“Don’t be sacrilegious as well as cheap.”
The 1953 musical Those Redheads from Seattle—the first musical ever shot in 3-D—is a peculiar little movie. It begins with the murder of Vance Edmonds, a newspaper publisher and social reformer, and ends with a series of events that could easily feel at home in a journalistic exposé, a back-stage drama, a romance, or a chase-thriller. Only here, there is all of this, all in a matter of minutes, and from the opening clash to the final embrace, this Golden Age rarity offers up one delightful surprise after another. There are some curious plot-points and character motivations are flimsy and hasty to say the least, but it’s such an amusing and vibrant film that those minor quibbles are hardly important.
Starting in Yukon Territory, circa 1898, Edmonds (Frank Wilcox) is shot down when his newspaper threatens to endanger the dubious Klondike Club and its proprietor, Johnny Kisco (Gene Barry). To curtail any damaging rhetoric, Johnny’s partner, Mike Yurkil (John Kellogg), first sets fire to Edmonds’ warehouse, but when that doesn’t encumber the newshound enough, Mike takes it upon himself to plug the inquisitive journalist. Oblivious to her husband’s fatal condition, but sensing from a letter that he is facing economic hardship, Edmonds’ wife and their four daughters set off in his northerly direction. Along the way, the women encounter jovial song-and-dance man Joe Keenan (Guy Mitchell), who, unbeknownst to them, is a friend of Johnny’s.
The truth of the situation is eventually revealed, piece by piece, and the five women are left scrambling for employment, restitution, and love. As Mrs. Edmonds (Agnes Moorehead) seeks to maintain her husband’s editorial enterprise (“Whoever heard of a woman running newspaper?!” decries a skeptical resident), one daughter strikes up a romance with the local reverend while another begins performing in Johnny’s club. Contributing to the eccentricity of Those Redheads from Seattle, as well as its infectious charm, is the way all involved make breezy adjustments with nearly comedic ease, essentially discounting the fact that Vance was brutally murdered just a few weeks prior. A somber mourning may hang over the early portion of the film, especially as the viewer knows what the Edmonds family doesn’t, but when the reverend confronts Mrs. Edmonds with the tragic news and she shuts the door behind him as he enters their hotel room, blocking out the camera in the process, they are essentially closing a chapter in the picture’s emotional narrative, something further implied when the very next cut takes us to a rollicking musical number.
Keeping Those Redheads from Seattle humming along is its first-class cast of entertainers, starting, first and foremost, with Teresa Brewer as Pat Edmonds. In her only film appearance, Brewer is an energetic bubble of burlesque dreams and attractive chastity. She moves from a bedroom routine in Seattle to a surprisingly sexy act on the stage of the Klondike Club, strutting her stuff in a sweet and sultry rendition of “Baby, Baby, Baby.” For those unaware of Brewer’s prolific music career, she is, without a doubt, the most gifted and alluring discovery of the picture. Initially criticizing Pat’s scandalous musical preference (“Show my legs? I should say not!”), her more reserved sisters include Kathie and Connie, the other two redheads, and the youngest sibling, Nellie, the mismatched odd-ball blonde. Kathie is played by Rhonda Fleming, who had an illustrious movie career with roles in Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945), the noir essential Out of the Past (1947), and Fritz Lang’s While the City Sleeps (1956), while Connie and Nellie are played by The Bell Sisters, otherwise known as Cynthia and Kay Strother (their mother’s maiden name was Bell). Together, their harmonizing, jazzed-up version of “Take Back Your Gold” is the stand-out song of the film, even if the tune itself dates back to 1897. In coordinating blue dresses (except for poor Kay), the girls are auburn diamonds in the rough, and their appeal is enough to somehow take Those Redheads from Seattle smoothly from a social indictment of the lawless frontier to a jaunty channel for assorted romantic entanglements.
Rounding out the family is Moorehead as Mrs. Edmonds. Though she is left with the least interesting material, Moorhead is the obvious Hollywood pro, with three Oscar nominations to her name to this point and one more still to come. Of their male counterparts, Barry was a seasoned television veteran while Keenan was an established recording artist, and owing to the dramatic necessity of their character’s likability, despite the odds, both actors turn in progressively hospitable performances.
Of all the songs in Those Redheads from Seattle, only “Chicka Boom” and “Once More” were written specifically for the film. But this movie never was just about the music, and thanks to a new 3-D Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, it never will be. With cinematography by Oscar-winner Lionel Lindon (Around the World in Eighty Days, 1956) and direction by Lewis R. Foster, who wrote the picture with Daniel Mainwaring and George Worthing Yates, this was the first widescreen production from Paramount Studios, and Foster’s proficient staging corresponds nicely with his notable but unobtrusive use of color and his sophisticated deployment of 3-D. Sometimes it’s a little gimmicky, but mostly it befits the picture’s exuberant tone; it is incorporated as both a realistic feature of the setting (flailing arms, high-stepping legs, wafting bar smoke) and more creatively exploited as off-the-screen visual ploys (a spraying keg, umbrellas opening toward the audience, Brewer flinging her garter).
Those Redheads from Seattle premiered Sept. 23, 1953, in Seattle, but by that point, the 3-D fad had begun to wane, which is a shame. As noted in a Sept. 26 Motion Picture Herald review of the film, “The whole story of 3-D to this point might have been a happier one, even a more profitable one, if the process had been premiered with a chorus line instead of lions and tigers close-upped for the customers. But if the process is turned to this kind of use from here on … the 3-D situation is nothing to despair about by any means.” Had 3-D been utilized as it is here, it’s true, it could have been a more persistently viable technique. Fortunately, its inventive potential still applies to Those Redheads from Seattle, and now, this exceptional gem can at least be seen as an exemplar of what could have been.