A rediscovered gem newly restored by the 3-D Film Archive, September Storm is a CinemaScope Stereovision adventure that plunges the viewer into the depths of the Balearic Sea, off the coast of Spain. Mark Stevens stars as a treasure-hunter who convinces a yacht hand (Asher Dann) to take him and his cohort (Robert Strauss) on a quest for gold doubloons. They encounter many spectacles along the way: a violent storm, man-eating sharks, a deadly man o' war, but perhaps the most stunning sight of all is the bewitching model (Joanne Dru) who embarks on the journey with them. Director Bryan Haskin (The War of the Worlds, Robinson Crusoe on Mars) uses the 3-D camera to maximum effect, while hardboiled writer W.R. Burnett (The Asphalt Jungle, Little Caesar) injects the screenplay liberal doses of seduction and betrayal.
You've got to hand it to a studio and filmmakers for taking a well-intentioned final stab at a dying medium. By 1960, 3-D was on it's way out and was reserved only for large spectacle films. The cumbersome dual-strip filming and projection processes were just getting too costly for studios and theaters to maintain. Add in the distraction of television keeping folks away from theater screens and the introduction of widescreen - 3-D was getting clobbered. Director Byron Haskin and producer Edward L. Alperson tried giving audiences something new and exciting - an exotic location film in 3-D and CinemaScope with 'September Storm.' Starring Joanne Dru, Mark Stevens, Asher Dann, and Robert Strauss, what would have been a stereotypical "Beach" movie becomes a fun and lively adventure film with a solid cast and impressive visuals make up for some story shortcomings.
It was just supposed to be a simple and relaxing vacation for international model Anne Traymore (Joanne Dru). While swimming in Mallorca, Spain she befriends the young and handsome Manuel (Asher Dann). After taking Anne on a scuba diving trip, the pair of burgeoning lovers is approached by two men, Joe Balfour (Mark Stevens) and his cohort Ernie (Robert Strauss) with a deal that's too good to pass up. They want to charter Manuel's boat and take it to a remote part of the Mediterranean to recover a sunken cargo of Spanish doubloons. With only a couple weeks to make the journey, recover the treasure, and return to Mallorca, the four-way alliance will be strained by sharks, an intense unseasonal storm, and betrayal.
'September Storm' has a bit of a rather sad history to it. It was the last dual-strip 3-D feature film produced in the 1950s before its 1960 premier. Added to that, it was the only Natural Vision 3-D film shot in Cinemascope. Added to that, it was the first 3-D film shot underwater and in color. For all of its achievements and standing in the history of stereoscopic filmmaking, the film disappeared from circulation and was considered "lost" for a long period of time. Thanks to 3-D Film Archive and 3-D Space, the film is back. As a means of experiencing a piece of history, 'September Storm' is a pretty unique offering. The underwater 3-D is particularly impressive. While 'Creature from the Black Lagoon' and it's sibling 'Return of the Creature' both featured underwater stereoscopic photography, their respective sense of depth and dimension was limited to the black and white film stock used. By shooting in color and in CinemaScope 'September Storm' offers up some truly beautiful underwater vistas with fish of various sizes teaming about the screen as our cast dons scuba gear and does some exploring.
While 'September Storm' may be an impressive technical achievement, the film itself is entertaining if at times rather bland. Scripted by the always dependable W.R. Burnett (of Scarface and The Great Escape fame), the film features a rather surprisingly tepid amount of tension. The setups for some deeper character interplay with the brash young Manuel who has a few secrets he'd like to keep, the beautiful Anne, Joe and Ernie's sordid history as well as the arrival of a rich Parisian (Jean-Pierre Kérien) whose presence threatens the entire salvage operation is terrific and makes for for a solid story. Unfortunately, the film plays things a bit too loose and surface. Characters end up becoming one note as they move from one beautiful location shot to the next - whether above water or below.
The film itself may not be the greatest story to reach the screen; it is a nice little travelogue jaunt that should please most genre fans. It thankfully doesn't go the route of the average "Beach" movie and become completely silly and trite like 'Catalina Caper' - which the plot does bear a fair resemblance, but it doesn't exactly "wow" either. It's a spectacle film. The story is merely in service of the vistas as the plot moves about the world and exposes the audience to beautiful locations. Byron Haskin is no slouch in the spectacle department as he previously directed films like 'Treasure Island,' 'The War of the Worlds,' and 'The Naked Jungle.' Aside from an impressive tropical storm scene, Haskin's technical abilities as a special effects wizard don't have much to work with in this little drama thriller. When the cast is playing against nature, fighting sharks, or each other, the film works beautifully. When it comes time to delve the depths of their characters, things get a little muddy.
