Fiction

THE 3-D COURT SHIP OF BENNY CRAMBO

Why did Hollywood tone down the third dimension? Behind this mystery lies a pair of kohl-stained eyes, the gallant heart of Benny Crambo and a weird occurrence that shook the movie moguls to the depths of their platinum swimming pools

JOHN BONETT February 1 1954
Fiction

THE 3-D COURT SHIP OF BENNY CRAMBO

Why did Hollywood tone down the third dimension? Behind this mystery lies a pair of kohl-stained eyes, the gallant heart of Benny Crambo and a weird occurrence that shook the movie moguls to the depths of their platinum swimming pools

JOHN BONETT February 1 1954

THE 3-D COURT SHIP OF BENNY CRAMBO

Why did Hollywood tone down the third dimension? Behind this mystery lies a pair of kohl-stained eyes, the gallant heart of Benny Crambo and a weird occurrence that shook the movie moguls to the depths of their platinum swimming pools

Fiction

JOHN BONETT

IF YOU ARE one of those who still go to the movies, you will have noticed how much less hazardous and terrifying a place it has become nowadays. No longer are you impelled to cower back in your seat as the 3-D screen bombards you with assorted missiles. No clutching hands stretch out to strangle you; no spears or arrows hurtle at your flinching eye; no lashing waves break over your defenseless head.

Is this because Hollywood has realized that you have had a surfeit of such synthetic alarums and excursions? That is what they have told you—and you may have believed them.

But it is not the truth.

The truth is this. Hollywood had to face something for which they could find no explanation, something beyond logic or common sense. They had to face it or clamp down completely on 3-D. You have seen for yourself what choice they made— but do you know why?

I saw the first burgeoning and, of all who were there at the time, only I realized what had happened. Something of the kind occurred again wit hin a few weeks. The whispered rumor t hat reached me said that it was at a private preview in Hollywood and that some of the great film moguls were present and saw it for themselves. Otherwise those men of mammon would not have killed the golden goose.

Whatever it was that they saw they locked tight in their secret hearts. What I saw took place on the night of Friday, December 18.

Earlier in the day a friend had given me a pass for the Babylon, where t he new super-stereoscopic 3-D picture Harem, starring Beauty Barola, was having its first provincial release. As I strolled across t he square after supper I felt in the mood to enjoy a couple of hours of romantic Hollywood marzipan.

There were two or three hundred people standing on the wide pavement outside the theatre, watched benevolently by a strikingly small policeman. I recollected that Beauty Barola was making the first of a series of personal appearances that night and the fans were after her blood or, at least, a torn fragment of her dress.

I walked into the foyer, showing my pass to a gold-encrusted comqmissionaire who stood like a bloodhound sniffing the excitement that emaninijated from the crowd. My seat was one from the end of a row. In the end forait sat a man I knew slightly, Benny Crambo. He was a mild insignificant (,om de fellow whom one couldn’t help liking. Still in his early forties, he had teroumainec* a *)ache'or> partly because he was a romantic who placed women on

pedestal of beauty and frailty and partly through an endearing shyness which made social life an unmitigated purgatory for him.

Continued on page 28

The 3-D Courtship of Benny Crambo

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 22

He smiled in diffident welcome and we chatted desultorily while the house filled up. In due course there was a tumult of cheering and Beauty Barola entered with a train of satellites. Since she took her seat in the balcony above us neither Benny nor 1 saw her, but there was no doubt from the reception she got that the audience had taken her to their hearts.

Five minutes went by before their enthusiasm was spent and the last photographer had used his last flashbulb. Then we all settled back and the film projector began to hum.

There have been many films like Harem before and there will be many more. Take a few thousand tons of sand, a mosque or two, a sneer of camels, suntanned men in burnooses, a palace like? the Taj Mahal and a harem of fifty beautiful girls of every shade of color; add a handsome young lover and a wicked, sadistic Sultan, and before the first reel is over you remember the rest of the picture. But Harem had something the others hadn’t got —Beauty Barola in the part of Scheherazade, the damsel in distress.

