Bwana Devil, the First Color, American 3-D Film

Bwana Devil, a 1952 film written, directed, and produced by Arch Oboler, is considered to be the first color, American 3-D feature film. It starred Robert Stack (of “Unsolved Mysteries” fame), Barbara Britton, and Nigel Bruce. And on top of all that it started the 3-D film boom!

Some legacy, huh?

Screen writer Milton Gunzburg and his brother Julian thought they had a solution for the declining attendance with their Natural Vision 3-D ((Natural Vision 3-D is shot with a special camera rig comprised of two cameras, producing a “left eye view” and a “right eye view.” The two resulting film strips are put together to form one film strip.)) film process. They tried to shop it around Hollywood, but no one really had any interest. Columbia and Paramount passed on Gunzberg’s pitch. 20th Century Fox introducing CinemaScope and weren’t interested in throwing another viewing experience into the mix . Only one man, John Arnold, who headed the MGM camera department, liked it enough to convince his bosses to purchase an option on the technology, but they let their option lapse.

To the Gunzbergs, it appeared that the Natural Vision technique of filming was doomed and they were back to square one until a man named Arch Oboler wanted a meeting with the them. Oboler, producer and writer of the popular radio show, Lights Out ((Lights Out was a radio program featuring “tales of the supernatural and the supernormal.” At the time it was immensely popular, and was one of the first horror programs.)), was impressed enough to option it for his next film, The Lions of Gulu.

The film was based on a well-known event at the time, the killing of more than 120 workers building the Uganda Railway for the British at the turn of the century. The incident was also the basis for “The Man-eaters of Tsavo“, a story written in 1907 by J.H. Patterson, the hunter who tracked and killed the animals.

Bwana Devil premiered on November 26, 1952 at the Paramount Theatres in Hollywood and Los Angeles, CA. The critics hated it but it was a smash with audiences. Local premieres followed in San Francisco on December 13, Philadelphia, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio openings on December 25 and New York on February 18, 1953.

United Artists bought the rights to Bwana Devil from Oboler for $500,000 and a share of the profits put the film into wide release in March. After other studios saw the big profits that UA was bringing in with Bwana Devil, other studios raced to release their own 3-D films and a cool, albeit short lived, trend was begun. ((An explanation of the Natural Vision 3-D process came from Dimension 3 and the rest of the information for this piece came from Wikipedia.))

2 Responses to Bwana Devil, the First Color, American 3-D Film
  1. Yvette Reply

    Where may I buy a DVD of Bwana Devil? My parents are celebrating their 60th Wedding Anniversary this summer! Bwana Devil was the movie they attended on their first date….a blind date set up by friends! Would love to surprise them with a copy of the movie and watch it with them and all the family!! Please help!!

  2. Glenn Vance Reply

    Hi Yvette – No one’s ever asked me that, but I did some searching and found it here –

    http://www.zeusdvds.com/bwana-devil-1952-dvd/

    Good luck!

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