Hamburg’s Cinema Jewel, the Savoy, Has Reopened
Europe’s first Todd-AO cinema
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The 70mm Newsletter
|Written by: Gerhard Witte, Berlin,
cinema entrepreneur Hans-Joachim Flebbe reopened the Savoy-Filmtheater on
June 19, 2013, as a reborn luxury cinema in the tradition of his "Astor Film
In 1957, a new kind of theatre experience was emerging in Europe. The
successful Todd-AO process defined new standards for cinema design with
large format 70mm film and big curved screen. The very first purpose built
cinema for Todd-AO was the Savoy-Filmtheater in Hamburg, Germany. March 14,
1957 marked the opening date of this grand cinema. Nearly 60 years later and
despite several closures, and near-threats of demolition, this cinema, still
exists. And now more beautiful than ever. Thanks to German cinema
entrepreneur Hans-Joachim Flebbe, the Savoy reopened on June 19, 2013, as a
Premium Movie Theater.
In this article Gerhard Witte takes you to Hamburg where he witnessed the
grand reopening. Finally, Gerhard will also take you back in time when
cinema going at the Savoy-Filmtheater was in70mm, the screen was curved and
the sound was 6-track and magnetic. Thomas Hauerslev, editor
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Hamburgs Kinojuwel, das Savoy, ist
Image Gallery: Hamburg’s Savoy, has
Howard Terpning and
Joseph L. Mankiewicz's “CLEOPATRA“
Howard Terpning und
Joseph L. Mankiewicz's “CLEOPATRA“
Delphi Filmpalast am Zoo
The Grindel Filmtheater
The "Savoy" in Hamburg
3D in the mid 60s in
Europe with Hi-Fi Stereo 70
3D IMAX 70mm today
The Shoes Of The Fisherman
The Saviour of the Savoy-Filmtheater Hans-Joachim
A brief look at his career
Flebbe in his Berlin Astor Film Lounge, refashioned into Germany`s first
Premium Movie Theatre, opened December 2008. Image courtesy of Benjamin
Pritzkuleit (photographer) and www.tip-berlin.de.
Hans-Joachim Flebbe, who was born in Hanover in 1951, is an enthusiastic
cinema entrepreneur. He began his career in 1973 as programme manager at the
Apollo Cinema – one of the oldest (1908) surviving cinemas in northern
Germany and one of the first repertory cinemas in Germany. During that time,
when he was a member of the film club at Hanover University, he simply asked
the cinema owner at the box office whether his film recommendations would be
Subsequently, he made a success of the "Kino am Raschplatz" (three screens),
which had opened in September 1977, with his inventive management, and that
was also the place where he laid the foundations for his subsequent CinemaxX
Company. It quickly got around by word of mouth that you could take
marvellous cinematic journeys of discovery at this cinema. Mr Flebbe earned
an "Outstanding Annual Programme" award for his efforts from the Ministry of
the Interior. With further partners coming on board, such as the Concorde-Filmverleih
(Herbert Kloiber), the so-called "Flebbe Group" emerged, which took over
numerous further traditional cinemas in Hamburg (e.g. "Holi"), Braunschweig,
Berlin, Göttingen and in Bielefeld in subsequent years. In 1988, the
"Passage Kino" in Hamburg and the "Filmpalast Berlin" in Berlin were added
to their number.
In collaboration with two other media entrepreneurs (Rolf Deyhle / Bodo
Scriba), Hans-Joachim Flebbe founded the CinemaxX Company in 1989.
Hanover is the birthplace of CinemaxX movie theatres. The first CinemaxX
multiplex opened there on 8 March 1991 in Nikolaistraße with 10 screens. By
the very next year it had become, commercially, the most successful cinema
in Germany, followed by CinemaxX Essen, which opened its doors in December
1991. According to the sum of seats it is Germany’s largest multiplex venue
(16 screens) with 5152 seats in total.
Around that time, the CinemaxX head office was moved from Hanover to
Hamburg. The company was floated on the stock market in July 1998. Now
renamed CinemaxX AG, it was the first German cinema company to be registered
at the Official Market.
