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Todd-AO & Cinerama in Ireland

Read more at
in70mm.com
The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Brian Guckian, Dublin, Ireland Date: 01.07.2010. Updated 12.03.2014
The former Adelphi Cinema, Middle Abbey St., Dublin. Opened in 1939, it survived until 1995 when the adjacent department store acquired the building and unfortunately gutted the interior to make way for a car park. A Dublin LUAS tram passes the retained art deco façade on 8th May 2010. 35mm image by Brian Guckian.

“Breath-taking Todd-AO” debuted in Ireland on 26th December 1958 at the Adelphi Cinema, Dublin with "South Pacific" and "The Miracle of Todd-AO". At the time the cinema was one of the biggest in the city, with over 2000 seats.

New 35mm Ross projectors were to be installed at the cinema and had arrived on site, until there was a sudden decision to proceed with the new Todd-AO format instead, and the projectors were never unpacked. In their place, to the benefit of Dublin cinema audiences, two brand new Philips DP70 projectors were installed.

"South Pacific" and "The Miracle of Todd-AO" had a successful run of nine weeks, although the reaction of the Cinema Correspondent of The Irish Times to the Rodgers & Hammerstein extravaganza was muted:

Unfortunately "South Pacific"...is considerably more shallow than the new system

and

I feel...that its slight and charming story has been blown up too much to fill in two hours

He was however more enthusiastic about the new widescreen process:

Undoubtedly, Todd-AO gives greater depth of vision

and

I recommend the short and admirable trailer film...which shows better than I can describe in writing its exceptional capacities
 
More in 70mm reading:

Tuairisc Todd-AO agus Cinerama in Éirinn

70mm In the Emerald Isle

65/70mm Workshop

Internet link:

 
South Pacific as advertised in the Dublin evening newspaper the Evening Press on 12th December 1958. An advance charity premiere had been held at the Adelphi the night before. Courtesy National Library of Ireland

The arrival of Mike Todd and The American Optical Company’s innovative production and exhibition process was timely – in November 1958, Edward A. Grace, Secretary of Irish Cinemas Ltd., had warned:

every new television set purchased [means] 100 less cinema attendances a year

Initially The Adelphi enjoyed a position as the sole venue specifically for Todd-AO in Ireland, until later installations of single-strip 70mm Cinerama, and facilities to screen Super Panavision 70 productions, in other cinemas. Todd-AO titles were subsequently screened for example at the Dublin Cinerama Theatre (below), which hosted a record-breaking 91 week run of “The Sound of Music” from 21st May 1966 to 15th February 1968, and at the Ambassador Cinema (“Doctor Dolittle” from 22nd December 1967 to 8th February 1968) [1].

An interesting practice at The Adelphi in its initial Todd-AO period was the swapping of lamphouses for 35mm and 70mm features, to accommodate the different illumination requirements of each format. For 35mm, Peerless Magnarc lamphouses were employed, these being exchanged for larger Mole Richardson models for 70mm runs. Later this arrangement was obviated when Strong Futura dual-purpose lamphouses were installed.

70mm operation at the Adelphi followed typical procedure, with 2 Projectionists on duty at all times, sometimes 3, and with one machine initially set up for 70mm and the other for 35mm, the latter being converted to 70mm while the first reel of the feature was being screened.

One of the cinema’s biggest 70mm successes was the screening of the blow-up version of "Gone With the Wind" in 1968, following which the cinema was sub-divided in line with the trend of the time.
 
 
The renovated frontage of the former Dublin Cinerama Theatre, Talbot St. Dublin, on 8th May 2010. The auditorium (now demolished) was located parallel to the street rather than at right angles to it. This formerly run-down area of the city has undergone dramatic improvements in recent years. 35mm image by Brian Guckian.

