f it was the summer of the megawatt blockbusters “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” September has turned into a month of sequelitis with “The Nun 2,” “Equalizer 3” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3.” Even Kenneth Branagh’s “A Hunting in Venice,” is the third installment in the actor/director’s Hercule Poirot mystery series. It’s all a bit of a snooze. That wasn’t the case 70 years ago this month.
There were some oddball films that were released September, 1953 including “Cat-Women of the Moon” with Sonny Tufts and Marie Windsor and “The Sins of Jezebel” starring Paulette Goddard. But 70 years ago, audiences were introduced to a new wide-screen format and young actress who would become one of the biggest stars of the 1950s and ‘60s and Clark Gable returning to a role he originated in 1932.
Twentieth Century Fox’s Darryl F. Zanuck unveiled the studio’s new widescreen process Cinemascope when the lavish religious epic “The Robe” premiered in New York on Sept. 16, Chicago on Sept. 23 and L.A. on Sept. 24-it went into general release in Oct. Cinemascope was the latest “gimmick” to lure people from their homes and away from watching Milton Berle on NBC’s “Texaco Star Theater” and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz on CBS’ “I Love Lucy” (some 44 million people tuned in Jan. 1953 to see Lucy give birth to Little Ricky).
The 1952 documentary “This is Cinerama” presented the wide-screen process that featured three projectors and multiple soundtracks. These films, though, didn’t go into wide release but were road show presentations-one theater would show the film for a lengthy period with reserved seating. And the short-lived 3-D craze began in 1952 with the low-budget action-adventure “Bwana Devil.”
Fox advertised “The Robe” as ‘The First Motion Picture in CinemaScope! The Modern Miracle You See Without Glasses.” The process, according to a 2009 New York Times article, “offered audiences an image twice as wide and significantly taller than what they had been accustomed to. Licensed from the French Inventor Henri Chretien…Where Cinerama and 3-D both required the carefully synchronized projection of multiple strips of film, CinemaScope used an anamorphic lens to squeeze a wide image onto standard 35mm film stock The results were stunting, the technology (relatively) simple to use, and both the public and the industry were hooked.”
Directed by Henry Koster, “The Robe,” based on Lloyd C. Douglas’ massive best seller, starred Richard Burton, Jean Simmons and Victor Mature. The story revolved around a Roman tribune who is haunted by guilt after he orders the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. The film was a huge hit (the sequel “Demetrius and the Gladiators”) was released in 1954-and earned five Oscar nominations including best picture and actor for Burton, winning for art direction/set decoration (color) and costume design (color).
William Wyler’s oh-so-romantic comedy “Roman Holiday” opened earlier in the month. And quite literally a star was born with this delightful tale of a young European princess on a goodwill tour who escapes her handlers in Rome and ends up finding love with a handsome newspaper reporter. Gregory Peck played the reporter, but all eyes were upon his leading lady, the gamin Audrey Hepburn, who had appeared in a few European films, most notably a brief role in 1952’s “The Lavender Hill Mob.” Hepburn had such a naturalness and beguiling personality; audiences and critics couldn’t get enough of her. Said the New York Times: “Although she is not precisely a newcomer to films Audrey Hepburn, the British actress who is being starred for the first time as Princess Anne, is a slender, elfin and wistful beauty, alternately regal and childlike in her profound appreciation of newly-found, simple pleasures and love.” Hepburn won the best actress Oscar as Anne as well as the hearts of moviegoers.
One of Clark Gable’s early hits was the saucy, naughty and very sexy pre-code 1932 “Red Dust,” in which he plays a rubber plantation owner in what is now Vietnam who is embroiled in a romantic triangle with a prostitute (Jean Harlow) and the demure wife (Mary Astor) of an engineer (Gene Raymond). Twenty-one years later, Gable returned in the remake “Mogambo,” shot in on location in Africa in Technicolor and directed by John Ford. This time around, he plays a big game hunter torn between a feisty, beautiful showgirl (Ava Gardner) and married woman (Grace Kelly). Gable’s post-World War II films at MGM films were a mixed bag, but in “Mogambo” signaled a return to the swagger and sexuality that made him the King of Hollywood. “Mogambo” earned two Oscar-nominations: best actress for Gardner and supporting actress for Kelly.
Besides Gable several other veteran stars’ new movies were released in Sept. 1953. James Cagney gets all Huey Long in “A Lion in the Streets” directed by Raoul Walsh. It’s always fun to watch Cagney, but 1949’s Oscar-winning “All the King’s Men” was far better.
John Wayne teamed up with William Wellman for the suspenseful “Island in the Sky,” adapted by Ernest K. Gann from his novel, about a World War II transport plane that crashes onto a frozen lake in an uncharted area of Labrador. Though the film is flawed, TCM.com noted that “plenty of moviegoers” and even playwright David Mamet “agree ‘Island in the Sky’ is one of the great flying films. Its most consistent asset is the first-rate acting from the entire cast, starting with Wayne, who gives one of the subtlest, most nuanced performances of his remarkable career.” The following year, Wayne, Wellman and Gann reunited for the airplane disaster classic “The High and the Mighty.”
Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray had chemistry to spare in the beautiful 1940 holiday drama “Remember the Night” and were even better in Billy Wilder’s brilliant 1944 film noir “Double Indemnity,” which earned seven Oscar nominations including best actress for Stanwyck’s indelible portrayal of the heartless femme fatale. But the third time wasn’t the charm for the pair in “The Moonlighter,” a minor black-and-white 3-D Western. The poster proclaims “Never Such Man-Woman Excitement in Natural Vision 3-D.” And the drawing of Stanwyck makes her look more like Jane Russell in “The Outlaw.” Reviews with less than stellar with the New York Times describing the movie as “dinky” though praised the stars as “actors of estimable magnitude.
And I need to mention “Cat-Women of the Moon” one more time. Oscar-winner Elmer Bernstein composed one of his earliest scores for the film even though his name is misspelled as Bernstien.
Make your predictions at Gold Derby now. Download our free and easy app for Apple/iPhone devices or Android (Google Play) to compete against legions of other fans plus our experts and editors for best prediction accuracy scores. See our latest prediction champs. Can you top our esteemed leaderboards next? Always remember to keep your predictions updated because they impact our latest racetrack odds, which terrify Hollywood chiefs and stars. Don’t miss the fun. Speak up and share your huffy opinions in our famous forums where 5,000 showbiz leaders lurk every day to track latest awards buzz. Everybody wants to know: What do you think? Who do you predict and why?