At this time, the CinemaxX AG owned 38 cinemas (therefrom 14 multiplexes)
with 179 screens with around 48 000 seats in Germany and thus was the second
largest cinema company behind the Ufa Theater GmbH & Co KG. There existed
ambitious expansion plans with the aim of owning all in all 30 big cinemas
(multiplexes) with around 420 screens until the turn of the century. Also
abroad, in Denmark (Aarhus, Copenhagen, Odense), in Austria (Salzburg), in
Switzerland (Lucerne) and in Turkey (Ankara) new venues were being planned
in the following years (source: Berliner Tagesspiegel from 21.07.1998).
In April 2000, Hans-Joachim Flebbe bought a 10 per cent stake in the
Düsseldorf company Ufa Theater GmbH & Co KG (Volker Riech), took over the
operational management of all the Ufa cinemas and thus became the de facto
Managing Director of the ailing UFA group. A merger was planned for the
medium term – Ufa Theater GmbH / CinemaxX AG as a joint enterprise with over
620 cinemas. But this plan failed in the autumn of 2001.
Additional information you can obtain at the
and Television Museum
Locations of Astor Film Lounges:
Locations of CinemaxX Multiplexes:
Savoy opening Sat 1
Savoy opening NDR
imposing as ever: the huge curtain, which also takes you back to the era of
the famous Todd-AO cinema – 70 mm: Bigger than Life.
After 2001, the last year during which the industry was still just
profitable, there was a decline in the entire German cinema industry, partly
caused by a dearth of films with mass appeal and the resulting fall in
audience numbers. The market was virtually oversaturated with cinema
screens, and rents were going up all the time. In addition they must compete
with increasing in-home theater services. CinemaxX AG had to conduct a
country-wide restructuring programme. Some cinemas and also projects,
particularly outside Germany (apart from Denmark), were sold off.
After differences about the direction and the structure of the future
CinemaxX company, Mr Flebbe resigned as Managing Director in May 2008. Then,
Germany’s former `cinema king´ reinvented himself and founded Premium
Entertainment based in Hamburg, in collaboration with some investors.
What followed was and remains a new era for the German cinematic experience
under the key term of "lounging", which involves the opening of individual
luxury-class cinemas. Venues with a congenial atmosphere, well appointed,
with valet parking, door staff, adjustable king-size leather seats, waiter
service and welcome drinks – no nachos (Tortilla-Chips) or popcorn in sight.
In 2008, Mr Flebbe took over the listed "Filmtheater Berlin" on Berlin’s
Kurfürstendamm and refashioned it into Germany’s first Premium Movie Theatre
under the name
"Astor Film Lounge".
And his concept seems to be successful. Further luxury cinemas opened under
the "Astor Film Lounge" brand in Munich (in the hotel Bayerischer Hof), in
Frankfurt on the Main (in the former IMAX cinema in the Zeilgalerie) and in
Cologne (in the long-established Residenz cinema).
Mr Flebbe has also taken over the famous Zoo-Palast on Breitscheidplatz in
Berlin, in part a listed building, and is currently having it refurbished at
the cost of some 4.5 million euros.
He said: "I would love Liselotte Pulver to attend the reopening" –
recapturing a little of the atmosphere of the cinema’s grand opening with
her presence on 28 May 1957 with Helmut Käutner`s film "Getting Engaged
in Zurich" (UK) – "The Affairs of Julie" (USA) - original German
title: "Die Zürcher Verlobung" (FRG, 1957).
I am happy that Hans-Joachim Flebbe is now also giving the Savoy-Filmtheater
in Hamburg a chance of survival. Many thanks to the building’s owner, an
Indian businessman, who did not give up on the cinema in spite of it having
to close down for several also long-lasting times. Further thanks go to
Markus Schreiber, former head of the Hamburg District Authority, and his
successor, current incumbent Andy Grote, as well as the Municipal District
Manager Wolfgang Schüler, who all supported the campaign for the cinema’s
Short Background Stories
Hans-Joachim Flebbe, who lives in the
beautiful Hanseatic city of Hamburg, has been searching for a suitable venue
for his Premium Movie Theatre concept here for some considerable time.
