Full Technicolor before Becky Sharp

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Mike Gebert

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PostSat May 03, 2008 9:15 pm

Eric Grayson reminded me of something else-- in the book The Making of King Kong by George Turner and Orville Goldner, which I have, buried away somewhere, but have not looked at in 30 years, they talk about some post-Kong projects, including assorted parodies, such as Walter Lantz's King Klunk. They make mention of one that Al Christie started to produce in 1934 called The Lost Island, using puppets to impersonate O'Brien's stop motion (rather a step backward, I would say). Anyway, as Eric said:

In the book The Making of King Kong is some documentation about a Christie short called The Lost Island that ALMOST was the first 3-strip "live-action." It was a semi-spoof of King Kong done with marionettes.

It was actually started and in production when the studio shut it down for whatever reason. Orville Goldner, who worked on Kong, provided some interesting pictures from the production.


I had not remembered that it was in Technicolor. Interesting that the first live-action might not have had people in it.
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Eric Grayson

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PostSun May 04, 2008 4:01 pm

There was a nitrate print of What, No Men! at UCLA as recently as 1995, because I saw it there.

If I recall correctly, there's also footage from What, No Men! in that classic complication, It Came from Hollywood (1982). It would make a good companion piece with Just Imagine, having a similar theme and the same star, the excruciating El Brendel.

Eric (who almost never posts here and can read this post only because it's near the top of the page.)
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Richard P. May

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PostThu May 15, 2008 8:35 am

Harold,

I can only reply from memory on the early MGM shorts, but none of them ring a bell with me. Very few of the 2-color subjects survive. The negatives were destroyed after 3-color came in, and any preservation was done by making internegs from existing studio prints.

Regarding copyrights on early 3-color subjects: just because they were registered when made does not mean they were renewed, LA CUCURACHA being a prime example. Since it was owned by Pioneer, there was probably no followup for renewal at the 28 year anniversary.

The WB shorts, I believe, are all renewed and fully protected.

I have recently been told that the 3-strip negs on WHAT, NO MEN? do survive, and preservation is in progress.
Dick May
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Jim Gettys

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PostSat May 17, 2008 6:28 pm

I was very surprised to discover that James A. FitzPatrick was filming his Traveltalks in 3-strip Technicolor as early as April 1934, and I was surprised again to learn from Dick May that FitzPatrick continued to shoot full TC into the 1940s, well after the introduction of 16mm Kodachrome in 1935. FitzPatrick must have stuck with 3-strip TC because it simply looked a lot better, and was well worth the extra trouble and expense. You would expect, of course, that any film shot on 35mm would look clearly superior to a 16mm blowup.

A useful reference for comparison is The Memphis Belle (1944), William Wyler's famous WW2 documentary. MB was shot on 16mm Kodachrome by Wyler and other Hollywood professionals, then blown-up to 35mm Technicolor for release to theaters. The image quality of MB is OK, but definitely inferior to footage originally shot on 35mm. It has higher contrast, blocked shadows, more grain, less detail, and less subtle color. These are telltale characteristics of 16mm Kodachrome blowups.

I've been recording Traveltalks off TCM for the last few weeks, and the difference is readily apparent, although you might not notice if you didn't view them in one session, back-to-back. The two postwar Traveltalks on TCM recently both looked like Kodachrome blowups:

Around the World in California (1946)
Egypt Speaks (1950)

Four of the recently-shown prewar Traveltalks had the superior look of 3-strip Technicolor (i.e. less contrast, relatively open shadows, less grain, more detail, and more subtle color):

Hong Kong: The Hub of the Orient (1937)
Imperial Delhi (1938)
Old Natchez on the Mississippi (1939)
Cavalcade of San Francisco (1940)

The one exception was Yellowstone Park: Nature's Playground (1936), which had the look of a 16mm Kodachrome blowup. Perhaps Yellowstone was too rugged for the bulky 3-strip camera, or maybe they didn't want to expose the very expensive camera to the mists and corrosive vapors of the Yellowstone caldera. In any case, it shows that FitzPatrick could shoot Kodachrome in 1936, if he wanted to.

TCM hasn't run any wartime Traveltalks recently, but after they do show several it should be possible to estimate when FitzPatrick dropped 3-strip Technicolor, and started using 16mm Kodachrome regularly.

Jim Gettys
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PostSun Jun 08, 2008 7:35 pm

TCM showed 10 FitzPatrick Traveltalks over the last few weeks, including several from the early 1940s. These make it possible to pin down to 1946 the probable transition from 35mm Technicolor to 16mm Kodachrome. Nearly all Traveltalks before 1946 are 3-strip TC, while nearly all after 1946 are blowups from 16mm. Both types were used during 1946.

