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Cinerama Holiday: Deluxe Combo Blu-ray/DVD Edition Review

Cinerama Holiday (1955) movie poster Cinerama Holiday

Theatrical Release: February 8, 1955 / Running Time: 129 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Directors: Robert L. Bendick, Philippe De Lacy / Writers: Otis Carney, Louis de Rochemont (screenplay); Pierre Gossett, Renee Gossett (book America Through a French Looking-Glass)

Tagline: It's Every Holiday You Ever Dreamed of...Come True!

Cast: John Marsh, Betty Marsh, Fred Troller, Beatrice Troller, Art Buchwald, Ricard Alexis, Oscar Celestin, Robert Marsh, Emmanuel Paul

Buy Cinerama Holiday: Blu-ray + DVD at Amazon.com

In the 1950s, the popularity of television left Hollywood scrambling
to give the American public reason to pay to go see a movie instead of staying home to watch TV for free. The decade gave rise to CinemaScope, 3D, VistaVision, and Todd-AO. Shortly before all those formats offered a larger, wider, and more spectacular picture, Cinerama was introduced. Unveiled in 1952's This Is Cinerama, a feature-length showcase of the medium's possibilities, Cinerama used three synchronized projectors to show a film on a wide, deeply curved screen intended to engulf and immerse the viewer. Unlike the other widescreen formats, which were genuine game-changers, Cinerama would be short-lived and scarcely used. It was more like the era's 3D boom, a fun gimmick that would never become the standard (hint hint, movie industry!)

Wikipedia lists just 30 films that were presented in Cinerama, only eight of which were actually shot in 3-Strip Cinerama and one that was shot in Cinemiracle, a competing format that never quite took off. Later Cinerama presentations in the 1960s simply converted films shot in Panavision formats (including It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and 2001: A Space Odyssey). Only a couple of narrative films were actually produced in Cinerama: the partly stop-motion-animated The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and How the West Was Won. The rest of the films were comparable to many of today's IMAX movies: documentaries whose primary interest is to dazzle you with wondrous images.

Cinerama films are generally long forgotten, with only four known theaters in the world equipped to screen them. Their curved visuals pose somewhat of a challenge for traditional television viewing. Brothers Grimm has never even come to DVD, although Warner admirably struck both a seamless flat version and a "SmileBox" recreation of Cinerama for their 2008 Blu-ray release of How the West Was Won.

Now, Flicker Alley, a home video label of great passion and minimal output, has rescued two Cinerama travelogue documentaries from obscurity with last week's Deluxe Combo Blu-ray + DVD Edition releases of Cinerama Holiday and South Seas Adventure, presenting each in the same curved screen simulation.

Swiss skiers come downhill towards you in "Cinerama Holiday."

Premiering in 1955, Cinerama Holiday was only the second Cinerama film released. It was a huge hit, coming in second for the year at the box office according to a rear cover claim attributed to the Hollywood Reporter. Tom Stempel's American Audiences on Movies and Moviegoing puts the film's gross at $10 million, calling it the sixteenth highest-grossing film of the decade, while noting that subsequent releases in the format failed to have as much impact. A $10 M gross would place Holiday between the year's champ, Lady and the Tramp, and Mister Roberts' $9.9 million take, although Wikipedia's chart curiously excludes it.

That popularity doesn't mean much in today's world. This two-hour film has only earned 44 user votes on IMDb and until now it has never before been available on home video.

The film opens in plain old Academy Ratio black and white 35mm. It reminds us of This Is Cinerama and then establishes its own premise: a cultural exchange that will send a Swiss artist and his wife to America and a young Kansas City dentist and his wife to Switzerland and nearby France. The goal is letting these two young couples in on things they've never seen or done before. With a flight from St. Louis to Zurich, the screen expands and assumes the full color majesty of Cinerama.

Folks shuck corn at New Hampshire's Deerfield County Fair in "Cinerama Holiday."