The next relevant widescreen cinema development in Ireland was the introduction of Cinerama in 1963 at the New Electric Theatre, in Dublin’s Talbot St. The cinema was re-named the Dublin Cinerama Theatre for the occasion and opened on Easter Sunday, 14th April with a charity premiere of This Is Cinerama. The next day the Irish Independent, in a report entitled SPECTACULAR CINERAMA IS HERE, recorded that the event was presided over by the Lord Mayor, with the Managing Director of Cinerama, Inc., Britain and Ireland, Mr. P. Spellman, and exhibitor Mr. H. (Bertie) McNally in attendance. The Cinerama conversion had taken six weeks and the newspaper stated that:

it will be the only cinema in Ireland where Cinerama will be shown

The immersive effect of the three-strip presentation was also noted:

[a] sensation of dizziness...was very evident

and the marketing effort was in full swing the following day with a large block advertisement on page 5 of the same paper.
 
 
Newspaper ad for Cinerama at the Dublin Cinerama Theatre, 1963. Reproduced by kind permission of Roland Lataille

By July, the cinema was running "Seven Wonders of the World", billed as “The Second Great Cinerama Attraction”, and this engagement continued into November 1963, with patrons informed “6th month, must finish shortly”.

"South Seas Adventure" was playing from January 1964, and "Search for Paradise" by May 1964. Later that month the cinema advertised:

Coming Friday 12th June: The first story to be told in Cinerama: “HOW THE WEST WAS WON” with 24 leading stars, 3 top directors, and a cast of thousands. Booking will open June 5th

"How the West Was Won" ran for over seven months, until 21st January 1965. There then followed a run of "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" until 23rd May 1965.

The venue may have boasted that it was “The only theatre In Ireland that can and will show Cinerama”, but notwithstanding the success of engagements like How the West Was Won and others, its 3-strip Cinerama period was regrettably short lived, being converted to single-strip Cinerama over 24th – 27th May 1965. The cinema re-opened with the Stanley Kramer production "It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World" on 28th May 1965. Interestingly, the re-fit was billed as “the installing of the latest ultra Cinerama equipment” – no doubt an allusion to the associated Ultra Panavision 70 process.

The cinema was re-named the Superama Theatre in 1968 before succumbing to closure a few years later in 1974.
 
 
Plaza Cinerama Theatre interior. Opened on 28th September 1967, it closed on 2nd July 1981. Courtesy Mike Taylor / PPT Northwest Collection / International Cinerama Society

1967 saw the opening of another late single-strip Cinerama venue, the Plaza Cinerama Theatre, located a short distance north of Dublin’s main thoroughfare O’Connell St. This was a substantial interior and exterior conversion of the existing Plaza Cinema on the site, and like much 1960s architecture was re-built to an unattractive modernist design. However the bare exterior was relieved somewhat by the giant Cinerama sign on the façade.
 
 
Article on the single-strip Plaza Cinerama Theatre from Ideal Kine (supplement to Kinematograph Weekly), 9th September 1967. Courtesy Mike Taylor / PPT Northwest Collection / International Cinerama Society

Click image to see enlargement

The first single-strip Cinerama title shown after re-building was "Grand Prix" and the author recalls being taken there to see a re-issue of "2001: A Space Odyssey" around 1978. Regrettably the cinema closed in 1981 and was converted into a wax museum attraction before eventual demolition in 2005 to make way for a hotel.
 
 
Ireland’s “Premier Hall”, the Savoy, on O’Connell St. Dublin. This fine building opened on 29th November 1929 to a design by the London cinema architect Frederick Charles Mitchell and is of steel frame construction with a classical façade of granite and Portland stone. The original seating capacity was approximately 2800. Regrettably the cinema has not shown 70mm in many years but retains the capability to do so. 35mm image by Brian Guckian.

Dublin’s long-time premier cinema, the Savoy on O’Connell St., did not apparently start showing 70mm until it was twinned in 1969 [2], having already introduced CinemaScope to Ireland in 1954.
 
 
Interior of the Savoy Cinema (main auditorium) on 30th September 2008. 35mm image by Brian Guckian.

 
 
Cinemeccanica Victoria 8 35/70mm projector with 4.5KW Christie SLH Xenolite lamphouse, Savoy Cinema. 30th September 2008. 35mm image by Brian Guckian.

