The Great Allied Artists Aspect Ratio Mystery has been solved!
When Allied Artists announced their nearly two month old widescreen policy to the trades on July 3, 1953, they did not specify a house ratio. It wasn't until four months later - on November 17 - that 1.85 was indicated. For that reason, we assumed that 1.85 had been their chosen ratio from day one.
That's not the case.
We are currently working on the restoration of DRAGONFLY SQUADRON in preparation for 3-D Blu-ray release through Olive Films this summer. It began shooting on August 12 so we matted the film to 1.85. We found the compositions were VERY tight and one of the credit cards was clipped.
After that discovery, I've looked at nearly every Allied Artists production from May through November of 1953.
Starting with THE ROYAL AFRICAN RIFLES which rolled on May 7, I can now confirm that 1.66 was their initial widescreen ratio. It appears that AA first composed for 1.85 starting September 17 with their Technicolor production, ARROW IN THE DUST.
Unfortunately, many of these films were released in the early months of 1954 before the trades began listing aspect ratios so visual evidence is our only source.
Here is a series of medium and close-up images from an old open-matte, full frame transfer of RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11. I've done a center crop utilizing an SMPTE RP 40 test loop. During scenes of movement, the cameraman is constantly tilting to keep the actors in frame for widescreen. The first close-up is from the opening 2-1/2 minutes of 1.37 stock footage.
Click to enlarge.
The final piece of visual evidence is a frame just before a reel change. Notice the changeover cue in the top right corner? It's placed perfectly in line with the top of the 1.66 image.