That majesty remains easy to appreciate here. When the imagery is devoid of humans, like the opening aerial photography of the Alps, the screen's distortion is tough to spot and it's tough to believe the visuals are almost sixty years old. The film does seem like a direct ancestor to an IMAX documentary, only it has a 1950s sensibility to it and runs a definite feature length (and a little longer than it needs to).
In fact, Flicker Alley's presentation preserves the full roadshow version of the film, complete with an overture and an intermission, each running 4 minutes, plus exit music playing over the restoration credits.

Holiday is most enjoyable when it's not attempting to show us anything specific. Performances from the Swiss Holiday on Ice show featuring the likes of clowns and dancing ladies on ice skates are kind of dull and overlong. The same goes for parades and musical acts. The film is far better when it simply functions as a fun snapshot of '50s life. Candid looks at a Las Vegas casino and the Deerfield, New Hampshire county fair offer invaluable people-watching and a more accurate taste of what passed for recreation more than half a century ago, even if the camera casts a prominent unmistakable shadow and instills fear and retreat in those in its path.

Some specific subjects do grab our attention: a first-person bobsled ride in Switzerland, jazz musicians performing "When the Saints Go Marching In" for a funeral procession at New Orleans' Lafayette Cemetery. On the other hand, an attempt to have the American couple discover that the Swiss use tubes of ketchup and mustard is clearly staged and unnatural.

Cinerama Holiday: Deluxe Combo Blu-ray + DVD Edition cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.07:1 Curved Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: November 2, 2013
Suggested Retail Price: $39.95
Two discs (1 DVD-14 & 1 BD-50)
Clear Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Blu-ray's picture quality is better than you could expect for a movie this old and long unreleased. The SmileBox presentation does an outstanding job of simulating the domed theatrical effect. The perforations of the three frames remain present but very faint. The distortion stemming from the panoramic angles designed to resemble the human field of vision is barely noticeable when human beings aren't onscreen around the edges. While some light lines run down the screen on occasion, nothing is prominent enough to distract or mar your enjoyment, nor does the somewhat pale (but seemingly accurate) color palette. My limited exposure to Flicker Alley's output has shown them to have Criterion-sized passion for classic film but not quite the ability to match the boutique line's top-notch restoration. This winning transfer, however, challenges that notion and shows Flicker Alley is absolutely capable of wowing with its picture quality.

Oscar "Papa" Celestin and a New Orleans jazz band entertain patrons of New Orleans' Absinthe House with "Tiger Rag."

And sound quality too! The BD lets you choose between a 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack and a Dolby 2.0 surround mix. The default former is most inspired and seemingly not a remix. When we jump from 35mm to Cinerama, you can easily tell the sound expands to the full 5.1 channels and that is evidently true to the technology, which used a number of microphones to have the sound move with the image. It's a nice and noticeable effect comparable to today's standard sound design. The sharp audio makes it easier to overlook the set's unfortunate lack of subtitles.

Cinerama anticipated technical difficulties with this breakdown reel hosted by John and Betty Marsh. Leonard Maltin prepares viewers for a 2013 Hollywood screening of the film.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Flicker Alley's adherence to the Criterion model extends to the bonus features,
where Cinerama Holiday is blessed with a bounty of pertinent items, many of which are presented in HD.

First up is a fascinating breakdown reel (14:20, SD), produced for when the Cinerama projection system broke down. It's a plain flat-projected short film which finds the American couple the Marshes explaining the breakdown and sharing and narrating videos from their European holiday. It's a creative way to keep moviegoers occupied while giving the projectionists some time to fix the problem and it's nifty to see even with the faded colors and degraded look it understandably sports here.

"Cinerama Holiday at the Dome" (5:43, HD) documents a TCM-hosted April 2013 Hollywood screening of the film at Pacific Theaters' Cinerama Dome attended and prefaced by leading ladies Betty Marsh York and Beatrice Troller and critic/historian Leonard Maltin.