The upmarket cinema Streit’s Filmtheater with its renowned "Streit’s Lounge"
bar, situated on the famous Jungfernstieg Boulevard in Hamburg`s city, would
have been ideal. The cinema opened on 6 December 1956. That was actually 3
months and 8 days before the opening of the Savoy-Filmtheater on Steindamm
in the Hamburg district of St. Georg, not a premium location unfortunately.
advertisement from that time. Festive German premiere of the epic film
"Hawaii" (USA, 1966), based on James A. Michener`s best-selling novel, on 15
December 1966 at the Hamburg Streit`s Filmtheater.
I remember that I grabbed my bike in the evening of this day and cycled to
Hamburg`s Jungfernstieg in order to watch the premiere guests on the red
carpet. With this movie - see advert - the cinema celebrated its 10-year
anniversary at that time.
Additional info about the movie: There were also 70mm blow-up prints
available at the time, but, I am sure, not in Germany. A stereo or even
6-channel magnetic sound is not confirmed. The film had its world premiere
on 10 October 1966 at the DeMille Theatre in New York in a special road show
engagement with overture and exit music, as well an intermission (runtime
189 minutes). Upon its worldwide theatrical release and a second run, the
extra music and intermission were dropped and the film was re-cut to a 161
minute screen version (source: liner notes for the laser disc (LD) set of
the here uncut film). "Hawaii" has impressive cinematography, epic splendour
and a magnificent score by Elmer Bernstein.
The Streit’s Filmtheater was last run by the CineStar group. Long
negotiations between the property company owning "Streit’s", which insists
on realising a retail establishment concept, and the CineStar group, which
would have liked to continue running the cinema, ultimately failed. Also Mr
Flebbe’s Premium Movie Theatre concept did not find favour in the end
However, take over negotiations with the real estate owner of the Savoy-Filmtheater,
which has stood unused since as far back as November 2011 and which Mr
Flebbe had had his eye on for quite some time, fortunately did have a
successful outcome. In advance, from August 2008 until end of October 2011,
the cinema had been the temporary home of the "Metropolis" movie theatre
which belongs to Hamburg`s Kinemathek e.V. "The cinema’s location near
Hamburg’s main railway station is not, however, ideal for a premium class
luxury cinema, as is the case with the Astor Film Lounges" said Mr Flebbe,
and he is therefore continuing his search for a suitable venue – one speaks
of a newly built cinema in the Hamburg waterfront quarter of HafenCity in
the coming years.
advertisement from that time. Announcement of the world premiere of the film
"Mackenna´s Gold" at the Hamburg City-Kino on 20.03.1969.
Watching movies in their original language versions (OV), for that service
you need certain cinemas which are offering this. The well-received Premiere
Theatre "City-Kino" (which also used to show 70mm films with 6-channel
magnetic sound - here world premiere of Carl Foreman’s "Mackenna's Gold"
on 20.03.1969), which once had also been located on Hamburg´s Steindamm, had
successfully included original versions in its repertoire start of the
1990s. The cinema was closed at the end of July 2001 and subsequently
demolished. The Grindel-Filmtheater took over this task during that same
year until its closure in March 2008.
Subsequently, Hamburg cinema goers were able to enjoy films in their
original language versions at the Streit’s Filmtheater. As this cinema was
also closed in April of this year, the newly opened Savoy-Filmtheater is now
expected to continue the tradition.
"Mackenna's Gold" was shot in Super Panavision 70. To save money,
parts of the film were shot on 35 mm film in anamorphic (Panavision) format
– a few special effect scenes also with a spherical lens. These parts were
subsequently enlarged (blown up) to 65 mm by optical means. Due to the
additional anamorphic stretching, the scenes that were shot with spherical
lenses ended up looking strangely distorted in parts. Originally, the film
had been planned as a Super Cinerama 70mm film with a runtime of about 3
hours plus intermission. Columbia Pictures refrained from this and the movie
was ultimately released with a runtime of just over two hours.
By the way, I attended the world premiere at the Hamburg City-Kino. Many
famous stars of the film came to the event: Omar Sharif, Telly Savalas, Ted
Cassidy and Eli Wallach. It was a great experience for me watching all the
celebrities standing on the big stage in front of the huge curtain.
