On the Redford Theatre’s biggest party night of the year—the Saturday night screening of its Halloween movie—visitors came in almost every imaginable costume.

The October 27, 2007 showing of Creature from the Black Lagoon was attended by a bag lady, priest, pirate (with fake parrot), long-haired old hippie, fairy princess, magician, cowgirl, skeleton and many other personalities.

At the intermission, stage announcer Ken Collier was helped in the 50/50 raffle drawing by “Miss Emily” (dressed in a sparkling 1920s flapper outfit) and “Captain Redford from the Planet Mars” (a hooded creature). A yellow-suited Ghostbuster later reported to Collier that no spectral visitors were haunting the Redford that evening.

It was an exciting, fun night that was enjoyed by one of the Redford’s largest and liveliest crowds of the year. Before the movie, the air was thick with anticipation, and the pre-show music of organist Newton Bates was buffeted by the sounds of many excited and happy conversations. Because of the big turnout, Newton played 20 minutes longer than usual, to allow latecomers to be seated. When he finished, the theater exploded with applause, in appreciation for his extra efforts.

When I arrived at the Redford at about 7:20 (40 minutes before the movie was scheduled to start), a long line had already formed down the sidewalk along Lahser. It was a fun opportunity to stand under the amber bulbs beneath the marquee, imagining that I was waiting in line in the 1950s for a big budget spectacular at a Grand Circus Park movie palace.

Creature from the Black Lagoon

When I finally entered the Redford, I picked up some special glasses that would help me enjoy that evening’s 3-D showing of the 1954 thriller Creature from the Black Lagoon. The 3-D process was most popular in 1953 and 1954, when it joined CinemaScope and Cinerama as weapons in the movie industry’s battle against television.

“The early-fifties revival of interest in stereoscopic films gave a new lease on life to the exhausted, non-science fiction horror film,” wrote Carlos Clarens in his 1967 book, An Illustrated History of the Horror Films. These movies included “Universal’s conservative addition to their family tree of monsters, The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), an improbable batrachian (played, or rather swum, by Ricou Browning) with the features of a frog, the stance of a man, and a vaguely lecherous design on the heroine (Julia Adams).”

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Creature from the Black Lagoon

The 3-D fun got off to a rousing start, with exploding rocks flying towards the audience, which laughed and clapped at the novelty. Later, a fossilized claw that seemed to reach into the audience brought other roars of approval.

The 3-D seemed to have a ticklish effect on the audience, which could usually (for obvious reasons) see the movie trick coming right at them. Other highlights were the spear guns that shot towards the camera, and Julia Adams’ suspenseful (and sexy) swim right above the “fish-man”.

Artistic effects of the 3-D included the polished, glasslike surface of water, and the underwater mixture of schools of fish, filtered light, and waving plants. I was also impressed by the visual depth and separation of the film, and wondered if high definition technology might help 3-D make a comeback (without the special eyewear).

Creature drew a strong mixture of adults, children, and young people. For many moviegoers, it was probably the beginning of a night of Halloween partying. And everyone enjoyed the orchestra pit display, which this year was a replica of an archeological campsite, and, of course, a black lagoon.

At intermission, a photograph was taken from the stage of the audience wearing its 3-D glasses, which had one blue lens and one red lens. I’m sure many people will cherish this souvenir of their evening of frightful fun in three dimensions.

Detroit Movie Palaces Home Page

Copyright © 2007 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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