Super Action in Superscope: UNDERWATER! (1955) + VERA CRUZ (1954)

April 1, 2020 | By

It’s been a while since the last update, and after taking time off, or rather, being stuck at home, furloughed due to the COVID-19 epidemic, I’m starting to post material that’s been scribbled in bits & pieces during that dead period.

These are weird times with long-lasting effects that go beyond the clinical, the financial, and the political. The uncertainty as to what degree of normalcy may return months from now is unknown, as are aspects of economic stability, and social interaction.

No doubt concerns, fears, reactions and dramatizations in art will emerge, plus some biting comedy routines that’ll encapsulate the ridiculous, the horror, and the humanity that rose above the overall awfulness of this global crisis.

My brain and emotions are too frazzled to collate articles and stories, and I’m too strained to be cheeky and post a series on virus movies (at least right now). I’m finding solace in the familiar, the unusual, and small projects that for reasons very dumb never got completed.

So in returning to posts & reviews proper, the first set deals with a pair of early widescreen films using a process that wasn’t great, but worked as an economical attempt to get in on the Big Screen-Big Sound-Big Heads craze – and managed to outlive 3D and other attempts to drag families away from their TV sets and back into cinemas and drive-ins.


Jane Russell steers through some choppy waters in Howard Hughes’ widescreen biggie, UNDERWATER! (1955).


Widescreen film fans could go on about the various processes developed during the late twenties / early thirties, and the first real revolution which followed in the 1950s after This is Cinerama (1952) dragged audiences lost to TV back into cinemas to re-experience the theatergoing environment with big screen, big surround sound mixes.

The fascination goes beyond the rectangular format, and its deliberate design to bring a moving image that’s closer to the human eye’s own wide panorama; it’s the artful mid-century logos, that thematic music, and the technical hiccups which took several years to refine so the image, the lenses, the colour, and the film stock lived up to the massive hype.

Studio Fox saw the value in widescreen, bought Henri Chrétien’s patent and original lenses, and made their own splash with The Robe (1953). Other rival formats followed, some branded after a studio (Warnerscope), but a commonality was the ‘scope term which enabled graphic designers to take a studio or process’ proprietary nomenclature, and sprawl that sucker across the screen.

Fox pushed ‘scope as a deluxe format (with Color by Deluxe) and many films featured early surround sound, but a discrete soundtrack added some complications to how much the 35mm film frame was devoted to the image, and the magnetic stripe that contained the panned dialogue, sound effects, and booming music.

Other studios seemed more interested in the visual process, and mono wasn’t an unusual choice for the final film mix – perhaps because stereo added more time, more expertise, and like the wide film ratio of 2.35:1, more tracks to fill with material – dead air was just as detrimental to a film’s impact as dead screen space.


VERA CRUZ (1954) in sort-of sprawling Superscope!


Perhaps that’s why Superscope’s debut, Vera Cruz, was in mono; budget, and maybe the elements weren’t up to snuff for a stereo mix, whereas later productions did have stereophonic oomph.

The American Widescreen Museum is one of the definitive resources for the histories and visual ephemera of the various formats that duked it out during the 1950s and beyond, and while RKO’s purchase to use the Tuchinsky brothers’ Superscope system wasn’t unique, the nomenclature’s second life in audio gear sets it apart from Cinerama, CinemaScope, VistaVision, Techniscope, and sundry.

Yes, Cinerama was spun off into Cinerama Releasing Corporation, but when interest in Superscope as a big screen process waned, the Tuchinskys incorporated the brand in 1957, and struck a truly unique relationship with Sony.

As the Superscope Technologies website explains, after visiting Japan, the brothers signed a deal to distribute Sony’s tape recorders that featured built-in amplifiers – a world’s first – and thus began a lengthy and very strange appearance of the Superscope logo on Sony recorders, which included classic reel-to-reel and cassette player-recorders, and later hi-fi receivers, amplifiers, speakers, mics, and portable variants.

The Superscope firm also bought Marantz in 1964, and distributed that brand’s iconic line of hifi stereo gear. Other products included a proprietary storytelling cassette & book series, and more recent forays into professional tape, CD, and digital recorders – all tethered to the presentation of media, but far from the widescreen format which Howard Hughes signed up to further sell Jane Russell, Richard Egan, bon vivant Gilbert Roland, and starlet Lori Nelson in Underwater! (1955), which Warner Archives recently released in a very,very nice Blu-ray edition.


Note the increasing font size signifying the importance of studio bigwig / meddler / amateur brassier designer Howard Hughes, sultry Jane Russell, and UNDERWATER! which signified RKO’s first Superscope production.


I’ve updated my review of Underwater! because the prior source was a Region 2 DVD from Spain.

Vera Cruz (1954) was released on Blu-ray via MGM back in 2011 (and is now OOP), so it seemed fitting to team the two reviews which are ostensibly tied to the Tuchinskys’ first savvy business maneuver, Superscope!

Coming next: the instant cult nonsense I Come in Peace / aka Dark Angel (1990) on Blu via Scream.

Thanks for reading,



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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