The Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation was founded by MIT grads in 1916, named after the university. In its early stages, Technicolor was complex and expensive, because it required custom cameras and three times the amount of film stock (in comparison to black-and-white) to create. What started as a two-color process (red and green) grew to a three-strip process — three filmstrips, one for blue, red, and green, were layered during printing. Dyes were added during the final stage. This resulted in rich, bright images that could look candy-colored, like the vibrant musicals with which Technicolor is often associated, or lurid, in the case of several horror films and the rare noir. Through August 5, MoMA’s retrospective Glorious Technicolor examines this brilliant chapter in Hollywood history. We’re celebrating along with them by offering this visual diary of gorgeous Technicolor films that remind us of the magic of movies.
An American in Paris (1951)
Cinematographer John Alton is known for his striking black-and-white noirs such as The Big Combo, but he won an Oscar for the color cinematography in An American in Paris. For the famous 17-minute ballet sequence, Irene Sharif designed each scene to reflect different impressionist painters like Edouard Manet and Toulouse-Lautrec.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
One of the earliest uses of Technicolor. The process was used for scenes from Faust and the Bal Masque scene.
Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929)
The dusky corals and greens in the film were a result of an early two-color Technicolor process that muted the red and blue-green.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
From MoMA: “Directing (with 28-year-old Stanley Donen) and choreographing while also dancing and acting, Gene Kelly artfully captures bodies in motion through graceful camera movements and a wash of diaphanous colors during the film’s dreamily romantic sequences, and eye-popping yellows, greens, and reds to accentuate moments of comic absurdity, joy, or sexual tension.”
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Technicolor added heavily to the film’s $2 million budget. The production process required all 11 Technicolor cameras in existence.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
The “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” scene wouldn’t be the same splash of pinks and reds without Technicolor.
Niagara was one of the rare films noir to be filmed in Technicolor, and also one of the final films at Fox to be created in the format (before the transition to CinemaScope).
La Cucaracha (1934)
“The success of this spicy, Latin-themed musical short emboldened the executives at Pioneer Pictures to produce Rouben Mamoulian’s Becky Sharp, the first Hollywood feature in three-strip Technicolor (also screening in this exhibition),” writes MoMA. The film is also an example of how Technicolor was used to highlight the exoticism of other cultures.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Dorothy initially had silver shoes, but they were changed to ruby slippers to highlight the beauty of Technicolor.
The Thief of Bagdad (1940)
A true Technicolor fantasy, and the first film to use green screens (or bluescreen).
The Tales of Hoffmann (1951)
Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation restored this film to its original glory for a 4k restoration, cleaning every frame (or, more accurately, every three frames for every finished frame we see, due to Technicolor).
A Star Is Born (1954)
This was George Cukor’s first Technicolor film, but not Judy Garland’s.
Black Narcissus (1947)
From IMDb: “Because of the Technicolor camera and film stock, the sets needed an astounding 800 foot-candles (8,600 lux) of illuminance just to operate at T2.8, which was the widest lens aperture setting.”
Joan of Arc (1948)
This won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography (color) and Best Costume Design (color).
The Golden Coach (1952)
“Each movie gave Jean Renoir the opportunity to explore and experiment with Technicolor, just as his father did with color on his canvases,” writes the LA Times on the director’s ’50s slate of Technicolor.
Kiss Me Kate (1953)
From IMDb: “While shot on Ansocolor film stock, the prints were by Technicolor, who optically centered the picture to fit the soundtrack on the film (unfortunately, new prints do not have this advantage and the left portion of the picture is cut off prematurely).”
Funny Face (1957)
A fashion-inspired, comedic musical? Of course it had to be Technicolor.
Gone with the Wind (1939)
The first color film to win the Oscar for Best Picture.
Heaven Can Wait (1943)
Ernst Lubitsch’s only completed picture in Technicolor.
