Early Color Film

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Early Color Film

Shot in 1922, a full 13 years before the first color feature film, here’s a restored test of  Kodachrome color motion picture film.

In these newly preserved tests, made in 1922 at the Paragon Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey, actress Mae Murray appears almost translucent, her flesh a pale white that is reminiscent of perfectly sculpted marble, enhanced with touches of color to her lips, eyes, and hair. She is joined by actress Hope Hampton modeling costumes from The Light in the Dark (1922), which contained the first commercial use of Two-Color Kodachrome in a feature film. Ziegfeld Follies actress Mary Eaton and an unidentified woman and child also appear.

Here’s the full article.

Becky Sharp (1935) is credited in that article as being the first feature film to be shot completely in color via the three-strip Technicolor process, though color was used through the two-strip Technicolor process in earlier films like the fantastic Doctor X (1932), and Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933), among others.


Mystery Of The Wax Museum


That two-strip Technicolor process made for an interesting looking film, and after growing up seeing things in full living color, lends itself to giving a film, especially a horror film, a surreal feeling.

I wonder if the boys at Kodak ever thought of something like “High Definition” back in 1922?  Or how relatively short the lifespan of Kodachrome film would end up being?

June 20th, 2011|Categories: Film|Tags: , |8 Comments


  1. skinner June 21, 2011 at 4:32 PM - Reply

    Great find. The first section has an especially “Mary Pickford” sort of feel.

    I agree about the surreal nature of Mystery Of The Wax Museum’s colouring – I’ve seen a similar two-tone technique used in webcomics, and, when I do, I always wonder about how far we’ve really come since 1933.

  2. Jim June 21, 2011 at 7:19 PM - Reply

    I’ve always been of the thought that we haven’t progressed anywhere near what some like to think we have.

    It would be interesting to see a new film made with that process (or it’s digital equivalent).

  3. bmj2k June 22, 2011 at 12:36 AM - Reply

    The detail is amazing. That brings the era alive in ways B+W can’t. I’ve watched it a few times and I’m entranced- and kudos to whoever picked the music.

  4. Skinner June 22, 2011 at 1:38 PM - Reply

    Have you heard of Wanderer of the Wasteland? I hadn’t till this post inspired me to do some reading on the topic of early colourization, and the details are amazing – it was an early experiment in Technicolor, and it falls into the “lost film” category.

    From wikipedia:

    “A 35mm cemented bi-pack Technicolor print survived until the 1960s in the hands of Irvin Willat, who had directed the picture. Irvin Willat reported in 1971 that his print had decomposed and turned into jelly. After Willat’s death, his daughter mentioned that she remembered the day when he had first discovered that Wanderer of the Wasteland had decomposed. She said he went upstairs to his bedroom, closed the door and cried for three hours. His former wife Billie Dove had starred in the picture, and he never really came to terms with their separation.”

    – and the whole thing is made all the more tantalizing by the movie’s poster:

  5. Jim June 22, 2011 at 6:31 PM - Reply

    Barry: Yes, the music is a good fit. It’s weird to think that until this was rediscovered, nobody had seen those people in color since their deaths.

    JRD: I’ve never heard of that one. What a tragic story – one that has played out who knows how many times?

  6. Michael Mcgee May 21, 2012 at 8:03 PM - Reply

    The picture of mystery of the wax museum is a three color enhanced version of the two color scene.I got the original v.h.s version and there’s no blue it’s green.The greedy big m.g.m u.a. corps in the nineties politically corrected the color to increase there greedy profits from the film before Time Warner bought it, that is m.g.m. u.a.they also ruined D.r X

    • Jim May 23, 2012 at 7:26 PM - Reply

      Interesting. So, I’d guess TCM probably aired the Time Warner version when I saw it there years ago?

  7. Zorkikat August 15, 2012 at 11:37 AM - Reply

    There was no such thing as “two-strip” Technicolor. 🙂 The red/green records were recorded up/down on one strip- each exposure produced red and green records of the same frame. Then two sets of negatives were made by “picking” up the red and green frames, separated, to produce either toned positives for cupped prints or printing matrices for imbibations prints. The term used is just “two colour” Technicolor. The term “strip” came with the arrival of the three-colour system, which used three rolls to record RGB in-camera. 🙂

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