Hamburg Film- and Television-Museum describes the event on its web-site.
In this cinema Henry Koster´s epic "The Robe" (USA, 1953) had its
Hamburg premiere on 23.04.1954 – "performed for the first time in wondrous
Savoy: totally new
Reopening of a legendary movie theatre
We would like to celebrate the opening of the Savoy-Filmtheater in Hamburg
with you on Wednesday, 19 June 2013. We look forward to welcoming you in the
Savoy-Filmtheater (Steindamm 54, 20099 Hamburg) from 7:00 p.m.
The day has finally arrived and Hamburg’s cinemagoers can once more enjoy
films on the large screen in the famous venue on the Steindamm. Renovation
work took over four months and required an investment of over 1.2 million
euros. The cinema’s manager is Gary Rohweder, who previously gained a wealth
of experience running the Streit’s cinema.
Some 250 guests, "family and friends", walked the red carpet that evening,
pleased to be able to inaugurate the new venue. Between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00
p.m., the public were entertained with songs by the singer Leonore "Leo"
Bartsch, accompanied by guitar, to create the right atmosphere. At 8:00
p.m., Mr Flebbe gave a short speech, followed by a film lasting around 15
minutes which provided some information on the cinema’s history. There were
also some amusing clips featuring various personalities from the worlds of
film, sport and politics, as well as animated cartoons presenting the new
Savoy-Filmtheater in a humorous and charming way, the dialogue having been
dubbed with alternative text.
This was followed by around 45 minutes of highly entertaining performances
by the Dresden singer and song-writer Anna Maria Scholz, otherwise known as
Annamateur, and the comic and parodist Jörg Knör, who has only recently
moved to Hamburg. During the following interval, the audience was generously
treated to drinks and snacks in the foyer. The evening was rounded off by a
showing of the Australian film "The Sapphires" with a lavish soul
music score on the big screen; this film was scheduled to go on general
release in Germany the following day.
long and occasionally gruelling building work, Hans-Joachim Flebbe is now
looking forward to welcoming his guests with great hope and joy. Things were
still being fixed in place up to the last minute, but finally everything was
finished on schedule much to everybody’s delight.
The Savoy-Filmtheater has been totally renovated under the management of the
former CinemaxX architect, Heinz-Jürgen Schuhmacher. He was supported on
this project by architect R. Siegmeier, who had previously also been
responsible for the Hamburg "Passage Kino" (in elegant art deco style),
which had been in existence for 100 years and was officially reopened on 26
May 2010. In consultation with the planning department and fire authority,
the old Savoy / Metropolis Filmtheater needed extensive renovation – from
the air conditioning system, wiring and plumbing to the walls and ceilings
in the auditorium and in the foyer.
To make the renovation work possible, Hans-Joachim Flebbe put in major
investment through his newly founded company Xavoy Filmtheater GmbH.
According to him, everything was financed by the company itself – with added
assistance from a cinema support loan from the German Federal Film Board (FFA).
It is hoped that the impressive auditorium with its high level of comfort
will particularly attract older cinemagoers to the venue. "You are made to
feel like a welcome guest", said Mr Flebbe.
"The Savoy auditorium is impressive and one of the most beautiful remaining
movie theatre auditoriums in Hamburg," enthused Hans-Joachim Flebbe during
an early visit. The new elegant and comfortable dark brown seats come from
SKEIE in Sandnes (a town in Norway, to the south of Stavanger). The cinema
accommodates 284 visitors in total, with 94 seats in the so-called "Loge"
(last 4 rows) and 190 seats in the stalls (8 rows). There are three
wheelchair spaces. The seats have adjustable backs – some reclining almost
to a lying position with pop-up footrests. There is plenty of legroom
everywhere. In the last rows are separate footstools and even built-in wine
coolers. There are some double “love seats” incorporated here and there. The
seats in the front row are of chaise longue design.
Services like: valet parking, welcoming drinks and a direct waiter service
in the auditorium for small dining wishes and drinks, which you can get in
Mr Flebbe`s Astor Film Lounges, aren't provided here. Cars can be parked in
nearby car parks at reduced prices. The cinema will be available for hire as
an event venue.
