||It has been suggested that this article be merged into CinemaScope. (Discuss) Proposed since April 2016.|
Fox had introduced the original 35 mm version of CinemaScope in 1953 and it had proved to be commercially successful. But the additional image enlargement needed to fill the new wider screens, which had been installed in theatres for CinemaScope, resulted in visible film grain. A larger film was used to reduce the need for such enlargement. CinemaScope 55 was developed to satisfy this need and was one of three "high definition" film systems introduced in the mid-1950s, the other two being Paramount's VistaVision and the Todd-AO 70 mm film system.
Fox determined that a system that produced a frame area approximately 4 times that of the 35mm CinemaScope frame would be the optimal trade-off between performance and cost, and it chose the 55.625 mm film width as satisfying that. Camera negative film had larger grain than the film stocks used for prints, so there was a consistent approach in using a larger frame on the film negative than on prints. Since prints need to allow space for soundtracks while camera negative does not, CinemaScope 55 had different frame dimensions for camera negative and print film.
The negative film had the perforations (of the CS "Fox-hole" type) close to the edge of the film and the camera aperture was 1.824" by 1.430" (approx. 46 mm x 36 mm), giving an image area of 2.61 sq. inch. This compares to the 0.866" by 0.732" (approx. 22 mm x 18.6 mm) frame of a modern anamorphic 35 mm negative, which provides a frame area of 0.64 sq. inch. On the print film, however, there was a smaller frame size of approximately 1.34" x 1.06" (34 mm x 27 mm) to allow space for the 6 magnetic soundtracks. Four of these soundtracks (two each side) were outside the perforations, which were further from the edges of the print film than in the negative film; the other two soundtracks were between the perforations and the image. The pull-down for the negative was 8 perforations, while for the smaller frame on the print film, it was 6 perforations. In both cases, however, the frame had an aspect ratio of 1.275:1, which when expanded by a 2:1 anamorphic lens resulted in an image of 2.55:1.
A pre-war camera originally built for the obsolete Fox "Grandeur" 70 mm format was modified to work with the new 55 mm film. Bausch & Lomb, the firm that created the original anamorphic CinemaScope lenses, was contracted by Fox to build new "Super CinemaScope" lenses that could cover the larger film frame.
Fox shot two of their Rodgers and Hammerstein musical series in CinemaScope 55, Carousel, and The King and I. But it did not make 55 mm release prints for either film; both were released in conventional 35 mm CinemaScope with a limited release of The King and I being shown in 70 mm.
Fox soon discontinued this process, as it was too impractical for theaters to re-equip for 55 mm prints. The company substituted Todd-AO for its wide-gauge production process, having acquired a financial interest in the process from the Mike Todd estate.
Subsequent to the abandonment of CinemaScope 55, Century, which had made the 55/35mm dual-gauge projector for Fox (50 sets were delivered), redesigned this projector head into the present day 70/35mm Model JJ, and Ampex, which had made the 55/35mm dual gauge "penthouse" magnetic sound reproducer head specifically for CinemaScope 55, abandoned this product (but six-channel Ampex theater systems persisted, these being re-purposed from 55/35mm to 70mm Todd-AO/35mm CinemaScope).
Although commercial 55 mm prints were not made, some 55 mm prints were produced. Samples of these prints reside in the Earl I. Sponable Collection at Columbia University. Several 55/35mm projectors and at least one 55/35mm reproducer are in the hands of collectors.
Cinemascope 55 was originally intended to have a six-track stereo soundtrack. The premiere engagement of Carousel in New York did use one, recorded on magnetic film interlocked with the visual image, as with Cinerama. This proved too impractical, and all other engagements of Carousel had the standard four-track stereo soundtrack ("sounded" on the actual film) as was then used in all CinemaScope releases.
- American Widescreen Museum (Cinemascope section)
- Ilias Chrissochoidis (ed.), CinemaScope: Selected Documents from the Spyros P. Skouras Archive (Stanford, 2013)
- "Why Wide Film" by Earl I. Sponable, Journal of the SMPTE Vol 65 February 56
- , Wide Screen Museum website