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Case Number 26941: Small Claims Court

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Man in the Dark (1953) 3D (Blu-ray)

Twilight Time // 1953 // 68 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // February 5th, 2014

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All Rise...

Judge Patrick Naugle has spent the majority of his life in the dark.

The Charge

A thrilling ride into the third dimension!

The Case

Steve Rawley (Edmond O'Brien, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) is a career criminal who has just gotten away with stealing over $100,000 in cold hard cash. Steve stashes the loot away where no one can find it, but is eventually caught by the authorities. To receive an earlier parole, Steve subjects himself to an experimental operation on his brain that will discard the part of him that has committed terrible crimes. The operation works and Steve's memory is wiped almost totally clean. His former gang members, however, has a different plan for poor Steve: they want to know where he's stored the cash they feel they have a stake in. They kidnap Steve in the hopes that they'll shake the location out of him. Steve is caught between a rock and a hard place with his girlfriend Peg (Audrey Totter, The Postman Always Rings Twice) imploring him to give up his old ways and his former accomplices egging him on to give up the location of the money.

Man in the Dark 3D was technically the first film by a major studio to be released in 3D. Although the Warner Brothers/Vincent Price chiller House of Wax is often touted as the first release in the amazing third dimension, Man in the Dark 3D was actually released two days prior. Filmed over just 11 days and rushed into post production, the film was a modest success and ushered in the 3D craze, which would flame out and rise from the ashes like a phoenix over and over again.

Man in the Dark 3D is a rather rote film noir that, while entertaining enough, doesn't really provide movie lovers with much originality. The film's most memorable character is the 3D effects that are so obviously rigged they practically scream "LOOK AT ME!" The title credits are shot out at the audience, cigars are dangled in front of the lens, and cars go crashing through storefronts and practically thrust through the cameras and into the audience's lap. Obviously the filmmakers did this to emphasize the then-newly minted technology, but over fifty years later the effects actually take the viewer out of the story.

As for the rest of Man in the Dark 3D, this is pretty standard film noir stuff. The movie was made on the cheap and directed by Lew Landers, who helmed such Bela Lugosi shockers as Universal's The Raven and Return of the Vampire (which was about a vampire, but not that vampire). Lander's touch doesn't provide the film with much originality or a unique vision; it lumbers from one scene to the next and feels longer than it actually is (clocking in at just over an hour).

Technically this is a remake of the 1936 Ralph Bellamy film The Man Who Lived Twice, written by George Brickner (1954's Cry Vengeance) and Jack Leonard (1952's The Narrow Margin). Brickner and Leonard's screenplay revels in classic noir clichés; vertical angled shots, thick black and white shadows, tough talking cops, and double crossing hoods. However, it sure is fun to see the city of Los Angeles in the 1950s, a feeling that has long escaped most current Hollywood movies.

The dialogue consists of stilted proclamations like, "I have no past! It's all just a blank wall!" Casablanca this ain't. Edmund O'Brien makes for a decent, if somewhat unremarkable leading man. He spends most of the film looking worried and sweaty, always trying to stay one step ahead of his adversaries (even when he's not sure why). The rest of the cast is just sort of along for the ride, including doe eyed Audrey Totter as our hero's girlfriend and The Naked City's Ted de Corsia as one of the gritty hoods. Man in the Dark 3D doesn't feature any really big name talent, so we're left with actors who fill the roles adequately, and little else. Even though this isn't a very good movie, it does have flashes of inspiration. One dream sequence by the lead hero involves a weird bumper car chase with angry cops at a local carnival. A rooftop chase lends the film a few tense moments as well. These are the moments when Man in the Dark 3D comes alive and is lifted beyond mediocrity.

Man in the Dark 3D is presented in 1.33:1 full frame in 1080p high definition in both 2D and 3D. The black and white image certainly sparkles and looks very crisp and very clean. For a low budget film that's been seemingly forgotten over time (it's never been released on VHS or DVD), the quality of this picture looks great. There are a few defects to be found from time to time, but it's nothing that will interfere with one's enjoyment of the movie. The 3D effects look sufficiently decent for a movie of this age, but the gimmick wears thin quickly. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono in English. The audio mix is clear and crisp with dialogue, music, and effects work easily distinguishable. While the soundtrack is in great shape, it's also not very exciting and 100% front heavy.

Bonus features included an isolated score track, a theatrical trailer, and an informational booklet.

I can recommend Man in the Dark 3D mostly for historical purposes. If you want to see what the first major 3D film looked like, it's worth checking out. Film noir fans may also want to seek this out, although there are many other noir thrillers more deserving of your attention. This Twilight Time release hovers at around a $35 price tag, so it's a lot of loot to drop on a movie that's biggest attribute is its historical context.

The Verdict

A curiosity at best.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 65

Perp Profile

Studio: Twilight Time
Video Formats:
• Full Frame (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 68 Minutes
Release Year: 1953
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Blu-ray
• Classic
• Crime
• Drama
• Film Noir
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• 2D Version
• Isolated Score
• Trailer
• Booklet


• IMDb

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