Movie Technology: 3-D–Bwana Devil, House of Wax

House of Wax, released in April 1953, was Warner Bros.’ answer to Bwana Devil, an independent feature shot in 3-D that became a surprise box-office hit when premiering in November 1952.

Warner contracted Julian and Milton Gunzburg’s Natural Vision 3-D system, the same one used for Bwana Devil, and shot a remake of their 1933 thriller Mystery of the Wax Museum, which was based on Charles S. Belden’s play, “The Wax Works.”

The earlier film was set in the year it was released (1933) whereas House of Wax was moved back to 1902. The newspaper angle in the earlier film and the characters played by Glenda Farrell and Frank McHugh were eliminated.  The masked figure was only seen sparingly in Mystery, but he is shown often in this remake.

Among the uses of 3-D in the film were scenes featuring a wax museum fire, can-can girls, and a paddleball-wielding pitchman.

The film’s most startling 3-D effect is when the shadowy figure of a character seems to spring up out of the theater audience and run into the screen.

Director Andre DeToth was blind in one eye and unable to experience stereo vision or 3-D effects. “It’s one of the great Hollywood stories,” Vincent Price later recalled. “When they wanted a director for a 3-D film, they hired a man who couldn’t see 3-D at all! André de Toth was a very good director, but he really was the wrong director for 3-D.”

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