"I, the Jury" from 1953: 1950s 3D

“I, the Jury” from 1953: 1950s 3D | Pro Club Bd

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If you’re visiting a big city for a short time, you might try to fit as many activities into your limited schedule as possible. If you go to an amusement park, try to get on as many rides as you can before they close. Similarly, I messed up my schedule while covering the 2022 Turner Classic Movie Film Festival in April. During the four days I saw 14 films with very few breaks between screenings and there are more films I would have liked to have seen had I had the time.

Since there were far more films on than one person could see, I had to choose my films wisely. Rather than just seeing the films I really wanted to see, I opted for unusual or rare screenings. Although the experience on the big screen would be enhanced, I could easily watch other selections at home that I wanted to see on DVD or Amazon Prime Video. So I’ve prioritized seeing the films listed as special presentations that aren’t readily available. Including the 3D film “I, the Jury” from 1953.

A movie screen is seen during the 2022 TCM Classic Film Festival at The Hollywood Roosevelt on April 22, 2022 in Los Angeles. (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for TCM)

Before I went to this screening, I had a quick dinner after “Cocktail Hour” (that’s the name of a movie; I didn’t treat myself to martinis). While I ate a quick slice of margherita pizza at the California Pizza Kitchen in the TCL Chinese Theater Complex, other film lovers lined up to see the festival’s only 3D film. Luckily, my press pass got me one of the last good seats, so I didn’t have to sit in the front row as the usher had warned us on the last few entries. With the special glasses on, I took my leftmost seat in the fifth or sixth row to watch the first full-length 3D movie I’ve ever seen.

A detective story

This film is based on a story by famous crime writer Mickey Spillane. In fact, it’s an adaptation of his debut novel, published in 1947 under the same name as the film. This book introduced his most famous character, private investigator Mike Hammer. Although five more Mike Hammer books were published through 1953, I, the Jury marked the detective’s first appearance on screen. The screen rights to I, the Jury and another Spillane novel were purchased by Victor Saville’s Parklane Pictures, Inc. production company. This film would be followed by two more Spillane stories in the years that followed: The Long Wait (1954) and Kiss Me Dead (1955). Although “I, the Jury” received mostly negative reviews upon release, it was a box office success, grossing $1.4 million in the United States.

Epoch Times photo
Photograph of author Mickey Spillane who guest-starred on an episode of the television show Columbo in 1974. (public domain)

The story begins when private investigator Mike Hammer (Biff Elliot) learns that his war mate, one-armed insurance detective Jack Williams (Robert Swanger), has been murdered in his apartment. Mike vows to solve the crime and avenge his friend’s death, even if it means bypassing the police, particularly Homicide Captain Pat Chambers (Preston Foster). On his quest, Mike visits Jack’s troubled girlfriend (Frances Osborne), a wealthy art collector/fight organizer (Alan Reed), his suspiciously old-looking college student friend (Bob Cunningham), a pair of neurotic twin sisters (Tani and Dran Seitz). ) and a beautiful psychologist named Dr. Charlotte Manning (Peggie Castle). Danger lurks around every corner and Mike doesn’t know who to trust. Nevertheless, he falls for the seductive charm of Dr. Manning, who becomes an important character in the story.

This film is not an extremely close adaptation of the book. Since it was filmed in the early 1950s, which was still the production code era, the novel’s more sensational elements were toned down or eliminated. In fact, when I read the Wikipedia synopsis of the film before writing this review, it not only refreshed my memory but also contained details that I didn’t spot in the film when I watched it. This summary references a character as a drug addict and a dance school as a front for prostitution. While I agree that such conclusions could be drawn from the situations and dialogues in the film, there is a lot to read between the lines, or rather between the frames. The apparent drug ring, drug addicts, and casual affairs in the book’s plot were omitted from the film. Also, the criminal activity prohibited by the code that remains in the story is portrayed quite delicately, I think. Also, the on-screen violence is pretty low.