The Digital Projector
Projector: Christie (Solaria series / CP 2230) 2D and 3D digital projector
with 3-chip DLP cinema technology, also with integrated Christie Previsto
High Frame Rate (HFR). Maximum resolution 2K-HD (2048x1080p). For 3D movies
the 3D Masterimage system is used. The projector weighs 111 kg (244 lbs) and
is upgradable to 4K (4096x2160p). The rack to the left of the projector
houses a 7.1 sound system (no Dolby Atmos) with CROWN DSi 2000 power
amplifiers with 30,000 watt output. Cine Project GmbH (based in Landshut,
Bavaria) was responsible for installing the projection, sound and stage
equipment in the cinema. It will no longer be possible to screen analogue
The reopening of the Savoy-Filmtheater was, of course, a joyous occasion for
Hamburg when you consider that a large number of cinemas have had to close
their doors for good over the past few years. The Hamburger Abendblatt
newspaper and the regional TV channels NDR and SAT 1 reported extensively on
the event. That evening, the opening was also “christened” by very violent
and unusually lengthy thunderstorms.
Hans-Joachim Flebbe is hoping that the cinema will attract at least around
100,000 film enthusiasts per year. Ticket prices for standard-length films
vary from 8 euros to 11 euros for seats in the last four rows in the
auditorium. The 3D surcharge is 2 euros. Furthermore, some films will also
be screened with German subtitles, and some films will be shown exclusively
in German at Sunday matinees. Probably sneak previews and life broadcasts
will also be on the program.
There are plans to show films in two languages here in the near future, made
possible through headphones and infrared transmission. First trials have
been successfully conducted in the Frankfurt Astor Film Lounge, where the
film "The Great Gatsby" was shown with German dubbing for the general
audience, with the option of listening to the original English dialogue
through headphones. At the Savoy, films will be shown in their original
version, with the synchronised German dubbing available over headphones. Mr
Flebbe explained that at least 10 cinemas needed to participate to make the
introduction of this innovation viable. It was very likely that only then
would the film distribution companies make hard disks (DCPs – Digital Cinema
Packages) with the required software available to the cinemas.
End of Part 1
… and now for interested readers more detailed descriptions of the cinema`s
history at the time it opened in the year 1957 and a little bit about
The Savoy-Filmtheater on the day it opened with the German premiere of the
film "The Brave One" (Roter Staub) on 14.03.1957 (image source: Filmblätter
As already described, the opening film was (also the first release in
Germany), the King Brothers’ moving and colourful romantic film set in
Mexico "The Brave One" (Roter Staub, USA, 1956) in CinemaScope from RKO
(Radio-Keith-Orpheum) Pictures Inc.
The cinema opening was a major event for the people of Hamburg, further
enhanced by the patronage of the Mexican consul general in Hamburg, Lic. (Licenciado)
Emilio Romero Espinosa. The net profits of the event went to the artists’
charity "Künstlernothilfe" (source: newspaper "Die Welt" from 15.03.1957).
There were hundreds of people jostling for position near the entrance to the
new cinema in order to catch a glimpse of celebrity guests such as Max
Schmeling and his wife Anny Ondra, Bibi Jones, Katharina Mayberg, Erika Mann
and Heinz Erhardt as they arrived. Pretty usherettes handed orchids and
sombreros to the visitors. The Siegfried Muchow film orchestra played
melodies from "Oklahoma!" and the opening film "The Brave One" – "A story of
love to make the blood race and the heart melt!"
Newspaper advertisement dated 28.03.1957, which included (with additional
notes placed by me in parentheses) the following information:
The film "The Brave One" (Roter Staub, USA, 1956) is playing for a third
week at the Savoy cinema to great public acclaim. Michel Ray (the film’s
protagonist) – "the lovely Hamburg boy" – has conquered the hearts of the
Hamburg people. Love for animals is what marks out the film. The Savoy, a
cinema with the very latest in technical equipment, is unique in Germany.
