If you ever get a chance to see a classic film in a theater projected in 70mm, take it. If it’s West Side Story, you’ll notice many things you never knew were there, like the Pepto Bismal and Hershey Bars on the shelves of Doc’s store. If it’s Play Time, you’ll see in great detail every morsel of food served in the lengthy restaurant scene that closes the film. If it’s the odious Song of Norway, well…you will at least have gorgeous scenery to stare at as the staggeringly dull story unfolds. More important, you will see a tale told with a visual clarity that will spoil you for future 35mm screenings. For movies shot and projected in 70mm, there is a greater immediacy to the action—more of a “you are there” quality.
In actuality, the film going through the camera is 65mm wide, with 5mm added for the magnetic audio tracks, making for the 70mm strip that eventually wends its way through the projector. Expenses kept 70mm from being common; film stock was costly, and most theaters were not equipped to project movies of that scale. A roadshow—reserved-seat engagements in select cities—was common for 70mm films prior to general release. During a film’s regular run, it was almost always shown in a 35mm version for smaller houses.
Twentieth Century Fox had Grandeur, producer Mike Todd had Todd-AO and MGM had MGM Camera 65—all brand names for essentially the same format, with minor differences in lenses, cameras and aspect ratios. Around since the dawn of movies, 70mm enjoyed a popular run in the 1950s, luring people away from their small black-and-white television screens, up through the year 1970, which saw a trio of big releases: Patton, Ryan’s Daughter, and Airport.
Here are 30 examples of motion pictures done on a grand scale.