Operated at the time by the UK Rank Organisation, dual-gauge RK60 (re-badged Cinemeccanica Victoria 8) projectors were installed and the cinema re-opened after twinning with "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (Ultra Panavision 70).
 
 
The former Ambassador Cinema at the top of Dublin’s O’Connell St., located in the historic Rotunda building which also houses the city’s famous Gate Theatre. The cinema opened early on, around 1910 (the Ambassador name was acquired in 1954) and closed in 1988. It re-opened again in 1994, but shut its doors for the last time in September 1999 and is now used for exhibitions after a period as a concert venue. 35mm image by Brian Guckian.

In the blow-up era of the late 1960s to mid-1990s, other Dublin cinemas that screened 70mm prints were the Ambassador (at the top of O’Connell St.) and the State (in the nearby suburb of Phibsborough, north of the city centre). Both are now closed.
 
 
Newspaper ad from 3rd September 1993 for special 70mm show organised by the Irish Film Centre (now Irish Film Institute) at the Point Theatre, Dublin (now The O2). Reproduced by kind permission of The Irish Times

Click image to see enlargement

The arrival of the modern multiplex into Ireland with UCI Cinemas in 1990 featured 70mm capability (a Cinemeccanica Victoria 8) in their Tallaght complex located in the south-west suburbs of Dublin (also recently closed). This was used primarily for the 1992 Irish premiere and theatrical run of "Far and Away" and the projector was later removed and replaced by a 35mm-only machine.

A noteworthy event around this period was the holding in September 1993 of a 70mm Festival at Dublin’s major concert venue, The Point Theatre (now The O2). This was organised by the Irish Film Centre / Irish Film Institute and featured 65mm titles such as "Playtime" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" as well as blow-ups of "Die Hard", "ET: The Extra-Terrestrial" and "The Little Shop of Horrors" (1986).

The necessary projection and associated equipment was installed by the specialist London firm Projection & Display Services Ltd., as large-scale shows of this kind in Ireland have historically required imported equipment.
 
 
DP70 projector at the Irish Film Institute. Image by Thomas Hauerslev

As in other countries, 70mm presentation largely ended towards the mid-1990s, but was revived again, also by the Irish Film Institute, at their Eustace St. premises in 2001 with the acquisition of two DP70s from the former Curzon Shaftesbury Avenue cinema in London. One machine was installed in their Screen 1, where it is used to this day (most recently for a free screening of "2001: A Space Odyssey" as part of their annual Open Day, as well as a special screening of French 65mm art film "8 June 1968" by Philippe Parreno). The sister machine has been retained for spares.

It is not known if 70mm was screened in other Irish cities. The most likely contender, the southern city of Cork, does not appear to have had any 70mm cinemas, but information is difficult to come by.
 
 

Acknowledgements

 
Thanks to Anthony Foran, former Chief Projectionist, Adelphi Cinema, Dublin for his invaluable assistance, and to Mike Taylor, Roland Lataille and The Irish Times
 
 

Sources

 
The Evening Press
The Irish Independent
The Irish Times
The History of Dublin Cinemas, Marc Zimmermann, Nonsuch Publishing 2007
 
 

Corrections to original article 10.3.2014

 
1. The original article stated:
The Adelphi appears to have enjoyed a position as the sole venue specifically for Todd-AO in Ireland, notwithstanding later installations of single-strip 70mm Cinerama, and facilities to screen Super Panavision 70 productions, in other cinemas.
Thanks to Barry Monush for highlighting this error and prompting further research by the author. Exact dates for the run of “The Sound of Music” at the Dublin Cinerama Theatre, from primary sources:
Friday May 20, 1966 (Gala Charity Premiere)
Saturday May 21, 1966 (First day of run; replacing “The Greatest Story Ever Told”)
Thursday February 15, 1968 (Last day of run; followed by “Khartoum”)
This turned out to be the longest run for any film in Ireland at the time, and advertising towards the end of the run stated that "Over half a million people have seen it again and again!"

2. The article originally had the year as 1968; thanks to John Doyle for the correction
 
 
   
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