Whim she first appeared on the screen a murmur of pleasure and ungrudging admiration throbbed through the cinema. She was the answer to the 3-D cameraman’s prayer. If there were an excuse needed for this unlikely form of art—and I have no doubt that there is—it is the way in which it has brought Beauty’s perfect dimensions right among us. Five feet of curving delight, topped by a heartshaped and heart-snatching face with tilted nose and violet eyes. Hair of spun sunbeams.

To every man there comes at times a mental image of the perfect wife of his bosom. There was, I think, none in that audience who, seeing this lovely creature with her expression of mingled warmth, gaiety, simplicity and understanding, did not contemplate her siting, rosy and fragrant from her morning hath, on the opposite side of his breakfast table.

We watched her cross the palmlined road on some trivial errand for her mother. We saw the Sultan riding toward her with his escort. His tired, lascivious eye lit upon her, and in a moment amid a blur of shining blades and flashing hooves she had been snatched up and, crying out in terror, was lying aslant the Sultan’s saddle as he galloped toward the palace.

Thrust roughly into the harem, she was placed in the hands of a mountainously fleshy man whose stone-chip eyes were set in a moon face. There attendants washed her in a hath of milk, anointed her with unguents, stained her eyes with kohl and dressed her in a diaphanous-trousered suit and jewel-studded sandals.

Meantime, while a banquet was being prepared, the Sultan stamped the palace as he waited with uneontainable impatience for the submission of his latest bride. Anxiously the audience waited with him. Large sentimental tears flowed down the plump face of a woman on my left. On mv right Benny Crambo sat forward on the edge of his seat, rapt and eager, like a pint-sized knight-errant ready to do and dare for the salvation of the fair maid.

Suddenly the gigantic stained-glass window of the harem was shattered and the air became convincingly full of flying glass. Into the room leaped Roger, the handsome young lover, torn, bruised, and armed only with the invincible fervor of his passion for the young girl. For the other forty-nine beauties of the harem he had no eyes, hut gazed with worshiping rapture at Scheherazade. And while he stood bemused, the curtains at the ent rance parted and in strode the Sultan. The canary chattering of the harem girls ceased. Scheherazade’s lips opened in terrified anticipation. Defiantly Roger stood his ground, eyeing the whip that lay coiled in the Sultan’s hand and breathing noble disdain.

Behind Roger the mountainous eunuch moved lightly like an evil balloon and in a moment the young man’s arms were pinioned and the Sultan was advancing menacingly.

“So you think to take the girl from me,” he rasped. “Very well. You shall see her punished for your impertinence.”

He signed to the fat man who swiftly jerked Roger’s arms upward and, while the latter gasped in sudden pain, tied them to one of the pillars supporting the roof.

“The girl,” said the Sultan sharply, and the eunuch seized her and threw her down onto a pile of cushions. While she lay shuddering the Sultan ripped the back of her jacket down to the waist and stepped back, letting the whip run through his hand. Contemptuously he cracked it so that the thonged leather curled an inch before Roger’s face. Then taking a swift measuring look at the girl’s bare hack, he raised his arm.

As the lash snaked up and away from him I had the vivid illusion that the metaled tip was flying directly at my face. A heart-stopping sob from Scheherazade was matched by a wild shout from beside me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Benny Crambo standing, his mouth agape in defiance, his face a blaze of wrath. I saw him grab the thong and hold on to it—and then, pulled by the recoil of the lash, he was drawn through the air straight into the screen. He crashed against the Sultan who fell with a thunderous jar and lay still upon the harem floor.

Benny was on his feet at once and, seizing a water jar almost as large as himself, brought it down on the fat man’s head. No human skull could have withstood that lethal weapon. The eunuch sagged to his knees and rolled over.

