Oh, Jolly 3-D!

Source: G.W. Stonier, ‘Oh, Jolly 3-D!’ in Pictures on the Pavement (London: Michael Joseph, 1955), pp. 140-143

Text: Of course, we all insisted we wouldn’t go, but there we were: some frankly excited, others holding aloof, a few remembering their first talkie with Al Jolson imploring the skies, and a very few that Edwardian dark-room at the end of a pier in which, while one enjoyed, say, a vision of rough seas, the theatre itself rolled and pitched. Great days, when custard-pies were custard-pies, and any bicycles without riders would make straight for, and through, the nearest china-shop.

But already the news – stale news from a flat world – was over, and the lights were up. We looked round. Distinguished strangers present: hurriedly we felt for our own spectacles, tried them on, blinked, dandled.

FOR YOUR FURTHER ENJOYMENT

came the beauteous lantern-slide on the screen,

OUR STAFF WILL NOW VISIT ALL PARTS OF THIS THEATRE

(that meant poor fat Annie – charladying days over – with her tray).

PLEASE KEEP TO YOUR SEATS

(which, with Annie, seemed not difficult).

So, sucking the ice-creams which represent, we are told, the sole source of profits to impoverished British film-mongers, we cooled our rising excitement.

Spectacles on! In the confusion old Dr. Crunchbones had his, I swear, upside down, so that probably he’d see everything hollow; but then he always had. Miss Tripp, smiling, had pocketed hers. To a roar of music the title flashed up, Thick Men; it didn’t merely flash, it floated; behind, with a mileage that made us suddenly feel our seats had been pulled from under us, was a man – a thick man – poised on parapet, who slowly leant forward and disappeared, leaving the recession of river, quay, skyscraper, and sunset, into which we might all have disappeared if the foreground titles hadn’t, like a sort of inflamed masonry, held us back. We were discovering who had played the banjo, and who fiddled the hair-do’s, when the splash from below hit us.

The film itself – but how can one hope to imprint such things? Enough that this one was well up, or down, to standard, having taken advantage of 3-D to get back to the heart of things: the heroine (rather charmingly 3-D, I thought) chewed gum and drawled ‘Oh, yeah?’ and the hero, always getting into fixes and out of them, would stop short to exclaim ‘Let’s go’ or ‘You can’t do this to me’; nor could they; ropes and writs wouldn’t hold him; for seven reels – here’s the moral – you may get away with murder, but the eighth will find you out, probably on top
of Chicago’s highest skyscraper. He had an engaging habit, this swell guy, of blowing smoke-rings over us. For 3-D you must know, works forwards as well as backwards. Half the time they were sticking out elbows over the stalls or reclining their feet on the circle, and when the whole mob pulled guns you were fortunate if the muzzles nudged past you to someone else’s waistcoat behind. This – with some relief brought the first interlude.

And there we were, looking like Sunday afternoon on the Brighton front, and remarking ‘Wonderful,’ ‘Better than grandpa’s stereoscope,’ ‘But when they move at all quickly they seem to go off-kind of crinkly, ’ ‘Just as well, I couldn’t stand much more.’

Resuming, we were double-crossed, followed and frisked, run over, dangled from heights, swept to the wail of police sirens through satiny night, plunged into the glory of a night-club-the thick man’s (and woman’s) hide-out. Cops were there too; thicker and thicker; not even they knew one from t’other. We watched from the little high grille in the boss’s office. He was getting that eighth-reel feeling; the heights were calling. ‘Let’s go,’ a farewell to his lady – her lips protruding, filling the theatre like hippopotamus lips – second interlude.

‘Phew!’ ‘She loves him, though, doesn’t she?’ ‘What good’s that, his best friend’s a cop, see?’ ‘Colour a bit patchy.’ ‘Oh, well, can’t expect everything.’

Off again. Bang-bang. He must climb seventy-six floors, and the lift out of order. With that cop close behind. ‘My pal,’ he snarls over his shoulder, as he leaps for the fire-escape.

There’s a scream. ‘He’s pinched my spectacles, the beast!’ ‘What?’ ‘Liar!’ ‘Who?’ ‘Give ’em back!’ ‘Let go!’ ‘Swine!’ ‘I’ll inform the management!’ And in less than no time, followed by more bang-bangs, we were all out in the street shouting, struggling.

Well I wonder. These thick men – who in their time have been jittery, silent men, and then sleek yap-yap or sing-song men, and sometimes, amazingly, rainbow men whisked from beef-red to cheese-green in a trice – I don’t quite know how they’re going to take to their new freedom. Suppose, during a matinee – it’s been a long while coming -one of them were simply to walk off the screen? Would the rest follow? Should we have fugitive Neros, Henry ploughing through the stalls after Anne Boleyn, stampedes from chain-gangs, Carthage, the Titanic? Will there be an end to the Civil War, both sides deserting? It remains to be seen; if need be, resisted. 3-D has come to the local.

Comments: George Walter Stonier (1903-1985) was a British novelist, critic and journalist. His Pictures on the Pavement is a series of short, lightly humorous essays on aspects of London life. There was no 3D feature film called Thick Men, and I cannot identify what film it might be. There was a short-lived boom for stereoscopic feature films in the mid-1950s employing dual-strip projection, requiring audiences to wear special spectacles and intermissions needed for reel changeovers.

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