3-dimensional technology

Although 3D technology has existed in some form since the 19th century, those in the know call the years 1952-1955 the golden age of stereoscopic cinema. Between the premiere of “Bwana Devil” on November 26, 1952 and “Revenge of the Creature” on March 23, 1955, fifty English-language features were released that took advantage of the impressive new technology. The 48 other films were all shot between January and October 1953. Among them was “I, the Jury”. Because of the expense and precision required to properly project 3D movies, many 1950s cinemas chose to play movies made with the special technology in 2D instead. However, the novelty was very popular for a time, which no doubt contributed to the success of this less than critically acclaimed film.

Epoch Times photo
Bwana Devil, the first 3-D film (1952). (Rossano aka Bud Care/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)])

“I, the Jury” was my second experience with 3D technology. The first was not a feature film, but the trailer for Disney’s A Christmas Carol, which I saw before a screening of Tinkerbell and the Lost Ark at the El Capitan Theater in 2009. This 3D experience was very different from my previous one. I remember snowflakes floating through the air right in front of me when I saw the trailer, but there was nothing quite as dramatic in this 1950s film. All it really did was add realistic perspective and depth to everything. Nothing flew towards the audience, so to speak, but the people and especially the objects on the screen did not look flat, as they do in 2D films.

In the past, when I read about 3D movies from the 1950s, I heard that they were uncomfortable to watch because they caused eye strain and headaches. From the further research I’ve done since watching I, the Jury, I’ve learned that eye strain, headaches, and nausea are symptoms some people experience with any 3D movie, including those who watch were filmed in the 21st century. I didn’t experience any of these effects on this film, which surprised me as watching four films in one day is enough to give someone a headache at night. The only difficulty I had was keeping the image sharp. Despite wearing the glasses, I often had to adjust my head to keep the image clear. I think that’s partly because I was pretty far to the side and close to the front. The screen was likely clearer for those seated slightly further back in the center. That’s what I get for eating dinner instead of waiting in line for an hour!

An interesting experience

Watching I, the Jury was an interesting experience. I wouldn’t say it’s a brilliant film. I didn’t think the acting was bad, as many reviewers said, but I felt that the film overall had more of the tone of a satire or parody of the detective genre than a serious film. Aside from the aforementioned pre-code Cocktail Hour, this was definitely my least favorite film of the festival. That’s no big deal though, as the other twelve films were fabulous!

Epoch Times photo
A look at the original typescript of Mickey Spillane’s first novel, I, the Jury, pictured in Los Angeles on October 18, 2007. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images)

I rank “I, the Jury” as my least favorite movie because it’s probably not a movie I would watch again. Without the 3D gimmick it has little appeal for me. I’m not a big fan of the crime/detective genre, especially when the film is based on more sensational material. That being said, perhaps the biggest reason I don’t love this movie is the fact that it doesn’t feature any major stars. I have to admit that I tend to be prejudiced against films that don’t have names or faces that I recognize as the protagonists. Of course, I recognized a lot of the supporting cast, but I really missed seeing familiar faces as the main characters.

In his film debut as Mike Hammer, the only time he played the role, Biff Elliott created a very distinct character. I don’t think he was bad in the role as many have claimed. In fact, the projectionist said that many consider him to be the best incarnation of Mike Hammer, although he couldn’t have said otherwise because Mr. Elliot’s widow was in the audience! That being said, I think I would have enjoyed the film more if someone like Kirk Douglas or Ronald Reagan had played the role of Mike, even if it wasn’t necessarily that much better. If you’re a Mickey Spillane fan or maybe a crime drama connoisseur, you might really enjoy this movie! If you’re a parent or grandparent, you’ll appreciate that this is one of the few Spillane adaptations that you can watch with a child.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Tiffany Brannan

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Tiffany Brannan is a 20 year old opera singer, Hollywood history/vintage beauty lyricist, film critic, fashion historian, travel writer and ballet writer. In 2016, she and her sister founded the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society, an organization dedicated to reforming the arts by reinstating the film production code.

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