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CEASE FIRE! WAR IN 3-D

Cease Fire! (1954) is a genuine curio for a number of reasons. It was made entirely in Korea, using real-life soldiers instead of actors, and filmed in 3-D. Out of circulation for more than forty years, it remains a rare title, especially for a Hal Wallis production released by Paramount.

Directed by Hollywood veteran Owen Crump and scripted by Walter Doniger, it depicts an ordinary day for a U.S. Army patrol in Korea. Rumor has it that a truce is about to be signed but in the meantime, these soldiers (including one black G.I. and a Chinese-speaking private) continue risking their lives while conducting business as usual.

At times one is painfully aware that the “actors” on screen are amateurs. The situations they face are drawn from real life—like having to walk along a pathway strewn with land mines—and are much more compelling than the dialogue or their delivery of it. We get a hint of their individual personalities but they aren’t fleshed out as they would be in a conventional movie. (The cast members don’t even receive screen credit. One of them left the production to return to active duty and died soon afterward on Pork Chop Hill.)

What’s more, the bulkiness of the twin 3-D cameras may have hampered the director’s ability to make action scenes as vivid as they should have been. (It could also be that Crump didn’t have the skill to pull off this project; he was never an inspired filmmaker.)

There is nothing distinctive about the Korean landscape, but it’s obvious that the explosions we see are real and not Hollywood pyrotechnics. And the years haven’t dimmed the excitement of watching fighter jets taking off from an aircraft carrier on a crucial bombing raid. Other scenes of conversation involving officers and war correspondents are embarrassingly stiff.

All of which adds up to the description I used earlier. This is a curio, a one-of-a-kind experiment that is more notable for its superior use of 3-D than for its content. From the opening shot of a cannon poking out of the frame into the audience space to the compositions with trees, brush, and even a car door in the foreground of shots, Cease Fire! makes better use of the process than most big-budgeted movies I’ve seen in recent years.

Like almost all 1953 productions in the new stereoscopic process, Cease Fire! is blessedly short (85 minutes) because it was screened with dual projectors so typical reel changeovers were not possible. The only solution was to have an intermission and load up the remaining 40-odd minutes of film.

Another major asset is Dimitri Tiomkin’s score, which makes effective use of a song called “Brothers in Arms” (lyrics by Ned Washington), sung in hushed tones by a male choir at several junctures. It offered no competition for the same writers’ theme from High Noon but adds an emotional undercurrent to a film that goes out of its way to avoid melodrama and Hollywood clichés.

Cease Fire! received many rave reviews when it opened. After its initial engagements producer Wallis filmed an introduction by General Mark Clark that opens the film on a properly serious and respectful note.

The restoration of this rarely-seen feature is the latest endeavor of the 3D Film Archive and is now available in a great-looking Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. You can also read Ted Okuda’s essay about the making and release of the film—which is just as interesting as the picture itself—by clicking HERE.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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