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Visit biografmuseet.dk about Danish cinemas


Hamburg’s Cinema Jewel, the Savoy, Has Reopened
Europe’s first Todd-AO cinema

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Gerhard Witte, Berlin, Germany Date: 21.08.2013
German 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 Lounge" concept.

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
More in 70mm reading:

Hamburgs Kinojuwel, das Savoy, ist wiedereröffnet worden

Image Gallery: Hamburg’s Savoy, has Reopened

Howard Terpning and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's “CLEOPATRA“

Howard Terpning und Joseph L. Mankiewicz's “CLEOPATRA“

Cinemiracle/Cinerama in Germany

Cinemiracle/Cinerama in Deutschland

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 Flebbe
A brief look at his career

Mr. 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 welcome.

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.
Internet link:

Savoy-Filmtheater Hamburg

Additional information you can obtain at the Hamburg Film- and Television Museum

Locations of Astor Film Lounges:
Locations of CinemaxX Multiplexes:

Savoy opening Sat 1
Savoy opening NDR
…and 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 survival.

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.

Newspaper 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 either.

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.
Newspaper 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.

The 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 CinemaScope."

Savoy: totally new
Reopening of a legendary movie theatre

Invitation: 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. Hans-Joachim Flebbe

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.
After 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).

The Auditorium

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 films.

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 Todd-AO:

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 / promotion).

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 Michel Ray´s biography.

"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 "Shinjuku Koma 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 Lonny Kellner.

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: Hans-Günther Fessel.

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 Auditorium

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 17,4 x 7,6 m 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 screening.

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 1957.

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).

Additional 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 31.10.1957.

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."
The 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.


The 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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Updated 21-01-24