In a moment Benny had untied a startled and incredulous Roger and was raising Scheherazade from her cushions. The girl turned her head slowly and looked at Benny. In that look were wonder, admiration, gratitude and the unmistakable breathless glory of the thunderbolt of love. She took his pale face between her cupped hands and with awe and the promise of paradise in their eyes they kissed.

Roger watched them astounded. He stared with shocked incredulity as they rose and, hand in hand, walked to the door of the harem and passed out of sight. Puzzled, deserted, suddenly and devastatingly unheroic, a lover robbed of his due, he stumbled to the broken window.

The movie audience sat in that tranced silence which a great experi-

ence produces. Mut it was the silence of strained emotions and not of bewilderment. Amazedly I realized that, for them what had happened was part of the story of the film they were watching. They had seen a little ordinary man, a person like themselves. wrest a girl of incomparable beauty from danger and win her heart from a handsome virile hero. In that quiet, word less love scene they had found sincerity and genuineness and the withered and sterile romanticism in their hearts had responded to the touch of a deathless love. They watched Roger reach the window and turn his head to look once more at the door through which Scheherazade had passed. Then, suddenly, the screen flashed and went dark and every light in the house snapped out. The audience sat quietly, wrenched back sharply to reality from a world larger than life.

I heard murmurs of “short circuit . . . break in the film . . . won’t be long . . .” But when a minute or two had gone by a man appeared on the stage in front of the screen, shining a torch on himself to disclose his manager’s uniform of white shirt and dinnei jacket.

“I am sorry that there has been a breakdown in the normal electrical system and in our emergency power plant,” he said. “If you will please remain in your seats I am sure that the fault will be remedied quickly.”

I was glad of the concealing darkness for I was greensick with shock. Benny had rocketed from my side, snatched into the screen by the Sultan’s curling whip. That I had seen, if I could believe my eyes. He had clutched the lash with both hands and his hair had been ruffled by the speed of his flight.

With timorous curiosity 1 bent down and from beneath the empty tilted seat I pulled out a hat and umbrella. Of course—he had gone out in the middle of the performance, I told myself, and left his belongings behind. He had intended to return but could not find his seat in the darkness. But I didn’t convince myself. I was afraid and. jumping up, I hurried along the aisle to the exit. Before I reached the doors, the manager was once again on the stage. He regretted that the fault could not be located and asked the audience to leave in an orderly manner; attendants would give them vouchers so that they could see the film later.

The ushers’ torches cast beams along the rows as they directed people to various exits. I pushed open the swing doors into the foyer and breathed in the fresh air that blew through the portico. The lights in the entrance hall had been unaffected by the breakdown and I could see outside a crowd of fans waiting for Beauty Barola to appear. The commissionaire and a policeman were patiently keeping open a lane to a limousine that purred gently beside the pavement.

Presently, from the stairway that led to the gallery came Beauty Barola, laughing warmly and happily, as lovely in the flesh as on the three-dimensional screen, her hair a splendor of soft gold, her violet eyes ashine with the joy of living. She passed with her escort between the lines of ecstatic admirers and paused for a moment by the car to face the expectant cameras.

I followed in her wake and stood in the portico, my gaze traveling halffocused over the faces of the crowd.

And then I saw Benny.

He had no jacket on; it was round the shoulders of a girl who was pressed close against him. Beneath the jacket hem fell the diaphanous folds of a pair of silken harem trousers. Jewel-studded sandals sparkled on her tiny feet.

I raised my head to see the heartshaped face and kohl-stained violet eyes of Scheherazade.

She was as I had seen her last, when hand in hand with Benny she had walked out of the harem—and off the screen. Only now Benny’s coat covered the torn fabric of her garment.

In the midst of the crowd they were quite alone, as once in an earlier world man and his newly created woman had been alone together in the Garden of Eden. I looked at them and my doubts and fears departed. I knew now that I did not wish to seek an explanation. For, whatever the means, whatever the ! meaning, somehow from the world of shadows a knight-errant had found and rescued his fair lady—and who, even in this scarred and cynical world, could doubt that they would live happily ever after? ★

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