Lesley Selander’s Dragonfly Squadron was completed in late 1953 and slated for a 3-D release in early 1954. Unfortunately, in part due to poor or careless screenings on the part of theater owners across the country, the 3-D craze was fading and the movie was released flat. The 3-D Film Archive has located and preserved the film from the original negatives, and it looks fantastic.
“We faced many unique challenges in restoring this lost stereoscopic feature, including the deterioration of important 35mm elements. We rescued it just in time,” says 3-D Film Archive founder and director Bob Furmanek. “The original stereoscopic alignment issues have now been corrected and the 3-D presentation is flawless. Sixty years later, we can finally see it as the filmmakers originally intended.”
Having seen the restored version of Dragonfly Squadron on the 3-D Blu-ray, which is now available, I can unequivocally concur with Mr. Furmanek. I have never considered myself a fan of 3-D movies, but it was only after watching Squadron in its original format that I realized I’d actually never seen a vintage 3-D movie before, period. Or one offered with this much care – the 3-D version of The Wizard of Oz, which I enjoyed, doesn’t count since the movie wasn’t originally made in 3-D. Subtract the Oz magic to the added 3-D elements and I have to say Squadron looks better. I’ll add that I went to a screening of The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3-D, but in comparison it was an abomination since it was screened using that red/green process, anaglyph (thanks to Jack Theakston for giving me the name), which is just awful.
Anyway, there’s nothing gimmicky about the 3-D in Dragonfly Squadron. No one ever stops what they’re doing to fling stuff at the camera. Instead the restoration allows for natural depth to shine through, adding to the drama, as in real life. The exterior shots are particularly stunning and the 3-D alignment is flawless. I am duly impressed. The print is not rid of imperfections completely, or “scrubbed clean” as Bob referred to it, which to me adds to the charm of classics in the first place. A tiny bit of grain here and there makes it look more like film.
I had the opportunity to ask Furmanek why Dragonfly Squadron was chosen for restoration. I’d never even heard of the movie before. His answer: “it deserves it.” Unfortunately, as he stated, so do about 45 other movies that–just like it–were made in 3-D during 1953-1954, but were released in flat versions instead and have subsequently been ignored. Bob and his partners – Greg Kintz and Jack Theakston – were able to get their hands on Squadron, leaving the others caught up in studios that don’t care if they’re ever seen again…or, at least, certainly not in their original state. It’s infuriating, if you ask me. Particularly after seeing how great this movie looks in this release, which was accomplished at a fraction of what it cost Universal to restore The Creature from the Black Lagoon, as an example. And the fact that the studios care not to restore these films only makes this release that much more significant. By the way, on its website, the 3-D Film Archive offers a historical perspective of why the release of this and other films were changed to flat as well as full details of the restoration of Dragonfly Squadron. It’s worth a look.
I should probably mention that aside from the 3-D restoration, which as I mentioned in itself makes this a “must,” Dragonfly Squadron is a decent movie with a great cast that includes John Hodiak, Barbara Britton, Bruce Bennett, Jess Barker, Gerald Mohr, Chuck Connors and Benson Fong, along with a host of other familiar faces. The story is about Air Force Major Matthew Brady (Hodiak), who’s assigned to train a squadron of South Korean pilots in half the time actually needed. While at the air base in Korea–oh yeah, this takes place during the Korean War (unusual as it was actually during the Korean War that the film was made and released)–Brady runs into a former lover (Britton) who is the wife of an Army doctor (Bennett) previously thought dead. The romantic triangle adds to the drama as the dangers of war close in on the base, until enemy forces invade and most of the Americans are evacuated. All except Brady, who stays behind with the barely trained South Korean troops.
The Dragonfly Squadron Blu-ray, distributed by Olive Films, includes both 3-D and 2-D versions of the film as well as the original theatrical trailer (The DVD version, unfortunately is 2-D only). You’d do yourself a favor to take a look at it. Hopefully its success will open the door for other classic titles to be brought back to life before it’s too late.
Aurora is a classic film fan and blogger. By day she works in higher ed. administration and teaches mass media. By night she watches movies. You can read more about what she watches at Once Upon a Screen.