The supporting programme includes excerpts from the film "The Miracle of
Todd-AO" (USA, 1956). There is announced the impatiently awaited Todd-AO
film "Oklahoma!" (USA, 1955).
Michel Ray was born on 21st July 1944 in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire,
England. Hamburg citizens loved the young actor so much that they called him
a "Hamburg boy" at the time. Interesting information on
"OKLAHOMA!" - the first motion picture produced in the new Todd-AO process
using 70mm film, special cameras, large curved screen and 6-track magnetic
sound. Filmed in Eastman Color.
No doubt the cinema owner (entrepreneur), Herbert Steppan, would have liked
to show the Todd-AO film "Oklahoma!" (USA, 1955) at the opening. But, as new
70mm prints of the film had been sent to be shown in Japan (Tokyo) and Italy
(Rome) and a third print was still in production and therefore not ready for
screening, the new Todd-AO projection process could only be presented at the
Savoy with excerpts (see information in advertisement) from the nearly 11 ½
minute long demonstration movie "The Miracle of Todd-AO" (USA, 1956). Both
the press and the public were highly impressed.
Note by the author: The first international presentation of the 70mm Todd-AO
version of the film "Oklahoma!" was screened on December 28, 1956 at the
Theatre" in Tokyo.
The festive Hamburg Savoy premiere of "Oklahoma!" in Todd-AO took place on
15.08.1957. Before, on 10.08.1957, in the German newspaper "Die Welt" had
been written following: "There exist 36 Todd-AO movie theatres around the
world but only two Todd-AO films, namely "Oklahoma!" and "Around the World
in Eighty Days". Big, bigger, biggest beats the dwarf proportions of the TV
screen. Among the 36 theatres there are 32 in the U.S., one in Tokyo, one in
Rome and two in Germany“.
Note by the author: The Munich Royal-Palast was festively opened with the
film "Oklahoma!" on 13.06.1957 as second cinema.
Among the prominent guests at the Hamburg premiere were - it was like cinema
in front of the cinema - exempli gratia: Marika Rökk, Johanna Matz, Claus
Biederstedt, George Jacoby, Max Schmeling and his wife Anny Ondra, Rudi
Schurike, Paul Kuhn, Hans Richter, Freddy Quinn, Mona Baptiste, Peter
Frankenfeld and his wife Lonny Kellner (actress and singer) - "So ein Tag,
so wunderschön wie heute" (such a day as beautiful as today) – a famous
German song by the film composer Lotar Olias.
Enjoy the singing
Invitation – The Savoy-Filmtheater and RKO Filmgesellschaft (film company)
LTD are pleased to invite Mr / Ms... to the gala premiere of Rogers &
Hammerstein's "OKLAHOMA!" in Todd-AO on Thursday, 15 August 1957 at 9.00pm.
As the first and only cinema in Northern Germany to be constructed in
accordance with the requirements of the Todd-AO system, the Savoy-Filmtheater
is showing this double Oscar winning film on the hugely enlarged screen with
the innovative sound system and vivid brilliance of the picture.
The cinema entrepreneur Herbert Steppan together with Marika Rökk (a famous
German film star) at the premiere of "Oklahoma!" and a top view of a model
of the Savoy-Filmtheater (image source: Filmwoche / Philips).
Accompanying programme: "The Miracle of Todd-AO" - a film that demonstrates
the perfected technology of this process in a way that will amaze you.
The evening will be opened by the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra. Conductor:
Famous stars from the stage, film and radio have confirmed that they will
appear. Heinz Gudelius, 'the diplomat of comperes', will be the presenter.
The guests' entrance will be captured on radio, television and by the press.
Black tie or evening dress requested! Admission fee: DM 10.00
Tickets can be reserved at the counter of the Savoy-Filmtheater Hamburg,
Steindamm 54 or by telephone on 247070.
Please respond using the card provided.
(Card kindly provided by the Hamburg Film- and Television Museum)
The impressive movie theatre with its rising seat rows at the time when it
was opened in March 1957. I coloured the image according to my memory.
