Kino’s release of The Diamond Wizard, boasting a new 3D restoration by the 3-D Film Archive, is a treasure of a release. A Golden Age-era 3D film that was never actually available to the general public in 3D until now, this disc offers a unique chance for fans of the format to witness the film the way its makers intended.
The Production: 3.5/5
The Diamond Wizard (credited onscreen for this release under its original UK title, The Diamond) is perhaps more notable for its status as Britain’s first film shot in 3D than it is for its exploration of the film noir genre. While there’s nothing groundbreaking about its blend of detective traits with a hint of Cold War-era sci-fi, it entertains as it accomplishes what it sets out to do. It’s the little treasures like these that are often most enjoyable to discover today because they come with a workmanlike devotion to craft and a desire to entertain that remains admirable. Going into production towards the end of the 1950s 3D craze, by the time the film was scheduled for release, its distributor United Artists had lost faith in stereoscopic exhibition and booked the film exclusively in 2D. Shown only a handful of times in 3D, each of those bookings more than half a century after its original release, this new presentation finally allows for the film to be seen as its creators intended.
With directing duties shared by veteran b-movie helmer Montgomery Tully and star Dennis O’Keefe, and based on a novel by Maurice Procter, the film begins as a sort of crime procedural, with scenes of forensic analysis that wouldn’t feel out of place on a modern CSI episode. American Treasury Agent Joe Dennison (O’Keefe) is in London investigating a heist involving newly minted dollars. Before long, he and Scotland Yard Inspector McClaren (Philip Friend) begin to wonder if the disappearance of a prominent atomic scientist might be related to the heist. In questioning the scientist’s daughter Marline (Margaret Sheridan), they discover that the missing scientist had perfected a method for creating synthetic diamonds, which may mean his disappearance could be part of a larger plot. As the film progresses, the tone begins to shift from one of mystery and fact-finding to a more paint-by-numbers series of action beats to recover the scientist before his kidnappers can compel him to participate in their dastardly plan.
Perhaps surprisingly, the first half of the film, with its slow burn and mix of technical fact-finding, atomic age intrigue, and post-war paranoia is more interesting than the film’s chase-oriented second half. The film begins with a vibe that is reminiscent of Hitchcock’s British-era output, and the lead trio of performances by O’Keefe, Friend and Sheridan are inviting. It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with the latter part; it’s simply a matter of the resolution of the mystery being less inventive than the setup, not an uncommon occurrence with this type of film. There’s a lot of quiet intrigue at the start, and a lot of running at the finish, and it does seem odd that the film seems to move when its characters are not, but slows down just as its characters speed up. Still, with a running time under an hour and a half, even when the film does settle upon a more predictable path, it never overstays its welcome.
3D Rating: 5/5
The Diamond Wizard is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.65:1, a rarer ratio used sparingly in Britain during the transition to widescreen. The black and white cinematography is reproduced well on Kino Lorber’s disc, courtesy of a new restoration by the 3-D Film Archive. While the image isn’t completely pristine, the occasional blemish or scratch is in no way detrimental to the film’s presentation. (Frankly, the film’s immersive 3D qualities overshadowed any minor quibbles; I only really noticed those imperfections while checking the included 2D version. If I had gone to a repertory theater to view this movie and was shown a 35mm print that looks as the disc does, I would have been completely satisfied with that presentation and called it above-average.)
Some 3D films take a more overt approach, using exaggerated parallax and pop-outs to scream at the viewer, “THIS IS IN 3D!!!” Other films focus more on subtle uses of depth within the frame, not to shout at the viewer, but to invite them in to the film as a participant. Though The Diamond Wizard does offer a good amount of pop-outs (always motivated by the story), where it really shines is in its use of layering within the frame to create a sense of depth, as though one is watching the action unfold in front of their eyes. More than many other films of the era, in every single scene I felt aware of the size of the room the characters were standing in, how their positions related to each other, how they moved through that space. (The only other time I recall truly feeling that I was in the room with the cast in the same way was viewing Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder.)
One example of its suburb 3D design: there is a sequence where O’Keefe’s character stands in a living room, while Sheridan’s is in an adjacent bedroom, changing her outfit. We can see O’Keefe standing in the foreground, and in the background, we can see the open door to the next room, appearing deeper within the frame. Still deeper is the mirror inside that next room, and when Sheridan’s reflection is caught in that mirror, it is even deeper still. A lot of 3D films spend most of their time with very little layering; a foreground and a background, but not much gradation between them. But here, there are no less than four distinct layers within that shot creating not a subtle illusion of depth but the feeling of actually sharing the space with the cast.