To be any more precise would require more sunsets and "fond farewells" than I am prepared to endure.

**********

TCM ran a Traveltalk this morning called Paris on Parade (1938), featuring the 1937 Paris International Exposition. It was shot by the legendary Jack Cardiff, the greatest of all Technicolor cinematographers. His credits include Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and The African Queen (1951). He also directed many films, including one of my favorite guilty pleasures, The Long Ships (1964). It's hard to believe, but Jack Cardiff is still active at age 93.

Jim Gettys
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Richard P. May

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PostTue Jun 10, 2008 3:26 pm

Cardiff also shot two TravelTalks about the San Francisco World's Fair, I think in 1939.
The titles were A DAY ON TREASURE ISLAND and NIGHT FALLS ON TREASURE ISLAND. The latter was mostly shot at night, with the lights of the fair. Because of the low light conditions the camera was run at a slow speed, and projecting the resulting print makes a very sped-up (and interesting) image.
Dick May
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PostWed Jun 11, 2008 6:05 am

Jack Cardiff's 1938 film of Delhi in this series, along with many other surviving examples of early colour processes, have been made available on Youtube by the BFI....obviously there is a quality loss, but they are fascinating to see....the Delhi film in particular, if you keep the Korda Thief of Bagdad(1939) to mind... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Q3S4EWVPq0 I'm particularly impressed by the Tartans of Scotland (1906) from GA Smith
I could use some digital restoration myself...
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LouieD

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PostWed Sep 10, 2008 5:59 pm

Just checking out this thread after I got some further information on the WHAT, NO MEN? short. It seems a copy was recieved by the State of New York Education Department Motion Picture Division (basically the NY censor board) on October 24, 1934. It was viewed once on 10/24 and again on 10/25 and rejected becuase it was deemed "INDECENT" and "TENDS TO CORRUPT MORALS".

I haven't found out yet if there were any reshoots or just cuts but a revised version was submitted on December 12th, 1934 (which is leading me to believe just cuts), held, then finally screened on January 10th, 1935 where further cuts were ordered.

The licence was finally granted on February 4th, 1935.
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Re: Full Technicolor before Becky Sharp

PostWed Oct 30, 2013 5:23 pm

I don't think Good Morning, Eve! was released August 5. This link from Vitaphone and Warner Bros. says it was released 9-22-1934. So it was released on September 22, not August 5.
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Mattdillon87

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Re: Full Technicolor before Becky Sharp

PostWed Oct 30, 2013 5:37 pm

And here's my source for that information: http://www.picking.com/vitaphone102.html
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All Darc

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PostWed Oct 30, 2013 7:49 pm

Interesting case Mr May.
The last reel of Nothing Sacred have the oposite problem, the câmera negative of the magenta channel is missing.


Would Warner consider a digital restoration of WHAT, NO MEN to try recombine the surviving magenta câmera negative, aligning the shape and geometry, to match with the cyan and the yellow channels from the technicolor print ?
It would reinforce details and definition more than just a standart digital restoration of the technicolr print alone.
As we know the technicolor câmera have in the magenta channel the sharper image of the three channels.


In theory, for the future, when digital tools advance even more, would be possible to recover the details for all 3 channels.
It may be possible or almost even today, but with a high cost I suppose. Once you have one channel from câmera negative, and the other channels from a original print, it's possible to translate the details of the câmera negative single channels to the other channels from the print.


Richard P. May wrote:WHAT, NO MEN is a particular problem. It is the only one of the WB shorts of the first couple of years of 3-strip where the negative, so far, can't be found. All the others are in the Library of Congress collection.
They have the magenta negative only on MEN. It's possible that was used for B&W prints for a reissue. The Academy Film Archive has a B&W print, and UCLA has the original Technicolor studio print.
I have been able to view this print on a flatbed at the Academy. The print is in excellent condition, and the short is a lot of fun.
A duplicate internegative can be made from the print. The Academy needs WB's permission to do this, and that's in the works.
Keep thinking...

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Richard P. May

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Re: Full Technicolor before Becky Sharp

PostWed Oct 30, 2013 8:19 pm

Warner Bros. found the original negatives of WHAT, NO MEN a couple of years ago, and did a beautiful job of restoration.
I have been away from WB for about eight years now, so have nothing to do with their preservation efforts, nor do I know if they have any plans to put this out for home video.
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Re: Full Technicolor before Becky Sharp

PostWed Oct 30, 2013 10:29 pm

Richard P. May wrote:Warner Bros. found the original negatives of WHAT, NO MEN a couple of years ago, and did a beautiful job of restoration.
I have been away from WB for about eight years now, so have nothing to do with their preservation efforts, nor do I know if they have any plans to put this out for home video.


