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A Homecoming for ‘Those Redheads from Seattle’

Amidst the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival’s archival presentations dwells a genuine oddity—a 1953 musical, in 3D, that contains some of the first direct references to Seattle to appear in a feature film. Those Redheads from Seattle screens tonight at SIFF Cinema Uptown, and while it’s no masterpiece, it’s an absolutely fascinating curio.

The year is 1898, and Mrs. Edmonds (Agnes Moorehead) leads a quiet life with her four daughters in Seattle, until they receive a letter from family patriarch Vance asking them to join him in the Gold Rush town of Dawson City, Alaska. Mr. Edmonds publishes Dawson’s lone newspaper, but the women arrive to find he’s recently been gunned down by Mike Yurkil, the rotten partner of saloon proprietor Johnny Kisco (Gene Barry). The recently-widowed Mrs. Edmonds and her daughters then begin forging a life for themselves in the untamed Yukon town, and romance, drama and songs ensue. 

As you might gather from that synopsis, Those Redheads from Seattle occupies a headspace that’s a bit disjointed for a 1950s Technicolor musical. Between musical numbers, it oscillates between sprightly romance, heavy melodrama and western tropes. Part of that disjointedness is rooted in the movie’s screenwriting team: Director Lewis R. Foster co wrote the script with Daniel Mainwaring (AKA Geoffrey Homes), a specialist in westerns and hard-boiled crime flicks, and George Worthing Yates, author of screenplays for several B science-fiction flicks.

The movie’s behind-the-scenes travails sport as much drama as anything that ended up onscreen. Those Redheads from Seattle premiered at the Paramount Theater and soon hit scores of the nation’s movie screens, replete with press hullabaloo from gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (who referred to the movie’s rakishly noble Johnny Kisco as “the Rhett Butler of Seattle”). But a succession of decidedly B-grade horror and genre flicks, combined with frequently shoddy projection, poisoned the proverbial well. Most theaters showed a flat 2D version of the movie before it skulked into oblivion.

One of the big draws for this screening is, ironically, the key element that very nearly ensured its disappearance—namely, the 3D. Originally mastered in 2006 after decades in a Paramount Pictures vault, this new restoration sports a sharp digital 3D transfer, eliminating the unpredictable (and eye-straining) old-school blue/red analog 3D projection. Is the movie itself worth the painstaking reconstruction? That’s very much in the eye of the beholder.

The romantic melodrama runs as cliché as humanly possible, and with its rather modest budget Redheads can’t deliver musical numbers with the same sweep and flash as MGM’s blockbusters of the era. But there’s an interesting, surprisingly proto-feminist slant to the movie, as eldest sister Kathie (Rhonda Fleming, a woman whose lush red hair was made for eye-popping Technicolor) assumes control of her late father’s newspaper and all of the Edmonds women do their part to be a self-sufficient unit.

The relative modesty of the musical numbers doesn’t make ‘em any less fun, either. The tunes are a melange of genuinely engaging songs composed by the likes of Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael and Jay Livingston. Best of all, most of the songs are delivered by Teresa Brewer, who was a chart-topping singer at the time. As middle sister Pat, she’s exuberant, genuinely adorable, and a damn near irresistible screen presence. Whatever its flaws, Those Redheads from Seattle offers ample evidence that Brewer could have been a star on par with Judy Garland if this, her movie debut, hadn’t gone missing for so many years.

Those Redheads from Seattle plays the SIFF Cinema Uptown on May 23. Bob Furmanek, producer and founder of The 3D Archive, is scheduled to attend. Tickets are available at www.siff.net.

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