The first thing that caught your eye on entering the auditorium were the
heavy folds of the pale, yellow - maybe also high beige - velvet curtains,
which were lit with 15 kW lights from below and above and which represented
the main light source in the space. The entire auditorium lighting was
indirect and provided a warm golden glow to the side walls panelled in
differently patterned grey brown birch veneer. The Kamphöner cord velvet
seating was signal red, the deep-pile nylon velour carpet was light beige,
and the suspended plasterboard ceiling was yellow and had 12 sound effect
speakers incorporated in it to give the appearance of ceiling lights. The
only wall decoration was a bold sweeping stucco structure – a huge arc
pointing towards the screen (see photograph by Herbert Wedemeyer).
On the opening day, the auditorium seated 957. For screenings with the
Todd-AO process, the last few rows of seats were often curtained off (with
an electronically controllable curtain) to enhance the atmosphere, reducing
the capacity to 825. "The rear wall of the movie theatre is 32 metres wide",
said Mr Steppan in an interview.
It had a 20 x 8.40 metre (66 x 27.5 feet, 168 sqm) screen (measured along
the curve - at that time manufactured on automated machinery at a weaving
mill in Bad Lippspringe – model: Ideal II), whose curvature could be
adjusted directly from the projection booth at the time. The greatest
possible curvature (arc of 120 degrees) was applied for the Todd-AO
projection, with a 4.4 metres (14.4 feet) deep curve – the impressive
Todd-AO "Bugeye" lens captures an extremely wide image of 128 degrees. For
other films, the side panels of the huge curved screen were retracted and
Todd-AO "shrunk" to CinemaScope format.
Of course, this was very practical when Michael Todd’s film “Around the
World in 80 Days” (USA, 1956) was shown at the Savoy for the first time on 5
December 1957. As the film was – partly for commercial reasons –
unfortunately only available in a 35 mm version (not Todd-AO) in Europe, it
was very probably shown on the flatter screen. On the instructions of the
distribution company, the curved Todd-AO screen permanently installed in the
Munich Royal-Palast had to be temporarily removed especially for this film,
which premiered there on 18 October 1957, and replaced by a different screen
(source: "Der Spiegel" of 27.11.1957 / "Todd – wie herrlich weit").
You can read the
interesting article, in German.
Film-Ton-Technik, Dr. K. Weinrebe, was the authorised Philips Company which
performed a lot of the technical work in the Savoy. Another special feature
consisted of special lamp housings for the Philips DP70 projectors with 220
ampere maximum load, which were imported specially from Chicago.
The owner, Herbert Steppan, carefully documented the individual phases of
the cinema construction on small gauge film from the autumn of 1956 onwards.
On completion of the building, the results were then shown to the
industrious tradesmen and construction workers at a special family
His long-time wish to own a prestigious premiere venue with the very latest
cinematic equipment came one significant step closer to reality when Michael
"Mike" Todd (1909-1958) gave his unreserved approval to the architects’
building plans for the Savoy back then. It was ultimately realised in
exemplary fashion with the glamorous opening of "Europe’s first cinema
purpose-built for the projection of Todd-AO films" in Hamburg on 14 March
Additional new information from the author regarding the premiere of
Michael Todd's film "Around the World in 80 Days" (USA, 1956) at
the Hamburg Savoy-Filmtheater in December 1957 (from the trade magazine
"Filmblätter" of that time):
Todd-AO effect through a new screen
For the screening of the CinemaScope print of "Around the World in 80
Days", Herbert Steppan, owner of the Savoy-Filmtheater in Hamburg,
Germany, recently purchased in London a metal-strewn special Harkness
screen. It has a size of 19x9 meters, such that, with acoustic support
from a new Philips integrator, a nearly complete Todd-AO effect can be
achieved. Accordingly, the excellently organized and generously arranged
gala premiere in Hamburg, with the participation of a great number of
prominent actors, proved to be a much-acclaimed, festive event.
Newspaper advertisements from that time. First release of "Oklahoma!"
(USA/1955) in Germany at the Munich Royal-Palast on 13.06.1957. "The
audience in the middle of the action" in the newly built Munich Royal-Palast
on Goetheplatz and advert for the premiere of "Oklahoma!" at the Hamburg
Savoy-Filmtheater on 15.08.1957.
