Bwana Devil (1952)
Directed by Arch Oboler
Produced by Producer:
Arch Oboler
Associate producer:
Sidney W. Pink
Written by Arch Oboler
Starring Robert Stack
Barbara Britton
Nigel Bruce
Ramsay Hill
Paul McVey
Hope Miller
Music by Gordon Jenkins
Cinematography Joseph F. Biroc
Editing by John Hoffman
Distributed by Limited release:
Arch Oboler Productions
General release:
United Artists
Release date(s) November 30, 1952
Running time 79 min.
Country USA
Language English
Budget US$ 400,000

Bwana Devil is a 1952 drama based on the true story of the Tsavo maneaters. It was written, directed, and produced by Arch Oboler, and is considered the first color, American 3-D feature. It started the 3-D boom in the US film making industry from 1952 to 1954. It stars Robert Stack, Barbara Britton and Nigel Bruce.

The film's tagline was: The Miracle of the Age!!! A LION in your lap! A LOVER in your arms!


The film is set in British East Africa in the early 20th century. Thousands of workers are building the Uganda Railway, Africa's first railroad, and intense heat and sickness make it a formidable task. Two men in charge of the mission are Jack Hayward and Dr. Angus Ross. A pair of man-eating lions are on the loose and completely disrupt the undertaking. Hayward desperately attempts to overcome the situation but the slaughter continues.

Britain sends three big-game hunters to kill the lions. With them comes Jack's wife. After the game hunters are killed by the lions, Jack sets out once and for all to kill them. A grim battle between Jack and the lions endangers both Jack and his wife. Jack kills the lions and proves he is not a weakling.


Role Actor
Jack Hayward Robert Stack
Dr. Angus Ross Nigel Bruce
Alice Hayward Barbara Britton
Major Parkhurst Ramsay Hill
Commissioner Paul McVey

Natural VisionEdit

By 1951 film attendance had spiralled from 90 million in 1948 to 46 million. TV was seen as the culprit and Hollywood was looking for a way to lure audiences back. Cinerama had premiered September 30, 1952, at the Broadway Theatre in New York and was packing them in but its bulky and expensive three camera system was impractical if not impossible to duplicate in all but the largest theatres.

One time screen writer Milton Gunzburg and his brother Julian thought they had a solution with their Natural Vision 3-D film process. They shopped it around Hollywood with little or no interest. 20th Century Fox was focusing on the introduction of CinemaScope, and had no interest in another new process. Both Columbia and Paramount passed it up. Only John Arnold, who headed the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer camera department, was impressed enough to convince MGM to take an option on it but they quickly let the option lapse. Natural Vision appeared to be dead and the Gunzburgs were back to square one until a meeting with Arch Oboler changed the history of films.[citation needed]


Milton Gunzburg turned his focus to independent producers and demonstrated Natural Vision to Arch Oboler, producer and writer of radio's popular Lights Out show, who was impressed enough to option it for his next film project, The Lions of Gulu. Oboler and co-producer Sid Pink scrapped 10 days of footage and started over using the Natural Vision process.[citation needed]

The film was based on a well-known historical event, that of the Tsavo maneaters, in which many workers building the Uganda Railway were killed.[citation needed] The incident was also the basis for The Man-eaters of Tsavo, the true story of the events written and published in 1907 by Lt. Col. J.H. Patterson, the Great White Hunter who dispatched the animals.

The Paramount Ranch, now located in The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, sat in for an African savanna. There is a now a hiking trail in the area named "The Bwana Trail" to denote the locations used in Bwana Devil. Authentic African footage previously lensed by Arch Oboler in 1948 (in 2-D) was incorporated into the film. Ansco color film was used instead of the more expensive and cumbersome Technicolor process.

The film premiered under the banner of "Arch Oboler Productions" On November 26, 1952 at the Paramount Theatres in Hollywood and Los Angeles. The film was a critical failure but a runaway success with audiences. Premieres followed in San Francisco on December 13, Philadelphia, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio openings on December 25 and New York on February 18, 1953.

United Artists bought the rights to Bwana Devil from "Arch Oboler Productions" for $500,000 and a share of the profits and began a wide release of the film in March as a "United Artists" film. A lawsuit followed, in which producer Edward L. Alperson Jr. claimed that he was part owner in the film after purchasing a part of it for $1,000,000 USD. The courts decided in Oboler's favor, as Alperson's claim was unsubstantiated and "under the table".

The other major studios reacted by releasing their own 3-D films. Warner Brothers optioned the Natural Vision process for House of Wax. It premiered on April 10, 1953 and was advertised as "the first 3-D release by a major studio". In truth, Columbia had trumped them by two days with their release of Man in the Dark on April 8, 1953.


  • Bosley Crowther of the New York Times said it was "a clumsy try at an African adventure film, photographed in very poor color in what appear to be the California hills".
  • Variety summed up the process: "This novelty feature boasts of being the first full-length film in Natural Vision 3-D. Although adding backsides to usually flat actors and depth to landscapes, the 3-D technique still needs further technical advances."
  • Hollis Alpert of The Saturday Review wrote, "It is the worst movie in my rather faltering memory, and my hangover from it was so painful that I immediately went to see a two-dimensional movie for relief. The polarization process darkened the image so that everything seems to be happening in late afternoon on a cloudy day. Nigel Bruce will either loom up before you or look like a puppet."


  • Bwana Devil played at the Second World 3-D Film Expo on September 13, 2006 in two strip polarized 3-D at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, Ca.
  • The film has only been released on VHS twice: a hard-to-come-by 1978 VHS tape and the more common 1980 reissue, both in red-cyan anaglyphic 3-D and both from Magnetic Video. Surprisingly, the 1980 reissue remained in print for 20 years! (The only change in the printing occured around 1992; it involved the addition of an MGM logo at the end.) Keep in mind that the same box art has been used for 22 years, with subtle changes to the cover design for the 1980 reissue.
  • The film has not officially been released on DVD, though grey market copies are circulating on the Internet.

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