The Red Shoes (1948)
From IMDb: “Technicolor founders Herbert T. Kalmus and Natalie Kalmus considered this film the best example of Three-Strip Technicolor. During the filming, however, Natalie Kalmus often complained that Jack Cardiff wasn’t following the rules laid down for Technicolor films and demanded that they re-shoot various scenes. But Michael Powell always backed up Cardiff and they got the film they wanted.”
Greenwich Village (1944)
“Technicolor is the picture’s chief asset,” wrote the New York Times in their 1944 review.
Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
“Sumptuous Technicolor mounting and a highly exploitable story lend considerable importance to Leave Her to Heaven that it might not have had otherwise,” said Variety in 1944 of another rare noir in bold color.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Walt Disney was one of the early adopters of Technicolor and had exclusive rights to the three-strip process for several years.
Cover Girl (1944)
Columbia’s first Technicolor musical.
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
“Technicolor has seldom been more affectionately used than in [the film’s] registrations of the sober mahoganies and tender muslins and benign gaslights of the period,” wrote Time in 1944.
Cobra Woman (1944)
Kenneth Anger’s favorite film was shot in Technicolor.
The Quiet Man (1952)
Republic Pictures spent the big bucks on this rare Technicolor movie for the studio.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
The film won Best Art Direction (Color) at the Oscars.
Dial M for Murder (1954)
If you notice that Grace Kelly’s wardrobe grows darker as the picture goes on, that’s not due to the color process, but because Hitchcock had Kelly wear her brightest outfits at the start of the movie.
All That Heaven Allows (1955)
François Ozon took inspiration from the film’s beautiful winter scenes (in Technicolor blue) for 8 Femmes.
Artists and Models (1955)
This Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, and Shirley MacLaine comedy was shot in VistaVision and Eastmancolor, with prints by Technicolor.
Written on the Wind (1956)
Technicolor highlighted with help from cinematographer Russell Metty (Spartacus).
The Girl Can’t Help It (1956)
Even the cameo performances of Little Richard and other musical greats can’t overshadow the bold Technicolor and zippy Leon Shamroy cinematography.
“Color plays a key part in the mystery, emotion and psychology, of the film. Colors evoke feelings, and while Hitchcock liked to say that Psycho (made two years later) was ‘pure cinema’ in black-and-white, Vertigo is a symphony of color, its multi-hued themes and motifs as vividly orchestrated as Bernard Herrmann’s famous score,” writes Roger Ebert about the film’s use of Technicolor.
The film’s original release was in Technicolor, but the 1974 release was in MetroColor.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
The film won Best Cinematography, Color at the 20th Golden Globe Awards.
Fun fact: the ice cream scene was inspired by a real-life incident in which Hepburn spilled red wine on co-star Cary Grant’s suit at a dinner party.
The Leopard (1963)
The film won Best Cinematography, Color at the Nastro d’Argento awards — the oldest movie award in Europe.
Juliet of the Spirits (1965)
Fellini’s first feature-length color film.
The film has a striking red, white, and blue palette, mirroring the French and American flags.
The Professionals (1966)
The movie was shot in Technicolor on location in Death Valley and the Valley of Fire.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The advanced color process helped push the movie $4.5 million over budget, putting it 16 months behind schedule.
The movie’s palette brought Weimar Republic-era Berlin back to life.
The Godfather (1972)
The last American film released before Technicolor closed its dye plant was Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part II.
Clerical robes in Technicolor — and only Fellini could get away with it.
Who needs plot when we have Fellini’s colorful characters and vignettes?
A lurid Technicolor nightmare modeled after the palette of Disney’s Snow White.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
The remote jungles and tortured mindscape of Vietnam, all rendered in shocking color.
Ju Dou (1990)
One of the rare contemporary films shot in Technicolor, long after America left the process in the past.
Toy Story (1995)
Color is very personal in Toy Story. Pixar’s John Lasseter’s favorite color is green. His wife Nancy’s favorite color is purple. The character Buzz Lightyear wears these colors on his suit.