3-strip films were never screened at the Savoy. Back in those days in
Hamburg, they were shown at the UFA-Palast on Gänsemarkt, at the Cinerama
Grindel-Filmtheater and at the first Cinerama Zelt Filmtheater (Cinerama
tent cinema) on Heiligengeistfeld (Field of Holy Spirit), which was very
probably also the only one in Germany – but I am not entirely sure. If
anybody knows any different please let me know.
Todd-AO was first introduced in Europe at the Photokina in Cologne from 29
September until 07 October 1956. Deutsche Philips GmbH (Hamburg) presented
at a specially built cinema `Philips Lichtspiel-Theater´ the demonstration
movie "The Miracle of Todd-AO" and additionally excerpts from Fred
Zinnemann`s film "Oklahoma!". The screen size was 16 x 7.20 metres (source:
Press information from 28 September 1956 – the Philips press office was
located on Mönckebergstraße 7 in Hamburg at that time).
information on this subject:
"Oklahoma!" experienced its European premiere in Todd-AO on 14.02.1957 in
Rome (Italy) at the Adriano Cinema – at that time the first permanent
Todd-AO screening venue in Europe – but not a cinema purpose-built for this
process (Sources: in70mm.com and "Before Techniscope: The Penetration of
Foreign Widescreen Technology in Italy (1953-1959)" by Federico Vitella).
The German premiere of "Oklahoma!" in Todd-AO took place on 13.06.1957
(fund-raising event) at the newly built Royal-Palast (826 seats) in Munich,
which was therefore the second purpose-built German Todd-AO cinema. Number
three would be the new Admiral-Palast in Nuremburg, which opened on
On 22.07.1958 premiered, under the auspices of the Royal Norwegian
Ambassador, at the Munich Royal-Palast in Cinemiracle Louis de Rochemond's
III famous semi-documentary "Windjammer: The Voyage of the Christian Radich"
(USA, 1958). It was the first screening of a 3-strip film in Germany - even
before Cinerama. In a newspaper was written at the time: "If this continues,
God must give people bigger eyes and ears. Cinemiracle asks almost for it."
new Premium cinema presents: "Movie enjoyment in its original version"
Dear wide film enthusiasts, enough about the Savoy-Filmtheater for today. I
wish the venue a long and prosperous future, maybe (hopefully) also showing
films in 70mm format, as is currently still the case in the Astor Film
Lounge here in Berlin from time to time. Of course this is quite costly and
requires the appropriate type of projection equipment to be installed in the
projection booth. Unfortunately the number of old usable 70 mm prints, which
can be screened to provide a good show, is decreasing all the time.
Watching these analogue films on the large, usually curved screens, combined
with huge enveloping 6-channel magnetic sound, really was a thrilling
experience - "festive happenings to the eyes and ears". Memories of these
screenings are receding in the course of time when you consider that the
premiere of the first Todd-AO film "Oklahoma!" by Fred Zinnemann goes back a
very long way. It took place on 13 October 1955 (press screenings had
already been from 10.10.1955) at the elegant New York Rivoli Theatre where
it subsequently successfully ran for 51 weeks.
The cinema`s screen measurements were given as 20 x 8,2 metres (66 x 27
feet), with a 4 metres (13 feet) deep curve (source: in70mm.com). This also
corresponded to the screen size and curvature of `our´ Todd-AO Savoy-Filmtheater.
Sadly, New York's
Rivoli Theatre was demolished in the fall of 1987 – Europe`s first purpose-built Todd-AO theatre is fortunately still existing.
long-established specialist film magazines "Filmblätter", "Film-Echo", "Filmwoche"
and newspapers of the time.
The German cinema book: "Mach dir ein paar schöne Stunden – Das Hamburger
Kinobuch", by Michael Töteberg and Volker Reißmann.
My own collection and, of course, the also fantastic internet.
All photos from the "New Savoy-Filmtheater" have been taken by the author.
During a press viewing on 19 June, Hans-Joachim Flebbe mentioned that he
had "fallen in love" with the cinema auditorium when he saw it for the first
time. Well, my experience was similar, but goes back to much earlier times
when I was a youngster in the early 1960s.
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