If it’s Thursday, this must be the mailbag.
Q: What determined which movies in the ’40s and ’50s were made in color or black-and-white, other than budget factors?
a: In brief, it depended on what the filmmakers and the studio thought best for that production. But let’s look at the history. While color movies date back to the 19th century, The Film Encyclopedia notes that color became increasingly common after the introduction of the Technicolor process in the 1930s; in the ’40s, color boomed even more after a simplified Technicolor process “made it possible to shoot Technicolor films with ordinary motion picture cameras.” In fact, the Motion Picture Academy split both the cinematography and art-direction Oscars into color and black-and-white categories in the early 1940s.
Cost was still a consideration, with color film stock costing more to buy, develop and print than black-and-white, so you still find plenty of low-budget films in the cheaper format. But, as the movies battled television for audience in the ’50s, color was one more weapon, since both color TV sets and programming in color were relatively rare. Still, aesthetic considerations fueled some film choices. The Oxford Companion to Film says that color was so often used to excess in scenery and costumes that some cinematographers preferred not to use it and color “came to be regarded as inappropriate to serious or realistic subjects.”
Only in the ’60s – after color had become common in TV, magazines and amateur photography — “did (color) become acceptable on the screen as naturalism,” the Oxford Companion says. It was so typical — and black-and-white so rare — that by 1968 the Oscars were back to giving just a single Oscar each in cinematography and art direction. But some filmmakers still rely on black-and-white; there have been notable efforts by Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List) and Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull), and the most recent winner of the best-picture Oscar was the black-and-white (and mostly silent) The Artist.
Q: Is there any chance of “Harry’s Law,” starring Kathy Bates, ever returning to the air? I miss it and would love to hear that it will return.
A: This is a question still getting asked months after the series ended its run, so a recap is in order. NBC canceled the drama in May. It had a relatively large audience, especially for NBC, but many of those viewers were well over 50 years old, and so not as desirable to NBC (or other networks) as younger adults. Now, you may want to argue that older adults have plenty of disposable income to spend on advertisers’ products. But older people are also seen as having long since established brand loyalty, whether to a toothpaste or a make of car, while younger viewers might be more disposed to trying out something new they see in a commercial. As I have said before, I don’t entirely buy that argument, but that’s how the TV business thinks.
Bates, by the way, is recuperating from a double mastectomy after a breast-cancer diagnosis over the summer. “My doctors have assured me I’m going to be around for a long time,” she told People.com in September. And she tweeted: “I don’t miss my breasts as much as I miss Harry’s Law.”
Q: Many years ago (probably at least 40), I saw a movie with Richard Crenna and I think Zero Mostel called “John Goldfarb, Please Come Home.” It was very funny but not politically correct. What happened with it, why is it never shown and can it be purchased?
A: I do not know of an authorized video release of John Goldfarb, Please Come Home, but I can see why it is not shown. The 1965 comedy starred Richard Crenna, Shirley MacLaine and Peter Ustinov — not Zero Mostel. It was written by William Peter Blatty, later far more famous for The Exorcist. Crenna played Goldfarb, a former football star who under complicated circumstances becomes the coach of the football team of a fictional Middle Eastern country where Ustinov was king. (MacLaine is a journalist investigating the king by sneaking into his harem.) The team plays Notre Dame, and the real-life Notre Dame was reportedly so unhappy with the movie that it sued to delay its release — and did stall it for some time. When finally released, the movie was not a hit, and clips from it on YouTube indicate both ethnic insensitivity and a lack of humor.
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Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and in the HeldenFiles Online blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Twitter and Facebook.