjoy sailing off with three men on a crazy hunt but realizes the promise of sunken gold doubloons might be riskier than expected. Strauss’ background, if not his screen persona, lay in playing comically broad characters, and his casting as Joe’s stocky sidekick Ernie Williams was designed to give the film some initial lightness, but act as a sly deception for a much darker, greedier figure whom Joe foolishly believes he can control once the group set sail for a destination that lies exclusively in Joe’s memory.
The quartet’s final member is Manuel del Rio Montoya (Asher Dann), a handsome sailor who can’t resist lying to the French owner (Jean-Pierre Kerien) of a ship he’s supposed to be babysitting, but takes the elegant craft for a profitable quickie with Joe & Co.
Burnett’s script and Fisher’s story probably had much darker material, because noirsih elements are seeded very early in the film, especially Anne pretending to like Manuel to keep him happy en voyage, and discovering Ernie’s creepy glances will ultimately lead to attempted rape when the two are alone.
Anne’s midnight skinny dipping at a remote beach sets Manuel on fire, and when she flatly rejects him, he realizes he’s been duped and attempts to strand the trio – a key point where the film’s characters should become desperate, and get physical after some prior incidents have teased us with an undercurrent of simmering violence – but perhaps due to producer editing, the quartet literally shake hands and make up, focusing on the common goal of treasure retrieval, and all jealousies, manhandling, double-crossing, and near-disasters are completely ignored for a long stretch.
Raoul Kraushaar’s score attempts to temper these tonal changes by avoiding any overt main theme recap, and emphasizes shifting moods, from exotica to danger, and when conflicts are abruptly resolved, he brings in warm strings to smoothen things for puzzled audiences. The tactic does work, but a few music edits also hint at dropped or trimmed scenes which were likely dispatched to the floor to keep the film’s pacing tight.
Storm allows for some rests – a flamenco dance almost unfolds in full length, and the underwater wreck is revisited and mined with great directorial patience – but scenes consistently move forward at a good clip, with the ending being the most awkward sequence, trying to wrap up moral issues but ultimately leaving things fuzzy, especially the possibility that some gold may remain in the hands of the would-be treasure hunters, and whether rape-minded Ernie gets his just desserts. Even Manuel is quickly marginalized: after being introduced as an equal to Anne’s sexual energy early in the film, his importance is ultimately dialed down to keeping the ship on an even keel in the final scene.
The script’s increasing unevenness is counterbalanced by some smart, sharp quips – samples of Burnett’s tough guy & gal prose – and pretty solid 3D cinematography that exploits the Spanish sun and gorgeous (and very real) underwater locations. Haskin seemed to have instructed his cinematographers to frame character heads not dead centre or on a diagonal axis, but in the frame’s lower upper-third, hence some shots seem tighter at the frame’s bottom, with legs and feet (like the flamenco dancers) either being a bit tight or falling off-screen. The strategy initially comes off as a series of slightly mis-framed or oddly matted shots, but it makes it a bit easier on the eyes, since we don’t have to work harder and find new 3D focal points after each cut.
The camera is largely buoyant, and when the treasure hunters enter the shipwreck, the claustrophobic and skeletal structure is quite vivid. A few shots where bubbles percolate outward add to the 3D’s depth, and although the focal planes aren’t as razor sharp nor multi-layered as It Came from Outer Space (1953), Haskin’s decision to balance the ‘scope ratio and 3D effects pays off without tiring audiences. Like House of Wax (1953), Storm also comes with an Intermission break.
Unike the flat DVD, Kino’s Blu-ray features flat and 3D versions of Storm, and both transfers indicate what was either a more subtle, tan-shaded palette, or some low red levels in the surviving prints that were conservatively boosted. With Storm billed as kind of a lost 3D film, one expects to see a battered unstable print, but the restorationists did a fine job in articulating the 3D planes and ensuring colours were balanced above and below water. It does become evident there’s an inconsistency to the film’s mood – frothy escapism, exotica, greedy figures, solid camaraderie, jealousy, and raging sexual appetites – but dialogue, character conflicts, and its basic structure are more successful than Underwater! which boasted Jane Russell in a bathing suit in RKO’s new SuperScope widescreen process; finale excepted, the whole of John Sturges’ film was kind of a lame cheat.
Whereas Boy heavily benefited from a stunning main theme and luxurious, haunting music score in stereophonic sound, Storm’s producer opted for a mono mix, with reverb making the dialogue sound like tinny location audio than faux stereo. It’s a serious technical and budgetary compromise on Alperson’s part.
Kino’s Blu-ray also features flat and 3D versions of the 10 min. short film that preceded film screenings, the extremely odd 1955 stop-motion The Adventures of Sam Space, which was reissued as Space Attack and was previously released as part of the 3-D Film Archives 3-D Rarities set via Flicker Alley in 2015. As detailed in the booklet that accompanied FA’s set, the colour short, meant to launch a new stop-motion character, remained unsold until Storm‘s producer bought the film and had it cropped to the “horrible” ‘scope ratio of 2.35:1. The restoration features a more proper 1.75:1 ratio, derived from the sole surviving 3D print.
Space Attack concerns a scientist / egghead and two kids blasting off from Earth to defend the human-friendly planet Mico from a nefarious space station. It’s a weird film with strange figure designs, anthropormorphic robots, hamburger consumption, and the Mico king wearing the same pointed frown as Ed the Sock, but some of the depth layers are pretty neat, and the voice is by the great Paul Frees (who coincidentally had an on-camera role as a reporter and provided the stirring prologue narration in Haskin’s War of the Worlds).
Also packed into this disc is a very rare B&W 3D short made as the format was similarly dying in Britain. Directed by Lewis Gilbert (Sink the Bismarck! The Spy Who Loved Me, Educating Rita) under the pseudonym of “Byron Gill,” Harmony Lane was produced in 1953, remained unreleased until 1954, and only emerged flat in cinemas. In an archival interview extract with Gilbert from 1995, the director says audiences who saw his short in 2D before an unnamed Charlie Chaplin film became restless, and booed the screen.
Although the short suffers from locked camera syndrome, the cinematography is very sharp (save for a wide shot of dancers in the final set has poor focus), the Main Titles features a spatial gap that inventively separates headers and names, and at the head of some musical numbers titled silk screens vanish as the next set of music or dancing fades up and comes into focus.
Harmony Lane’s concept has a ‘merry bobby’ walking his beat, peering into the windows of merchants, and watches scenes come alive with ballet, acrobatics, tap-dancing, and singing. A sequence with a juggler no longer survives in 3D – a real pity, since he pokes sticks and blows smoke rings at the camera – but the surviving 2D footage was integrated into the 3D version to restore the short’s original length and continuity.
One-time film actor Asher Dann was filmed by 3-D SPACE in 3D, and it’s a technically wobbly piece with rough edits between some very odd camera angles that nevertheless offer up some recollections of casting, gin rummy, production in Spain, and working with the boxy green 3D camera rig (briefly glimpsed in an excerpt, but seen in full in the Flicker Alley collection).
This is an otherwise great package, but it’s a shame some of the still art from the 3-D Film Archives’ website wasn’t included, nor some bio material on the composer, details and stills of the Stereo Vision system and rig, and music cues (although the final credits with tech details and donor names is underscored with a clean stereo recording of one of two terrible songs writing by the producer’s son, Edward L. Alperson Jr.). Even a booklet sporting campaign art & stills, and some bio material on the cast & crew would’ve been nice – extras that have become a rarity in print, and as text menus among many home video labels.
© 2017 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review