Beatrice Troller recalls her experiences in "Return to 'Cinerama Holiday.'" Betty Marsh York takes us through her production scrapbook that was recently acquired via eBay.

"Return to Cinerama Holiday" (21:35, HD) interviews Marsh York and Troller at length about their experiences making the film and their thoughts on revisiting it today in its vivid restored state. It's a little heavy on clips from the film, but a cool retrospective nonetheless.

"Betty's Scrapbook" (11:10, HD) has Betty Marsh York share the long-lost, recently-unearthed scrapbook she compiled during Holiday's 1954-55 filming and release. The photographs, newspaper clippings and notes trigger lasting old memories for the presumed octogenarian.

A year before passing away, John Marsh reflected on Cinerama Holiday in this 1997 reunion interview. Bob Bendick's home movies show the Cinerama truck parked in Switzerland. This Australian newsreel talks up the Cinerama process upon the film's 1958 release there.

The set's longest extra is a series of interviews (22:05, SD) with the four central cast members plus staff writer Waring Jones conducted during their April 1997 reunion and screening at the New Neon in Dayton, Ohio. Each recalls getting involved with the project, specific stops, and going along for the ride. John Marsh and Fred Troller passed away not long after this event.

"Deleted Scenes" (8:25, SD) preserves footage and memories of three cut bits from Holiday as described in the 2002 documentary Cinerama Adventure.

Next up come 8mm Kodachrome home movies (15:13, SD) shot by Bob Bendick during the filming of the European sequences he directed, with audio from other filming and score laid over them. Though there's not much of note to see, this is still a pretty sweet find considering how few movies from this era unearth or share behind-the-scenes content like this.

A black and white 1958 Australian newsreel (2:26, SD) celebrates the film's technology upon its Sydney debut at Hoyts Plaza.

"The Digital Restoration" shows us some of what went into making "Cinerama Holiday" look its very best. The DVD main menu shows that all extras besides the breakdown reel have been relegated to the other side of the disc.

"The Digital Restoration" (12:53, HD) allows Dave Strohmaier to explain the process of restoring Cinerama Holiday. It avoids getting too technical with graphics demonstrating the challenges faced in making this viewable again by correcting faded edges, barrel warps, negative deterioration, and such.

The on-disc extras conclude with the scored slideshow "Behind the Scenes with Cinerama Holiday" (7:30),
which displays a new black and white promotional photo or piece of transitional artwork about every five seconds.

The DVD includes everything that the Blu-ray has, using a double-sided disc to fit it.

The main menus play music over a title illustration. Both discs kindly list runtimes for each extra. Though the Blu-ray does not support bookmarks, it's fitted with 21 suitable chapter stops and also authored to resume playback like a DVD.

The two discs share a Criterion-style clear keepcase, which includes a Criterion-style booklet. This 28-page staple-bound companion reproduces artwork and articles from the film's original Roadshow program. It includes comments from producer Louis de Rochemont and Cinerama president Hazard E. Reeves, discussions of the cast, production, and music (given a promotional tone and a touch of 1950s showbiz corn), illustrations and explanations of Cinerama's evolving technology, a recipe for Swiss cheese fondue, film and music credits, in addition to credits for the combo pack's restoration and release. It's the cherry on top of this delectable sundae.

The Arc de Triomphe is one of the Paris sights surveyed in the European segments of "Cinerama Holiday."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Cinerama Holiday is a fun blast from the past, which entertains as both a showcase of cutting edge pre-widescreen film technology and of ordinary 1950s life in America and abroad. Some of the entertainment is dated and a tad overlong, but the experience is nonetheless fulfilling and unlike anything else out there.

Flicker Alley's combo pack is easy to recommend on the basis of its novel feature, splendid feature presentation, and inspired assortment of extras. It doesn't come cheap, but that it comes at all is the result of passion for cinema that deserves to be supported and rewarded.

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Reviewed November 6, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1955 Cinerama Inc. and 2013 Flicker Alley.
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