Imagine the thrill for audiences back in 1939 when Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ  opened that door and stepped into a glorious Technicolor world. The real world is in black and white – the fantasy world of Oz in is radiant color.
Studios in the 30s were forever teasing audiences with color sequences in the otherwise usual black and white movies. There were only so many Technicolor cameras,strictly controlled by the Technicolor company. and of course the cost of filming in color far exceeded black and white.
During the decade, there was much experimentation in color film until the full three-strip Technicolor hit the screen – with Walt Disney one of the first to see what could be done with color.

There were only a few films (for example, Nothing Sacred,Gone With The Wind) made entirely in color, but from the start of sound films, the public were shown what was to come.

Only black and white sequences of the number,‘Wedding of the Painted Doll’ survives from Broadway Melody of 1929. The song and dance number was filmed in two-tone Technicolor (mainly red and green.)


Samuel Goldwyn spared nothing in the spectacular finale of Kid Millions‘The Ice Cream Factory’ number was filmed in Technicolor and looks amazing (with Eddie Cantor and Ethel Merman).

The Cat And the Fiddle sparked into full Technicolor for its finale, with Jeanette MacDonald and Ramon Navarro. (Filmgoers got to see Jeanette’s flaming red hair!)

MGM gave the black and white The Women a glorious Technicolor fashion show.

The tantalising glimpses of color continued into the 40s. In the film Irene, Anna Neagle’s number ‘Alice Blue Gown’ was in color.


Anna Neagle


The Tyrone Power film, I’ll Never Forget You’ had the modern day sequences in black and white ,and the historical scenes (in the 18th Century)  in color.

Tyrone Power, Michael Rennie

Tyrone Power, Michael Rennie

Tyrone Power,Ann Blyth

Tyrone Power,Ann Blyth

At the end of The Secret Garden, the garden is shown in full bloom – in color.

In Britain, A Matter of Life and Death, Earth is shown in its natural color while Heaven is in black and white.

Marius Goring as Conductor 71

Marius Goring as Conductor 71

Marius Goring

Marius Goring

A process called Dufaycolor ( invented by Frenchman,Louis Dufay in 1908) was used in Radio Parade of 1935, for the number ‘Black Shadows‘,sung by Alberta Hunter.

And in The Picture of Dorian Gray,when we see the portrait of the young man played by Hurd Hatfield, it is in color, as is the painting of him at the end of the film, when his debauchery is shown through the picture.

Any other examples?

18 responses »

  1. In the silent version of Phantom of the Opera, the one that starred Lon Chaney, there is a sequence at a ball where the Phantom appears and his costume is in red, while all else is in black and white. Also, in Sergei Eisenstein’s trilogy film about Ivan the Terrible, one of the parts has a feast scene and dancers appear to entertain Ivan and his aides, and the entire sequence is in color, while the rest of the movies are in black and white.

  2. A most interesting subject and the vintage color
    screen captures are amazing!
    Going a bit more down market;makers of Fifties horror movies
    also liked to have color sequences in their films,as an
    added gimmick for the drive-in crowd.
    In William Castle’s THE TINGLER starring Vincent Price there was
    a brief color sequence that was not seen in UK cinemas.
    The same thing applied to RETURN OF DRACULA (UK Title
    The Fantastic Disappearing Man) but the brief color sequence
    is on the USA DVD release.
    Veteran actor Francis Lederer raises this low-budget effort several
    notches,though I understand that he was less than happy with the film.
    The final moments of WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST (UK title
    The Terror Strikes) are in color and was included in UK cinema
    prints. Another American International cheapie HOW TO MAKE
    A MONSTER changed to color for the last fifteen minutes or so.

  3. Interesting post. I don’t suppose it counts in the way the others you’ve mentioned here do, but the brief muzzle flash during the climax of Hitchcock’s SPELLBOUND is a neat little touch.

  4. Just adding to Fifties horror films with color sequences,
    I forgot to mention JACK THE RIPPER (1959)
    From producers Monty Berman and Robert S Baker who were
    doing their best to emulate the success of Hammer Films (often
    using key Hammer talent;Cushing,Jimmy Sangster) JACK THE
    RIPPER had a brief color gore sequence aimed at the USA market.
    This was not included in the British version but did turn up on a recent
    Italian DVD release.
    Berman and Baker liked to produce much stronger versions of their
    films for the overseas market FLESH AND THE FIENDS (no color extras)
    being a prime example.
    Another really obscure film is the 1955 German film ZWEI BLAUE AUGEN
    (Two Blue Eyes or Christine) which actually had a 1957 British release
    with a major circuit (Rank) as well. This drama concerning a blind girl
    bursts into color in the final moments when the heroine regains her sight!

  5. A fascinating subject, Vienna. The fashion show in ‘The Women’ is amazing.

    In the great silent film ‘Greed’, the gold is the only touch of colour in the movie, and makes a strong impression. In more recent times there is the red coat as the only colour in Schindler’s List – and the epic German TV series ‘Heimat’ in the 1980s kept switching between colour and black and white for different sequences. I think this was to do with how intense the memories were in different sections, not sure.

  6. I just watched IRENE tonight!

    In the black and white film PORTRAIT OF JENNIE, the storm sequence near the end is tinted green, then after the storm the picture goes to sepia, and the final shot of the portait is in Technicolor.

    I saw a restored version of the movie on a big screen many years ago, and the storm sequence also went to an early version of widescreen. The entire effect was quite something.

    Disney’s THE RELUCTANT DRAGON switches from black and white to Technicolor partway through the film — Robert Benchley comments to an actress that she looks great in Technicolor!

    Best wishes,

  7. I’ve just read your review of IRENE and your description of how the color sequence takes place. I wonder if Anna Neagle could have stayed in Hollywood or whether she and Herbert Wilcox chose to return to the UK. She and Michael Wilding made a great team subsequently.
    Glad to hear Warners have released it.
    Thanks too for the information on Portrait Of Jennie and The Reluctant Dragon. I like Benchley’s comment!

  8. Reading this, it was sticking in my head that there was a Shirley Temple movie that did this too…I thought it might have been The Blue Bird so I checked IMDB. They have B&W listed for the “first reel” and then Technicolor, so I guess I was right.

    And then, oddly, there’s the reverse – The Story of Seabiscuit used B&W newsreel footage of the real Seabiscuit for some of the race scenes, and the surrounding scenes were done in B&W so the shots of the actors intercut through the races matched. Then they switched back to color for the next scenes!

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