All around 'September Storm' is a perfectly entertaining little flick. It doesn't demand much from the audience and on that note, it's a small success. It's a beautifully shot, decently acted little excursion with the added benefit of being shot in three-dimensions. I can see where this film may not be much to sneeze at for those viewers experiencing it in 2-D. Like a big-budget effects film, it's not the story but the visuals that make it worth watching. If you're not experiencing the full visual punch, you're missing a great deal of the fun. And 'September Storm' is a nice little bit of fun to be had.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'September Storm' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber with restoration work performed by 3-D Film Archive and 3-D Space. The film is pressed onto a Region Free BD-50 disc and comes packaged in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case. If you have a 3-D television, the disc automatically loads in 3D to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options. The film can also be viewed in 2D.
Because this film was feared lost and hasn't been seen in nearly 60 years, the original elements to 'September Storm' were entering the dreaded vinegar syndrome territory and deteriorating rapidly before 3-D Film Archive and 3-D Space got involved with the successful Kickstarter campaign to restore the film. For all of their efforts, 3-D Film Archive and 3-D Space have done a pretty terrific job restoring 'September Storm' with this 2.39:1 1080 transfer. In 2-D, the image displays many of the same pitfalls of other CinemaScope releases ranging from middling detail levels and softness issues. Perhaps with the 3-D photography in mind, the film has a tendency to avoid the troublesome issues dissolves have in CinemaScope by using fade-outs and fade-ins. Colors are bright and vivid at their best featuring healthy skin tones and bright and lush primaries. Black levels are deep and inky. Film grain is present and is only rarely noisy or intrusive. Where some of the age-related damage to the film rears its head is during some of the underwater shots. some of these sequences can look oddly darker than adjoining shots and the colors lose their richness. Details are also slightly diminished but are still appreciable during these moments. 3.5/5
In 3-D, 'September Storm' is pretty damn great. From the pop-out opening credits to the gorgeous establishing shots, the 3-D effects are in full force here. Depth and dimension are fantastic allowing for deep Z-axis depth with a few protruding foreground objects from time to time. The film feels more interested in taking the audience on a trip to unexplored areas. The underwater sequences when they're at their best are magnificent - specifically when our cast of characters are exploring the sunken ship and hauling up their gold doubloons. Like the 2-D presentation, the colors are rich and vivid with plenty or primary pop greatly helping the 3-D effect by allowing a little extra color separation. Even when the condition of the elements is at their worst, there is still an appreciable amount of depth to the screen. Occasionally there is a little bit of ghosting if a foreground object rests in the outside edges of the image, but that is only a small quibble and hardly an issue worth reporting. Otherwise, the 3-D presentation is free of crosstalk or other anomalies. Given the film's history and the original condition of the elements prior to restoration, this is a better than average transfer and one that fans of the film should be very happy with. 4/5
'September Storm' arrives with a solid English DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix. While the image elements may have had some issues, I'm pleased to report that the audio is in terrific shape. Dialogue comes through clean and clear throughout and is never at odds with the great score by Alperson and Kraushaar. Sound effects provide a nice amount of layering and atmosphere. It's especially notable when the cast is on the deck of the ship as the scenes feel like there is a lot of open space. Below decks, there was an attempt to provide a sort of cavernous echo that can make things sound tinny and off, but I've got a hunch this is by the intent of the filmmakers and not an artifact of the audio elements age or treatment. To that point, the track does have an amount of persistent hiss to it, but thankfully, the hiss doesn't overwhelm the mix or cause any serious distortions. All around a solid audio mix.
Asher Dann Interview: (2D/3D 15:05) September Storm was Dann's only leading role before moving onto some bit parts in TV and becoming the first band manager of The Doors. Dann shares some great memories of the film, how he got his start in the business, getting cast in the film basically because he knew how to play cards, and shooting on location.
Lewis Gilbert Interview: (2D SD 2:31) This is an unfortunately very brief interview with the legendary filmmaker conducted by Tony Sloman in 1995. He's got some great memories to share about shooting Harmony Lane under the name Byron Gill for UK distributors as a 3-D test film but it sat on shelves and was never actually shown in 3-D and the first time he saw it projected was with his son.
Theatrical Trailer: (2D SD 2:02)
TV Spot: (2D SD 1:02)
Whether you're a fan of 3-D films or not, they're a part of our cinematic heritage. Since the earliest tests in the 1920s, stereoscopic filmmaking has afforded audiences the opportunity to see films that leap off the screen. While the format certainly has had some fits and starts to it with many highs and long lulls, 3-D never truly went away. As modern blockbusters flood 3-D screens, it's important to take a look back at the classics, the trailblazers who paved the way for what we enjoy today. 'September Storm' may have been made at the tail end of an era but the film is an important piece of history none the less. Thanks to 3-D Film Archive, 3-D Space, and their releasing partner Kino Lorber, this film gets to breathe new life outside of a film storage can. The film itself may amount to being a well-produced and exotic "beach" movie, but the fun cast and the terrific 3-D visuals and underwater sequences make the price of admission worth it. Considering this film hasn't been seen in nearly 60 years, the quality of the image restoration is impressive and a real joy in 3-D. Audio is also on track and the assortment of bonus features assembled including some vintage 3-D shorts round out a pretty terrific package. If you're a vintage 3-D fan, it's easy to call this release recommended.