WHAT, NO MEN is included in the excellent VITAPHONE CAVALCADE OF MUSICAL COMEDY set released a couple yers ago from Warner Archives. There is a great selection of early colour shorts in this set.
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Christopher Jacobs

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Re: Full Technicolor before Becky Sharp

PostWed Oct 30, 2013 11:59 pm

Changsham wrote:
Richard P. May wrote:Warner Bros. found the original negatives of WHAT, NO MEN a couple of years ago, and did a beautiful job of restoration.
I have been away from WB for about eight years now, so have nothing to do with their preservation efforts, nor do I know if they have any plans to put this out for home video.


WHAT, NO MEN is included in the excellent VITAPHONE CAVALCADE OF MUSICAL COMEDY set released a couple yers ago from Warner Archives. There is a great selection of early colour shorts in this set.


And it looks beautiful on the DVD-R. It would really be wonderful if WB would do new HD scans and release a Blu-ray of Vitaphone shorts. Although the DVDs look very nice indeed, having seen many of them on 35mm prints it's obvious that a Blu-ray could make them look even nicer.
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Re: Full Technicolor before Becky Sharp

PostThu Oct 31, 2013 1:35 am

Christopher Jacobs wrote:
Changsham wrote:
Richard P. May wrote:Warner Bros. found the original negatives of WHAT, NO MEN a couple of years ago, and did a beautiful job of restoration.
I have been away from WB for about eight years now, so have nothing to do with their preservation efforts, nor do I know if they have any plans to put this out for home video.


WHAT, NO MEN is included in the excellent VITAPHONE CAVALCADE OF MUSICAL COMEDY set released a couple yers ago from Warner Archives. There is a great selection of early colour shorts in this set.


And it looks beautiful on the DVD-R. It would really be wonderful if WB would do new HD scans and release a Blu-ray of Vitaphone shorts. Although the DVDs look very nice indeed, having seen many of them on 35mm prints it's obvious that a Blu-ray could make them look even nicer.


Well that would be a logical progression and also add the MGM Technicolor shorts from the Vitaphone series as well. Some are in absolutely brilliant conditon going by the DVD-R examples.
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PostSat Aug 22, 2015 6:07 pm

Richard P. May wrote:I was VP of Film Preservation at Warner Bros until the end of 2005, and initiated the preservation of several of the early 3-color short subjects.
The first one we did was GOOD MORNING, EVE, and was suggested by the Vitaphone Project.
All of the preservation projects were from the original 3-strip negatives held by the Library of Congress. Several labs in the Los Angeles area did the actual work, including Technicolor, Cinetech, YCM, and possibly others which I don't remember.

The book GLORIOUS TECHNICOLOR, while very good, does not distinguish between films shot with the 3-strip camera and those shot on color negative, and printed with Technicolor's dye-transfer process. Starting with the early 1950s, the book lists all films processed by Tech, regardless of the type of negative.

The Fitzpatrick Traveltalks were shot in 3-strip generally prior to the mid 1940s. After the war, most were blown up from 16mm Kodachrome. It's hard to image them carrying the 200+ pound camera around for these, but it was so. None of the original negatives survive, but they were all preserved by MGM to modern color film.

Regarding LA CUCURACHA, I have a list which came to me via one of the archives, listing every Technicolor film from 1925 until 1936. This list was compiled by Technicolor. The dates are only by year photographed, and are in the order of the production company, so this doesn't help determine date of actual photography. LA C. is listed as RKO-Pioneer. Pioneer was the producer, as stated in previous posts, but distributed by RKO, which would probably give it fairly extensive exposure in theaters.
It is probable, though, that not too many prints would have been made.

So much for my first post to this site.

Dick May


Hmm, regarding that list of Technicolor films compiled by Technicolor, what are the Technicolor titles photographed from 1932 until 1934?
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Re: Full Technicolor before Becky Sharp

PostSun Aug 23, 2015 4:40 am

Jim Gettys wrote:The use of full (3-strip) Technicolor in live-action films preceded the release of Becky Sharp (June 1935) by at least 16 months, but the details available online are incomplete and confused, so I'm compiling my own list, and would welcome any additions or corrections:


1) The Cat and the Fiddle (16 Feb 1934) MGM,
feature with full Technicolor finale, comic operetta,
with Ramon Novarro, Jeanette MacDonald, Frank Morgan

2) The House of Rothschild (7 Apr 1934) 20th Century,
feature with full Technicolor finale, historical drama,
with George Arliss, Boris Karloff, Loretta Young, Robert Young

3) Service with a Smile (20 Jul 1934) Warner,
full Technicolor 2-reel short, musical comedy,
with Leon Errol, Warner chorines

4) Good Morning, Eve! (5 Aug 1934) Warner,
full Technicolor 2-reel short, musical comedy,
with Leon Errol, June MacCloy, Vernon Dent, Warner chorines

