TECHNICOLOR is the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf and all the Silly Symphonies that Walt Disney has released since November, 1932. It is also the next big thing in pictures, the coming revolution in the cinema world¾maybe. Technicolor is a process for making moving pictures in color, and it is the only such process that can be considered a commercial success. (Paramount, working with Eastman Kodak, has announced another process which claims to equal Technicolor, but it has yet to pass the test of producing a picture.) Broadly speaking, Technicolor is synonymous with color in the movies, and when you are talking about Technicolor you inevitably get into an argument as to whether the innovation of color can be compared to the previous innovation of sound. But to those who believe in it there is no argument. Their answer is yes.
Technicolor, Inc. is the company that owns the Technicolor
process. It is a little company with most of its 656,000 shares balanced by a big intangible item of patents and goodwill. It was started by a group of physicists who are graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (hence the Tech in the name). But for many years it has been dominated by Dr. Herbert Thomas Kalmus, with its financial control centering in Dr. Kalmus and a small group of his friends. One of the more remarkable aspects of Dr. Kalmus' accomplishment is the way he has nursed the company along without letting any bankers get their hands on it. But of course Technicolor, Inc. does not eat up money like a cinema-producing company. For it makes no pictures, but gets its money by selling, developing, and printing the color film and by leasing cameras and cameramen to expose the negatives. Its big neighbors can be colossal and stupendous, but Technicolor goes quietly along with a patented process that thus far has amounted almost to a patent monopoly.
It is still a young company. Its first commercial picture-Toll of the Sea, written by Frances Marion and starring Anna May Wong-was made in 1921. But Technicolor did not amount to much until 1928. Then Warner Bros., happy with its great success as introducer of the talking picture, took up Technicolor as the next great picture advance. Before, they claim, they had time to think, other producers had followed Warner Bros. into color, and their joint efforts produced a brief but glorious period in Technicolor's history. But unfortunately Technicolor was at that time using a two-color process which was far from perfect in its color-producing function. So the early boom petered out in a series of disappointing pictures that left Technicolor with a distinct black eye.
Then Technicolor brought out a three-color process, infinitely superior to its two-color predecessor¾ it was 1932 news in its own world. Walt Disney saw a sample, liked it, began using color in Silly Symphonies. One of the Silly Symphonies, the Three Little Pigs, stole the program from every "feature," and everybody in Hollywood began talking about and thinking of color films again. Merian Caldwell Cooper, producer for RKO-Radio Pictures, saw one of the Symphonies and said he never wanted to make a black and white picture again. John Hay (Jock) Whitney, long nursing an itch to get into pictures, but needing some special advantage to make up for his late arrival, decided that color was the "edge" he was looking for. Ann Harding, who photographs most effectively in Technicolor (which is well designed to give blonds the gentlemen's preference), will soon appear in a color picture (Peacock's Feather) produced by Walter Wanger. Eddie Cantor is a color enthusiast, will have a color sequence in his forthcoming picture, Kid Millions. Darryl Zanuck saw a Symphony while he was making the House of Rothschild, liked it so well that a color finale to the House was immediately decided upon. Color has undoubtedly again shaken Hollywood to the depths of its cinematic being.
Whether color can make black and white pictures as obsolete as sound made silent pictures, is, as suggested, quite another question. The silent picture was slain overnight by the jawbone of Al Jolson, whose Jazz Singer threw a hitherto skeptical industry bodily into speaking likenesses. But color is not so pronounced a revolution as sound. Sound gave the pictures an appeal to the ear as well as the eye; it created dialogue; it established a whole new set of dramatic values.
Color adds no new sense, but it is one step closer to reality than black and white. Willy Pogany's pronunciamento is that black and white pictures can appear altogether real only to color-blind observers. There is something in what he says. For although experience has taught us to take a flat, black and white picture and mentally endow it with color and a third dimension, pictures in color will make this transference easier and more convincing. If the public could be taught to depend on the help of color in creating its daily illusion, the cinema would move away from black and white, rapidly and inevitably. And it would never move back again because the moving-picture can afford the luxury if the public demands it. The result is that now the whole unwieldy, currently unprosperous, cinema whale has both its bloodshot eyes fixed on a relative minnow while it ponders upon intangibles. But before pondering with it, let us trace the minnow's past and describe the minnow's present.