Another example: in a sequence set in a bar, the filmmakers use the natural shape of the furniture and placings of the cast to make the room come to life. The closest section of the bar appears close enough to touch, with the bartender’s position adding to the feeling of depth. The way the bar then angles towards the back of the room gives perspective to the shape and size of the space, and the windows and doorways behind the bar further enhance this feeling.
While these are some of the most obvious uses of this technique in the film, pay attention to any time there is a window shown in a room: the exteriors glimpsed through those windows add yet another layer to each scene, making each environment feel real and lived in.
Perhaps this is why I found the first half of the film to be more compelling than the second half; where many films wait for their big action sequences to turn up the 3D, the filmmakers here instead use it most effectively during the more intrigue-filled earlier moments, inviting us to join the detectives as they try to solve their mystery. Perhaps it is also not a coincidence that this film was co-directed by its leading man; the way the 3D space is used in the film makes me feel as O’Keefe must have as he walked through each room.
For viewers not equipped with 3D televisions or projectors, the disc also includes a 2D version of the film, as well as a newly created anaglyphic 3D version and a pair of red/blue glasses. While the scores on this review pertain specifically to the 3D polarized version, the 2D version is of equal quality. The anaglyphic version is of better quality of ancient anaglyphic transfers of other films that 3D fans might remember from decades past.
The film’s original monaural audio is presented via the lossless DTS-HD MA codec, with a sound design that is typical of the era. Dialogue remains in the foreground, never lost amongst the sound effects in the later sequences or the score by Matyas Seiber. Though the track sounds mostly clear, there are occasions with slight traces of hiss and sibilance. I did not find these moments to be objectionable, and I would always prefer a track that retains the quality of its analog origins over one that has been digitally scrubbed to the point where the characteristics of the recording are lost.
Special Features: 4/5
Alternate Opening (01:51) – An alternate title sequence prepared for U.S. distribution is presented here in 2D only (a helpful note indicates that since the 3D release was abandoned by the time these titles were created, they were only done in 2D). The film is retitled “The Diamond Wizard” on this version of the titles, and Dennis O’Keefe receives sole director credit here.
Audio Commentary with Mike Ballew (11:43) – Rather than being a feature-length audio commentary, this is actually an audio essay containing Ballew’s well-researched and insightful narration about the production played over a series of rare stills, newspaper clippings, and excerpts from the film. Ballew, who is literally writing the book on classic 3D, knows the material well and has a pleasant delivery, making his contributions here an essential companion to the film. This is available on the disc in 2D, polarized 3D and anaglyphic 3D versions.
Restoring “The Diamond Wizard” in 3-Dimensions (02:57) – This brief demonstration reel shows the difference between the raw scans of the film elements side by side with the finished restoration. This is available on the disc in 2D polarized 3D and anaglyphic 3D versions, though it is best viewed in 3D in order to appreciate the fixes made to correct stereoscopic errors.
Theatrical Trailer (01:38) – Presented in 2D, the original trailer emphasizes the film’s noir elements and more action-oriented conclusion.
Kino’s release of The Diamond Wizard, boasting a new 3D restoration by the 3-D Film Archive, is a treasure of a release. A Golden Age-era 3D film that was never actually available to the general public in 3D until now, this disc offers a unique chance for fans of the format to witness the film the way its makers intended. Viewed in 2D, the film is an entertaining if forgettable piece of budget British filmmaking, but seen in 3D, the care its makers put into elevating rather than exploiting the process becomes apparent. That such a release is even possible in an era of declining physical media sales, and at a time when 3D equipment for home viewing is no longer readily available, qualifies as a minor miracle. It’s cause for celebration anytime a film created in a unique process (whether that be 3D or Cinerama or two-color Technicolor or any other rare format) is unearthed and made available. The Diamond Wizard in 3D reveals subtle advancements in how filmmakers, finally getting used to working with the process, were able to push the visual language of the medium beyond simple pop-outs into something more complex and thoughtful. While it is a shame that the team behind this film never had the chance to show it to the public in 3D, Kino has righted that historical wrong with this disc. Kino and the 3-D Film Archive should also be commended for including an anaglyphic 3D version and a standard 2D version, making this disc accessible to all regardless of what equipment one has. A small but thoughtful array of bonus features offers historical and technical context to those who are interested in learning the story behind the film’s production and original release. Highly recommended!
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