5) La Cucaracha (30 Aug 1934) Pioneer/RKO,
full Technicolor 2-reel short, musical,
with Steffi Duna, Don Alvarado, Paul Porcasi, Eduardo Durant

6) The Spectacle Maker (20 Sep 1934) MGM,
full Technicolor 2-reel short, musical fantasy,
directed by John Farrow

7) Kid Millions (10 Nov 1934) Goldwyn,
feature with full Technicolor finale, musical comedy,
with Eddie Cantor, Ethel Merman, Ann Sothern, George Murphy


So far, I have nothing for the first half of 1935. Many of these can be seen on YouTube, but with poor image quality.

Good Morning, Eve! is particularly interesting. The color is great, and it features some of Busby Berkeley's 1933/34 chorines, including the intriguing (but as yet unidentified) Louise Brooks lookalike --- she even gets a closeup in the seaside finale. These dancers look stunning in B&W, but it's a unique treat to see them in Glorious Technicolor!

Good Morning, Eve! is also notable as the first full Technicolor film shot outdoors, a distinction usually claimed for Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936). The entire short can be seen on YouTube, but why bother, since it's included as a bonus on the recent DVD release of Dames, and the image quality is amazing.


Jim Gettys


According to a thread, 'The Girl with the Black Bob', the 'Louise Brooks lookalike' was Mildred Dixon. I thought I had put up a query about this a while back, bur it seems that others were intrigued also...
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Re: Full Technicolor before Becky Sharp

PostTue Mar 29, 2016 4:25 am

I have a black and white Fitzpatrick Traveltalks 35mm nitrate film.Im wondering what to do with it?
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Re: Full Technicolor before Becky Sharp

PostWed Mar 30, 2016 7:26 am

Pioneer was formed by C.V. and Jock Whitney with Merian Cooper in charge of production. C.V. and Jock Whitney were major stockholders in Technicolor Corporation. So I guess they got the loudest trumpet!

Pioneer was eventually folded into the newly-formed Selznick International, of which the Whitney's were major investors.
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PostThu Mar 02, 2017 11:31 pm

Jim Gettys wrote:Thanks for the comprehensive list, Harold. And thanks, Mike, for the book suggestion.

I checked the online LA Times and found that La Cucaracha cleared the Hays/Breen office on July 13, 1934.

Service with a Smile and Good Morning, Eve! and What, No Men? all received their "certificates of purity" four days later.

The Production Code kicked-in officially on July 15.

The Hays/Breen Office records might answer some questions. Or the Technicolor Archive, if there is such a thing. Does anyone know where these records are located?


Jim Gettys


The leading film industry trade paper in 1934, Daily Variety, has a review of La Cucaracha, in its June 30, 1934 issue:

La Cucaracha
Pioneer Pictures two-reel Technicolor novelty for RKO release. Producer Kenneth Macgowan. Directed by Lloyd Corrigan. Technicolor photography by Ray Ranahan. Art director, Robert Edmond Jones. Cast: Steffi Dunna, Don Alvarado, Paul Porcasi. Previewed at the Ritz, June 29. Running time 20 mins.

After years of experimentation, it would seem that Technicolor photography finally has been perfected. Forerunner of a series of features which Jock Whitney, as Pioneer Pictures, will produce for RKO, La Cucaracha is exquisitely colored in natural tints, and aside from a remarkable clearness of coloring and photography, the two-reel subject presents a diverting slant of Mexican folk life that is both picturesque as well as entertaining.

Perfection of the Technicolor process is emphasized by the complete lack of blur by which previous attempts have too frequently been marred. The clearness under the Whitney process is such as to stamp the first of his productions as a fitting contribution to the cinema art. Particularly are the close-ups superbly done, so much so that perspiration, and even the pores of the face, are brought out as though under a microscope. It's a fine piece of work, and reflects credit on Robert Edmond Jones for his art direction, and Ray Ranahan, whose technicolor camera work is flawless.

As for the story, Director Corrigan has succeeded in presenting a picturesque yarn, having as its theme the aversion of Mexicans for the cockroach. Steffi Dunna gives a superb characterization as the little Mexican girl, who when her love is spurned by Don Alvarado, a dancer, interrupts his performance by singing 'La Cucaracha' with such venom and feeling that Paul Porcasi, impressario, engages them both for his Mexico City resort.

Porcasi is excellent, particularly in the sequence where he mixes a salad dressing, and Alvarado fits in nicely. Music is provided by Eduardo Durant's orchestra. Large Mexican supporting cast is used.


So, from reading the above review, La Cucaracha was considered a wonderful film because the movie costumes had nice designs (resulting in the film being "picturesque").
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