IN GLORIOUS BLACK AND WHITE

Thoughts on colorful movies shot in B&W by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

If I asked you to list your favorite movies, what would they be?  Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Transformers?  Maybe Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, Iron Man or Captain America?  Is it a 3D Surround Sound, computer enhanced spectacular? Or just fast and furious?  Do special effects and color make a movie great? Or might it be a brilliant script and amazing performances?

If you’re under 30, does your list include anything in black-and-white?  If you’re under 20, have you seen a black-and-white movie?

That’s right, black-and-white movies, like black-and-white photographs, have no colors, just shades of gray covering the gray-scale. It may seem to some that black-and-white movies were only made because color was not perfected until later, but that’s not true. Long after color was standard for all kinds of film, some directors chose black-and-white.

Some shot in black-and-white to evoke a feeling of another time and place. Raging Bull, the break-out performance for Robert DeNiro in 1980 was shot in black-and-white to evoke the era of Jake La Motta, the boxer and film’s subject.

Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Academy Award winning Schindler’s List was done in black and white not only to make it feel like a World War II movie, but also to emphasize the darkness of the subject matter. American History X, Broadway Danny Rose, Stardust Memories, The Elephant Man, all were made in black-and-white for effect, for mood, for a certain cinematographic grittiness. If you never heard of any of the aforementioned, in 2012, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to The Artist, filmed in black and white to recall another age.

casablanca-poster

Here are my top 5 black and white movies. These are required viewing before you report back next week: Casablanca is definitely number one. I know some will tell you that Citizen Kane is the best movie of all time. I watched it. I liked it. I have no need of seeing it again. I could watch Casablanca over and over.

Set during World War II, it’s the story of an American (Humphrey Bogart) who fell in love with a beauty (Ingrid Bergman) in Paris.  Forced to flee when the Nazis invaded, he is stood up at the train station by the woman he loves as the rain pours down. He winds up running a casino in Casablanca amidst a cast of shady characters … when guess who shows up? The movie includes one of the great movies songs of all time, As Time Goes By. And before you ask, Bogart never said, “Play it again, Sam.”

As a child, Psycho scared the heck out of me in the theater. It was one of many Alfred Hitchcock classics filmed in black-and-white. Anthony Perkins gave a deliciously creepy performance as the proprietor of the Bates Motel. If you have seen any other version of this classic, you wasted your time. See the original! Perkins reprises the role a number of times in sequels after he was typecast as a weirdo psychopath. Too bad; he was a solid actor.

When the Music Box Theater in Chicago was restored and started showing vintage movies, I took my mother to see Sunset Boulevard. We had both seen it on our wonderful 19-inch, black-and-white television. This was a chance to see a restored print in a restored theater. Writer William Holden is found dead, floating in a swimming pool. The story plays out mostly in flashback.

Silent film star Gloria Swanson, appropriately plays a former silent film star and manages to chew up the scenery in a fabulous performance. A list of Hollywood notables make cameos, including H.B. Warner in the Paramount film, song writers Ray Evans and Jay Livingston (who wrote music for the movie), and Cecil B. DeMille. As Norma Desmond would famously say, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

highnoon2

High Noon is everything a western should be. The town marshal is going to resign — on his wedding day — when bad news arrives. A dangerous outlaw is coming to town, and the new marshal has not yet arrived. The old marshal appears to be no match for the younger guy he had earlier put in jail. Gary Cooper distinguished himself as the sheriff willing to face down the bad guy even if it costs him his life. An A-List of Hollywood stars passed up the chance to make this movie for which Cooper won the Academy Award.

The movie genre that used black-and-white, light and shadows for maximum effect was (is) the detective story. The shine of a street light through a window that throws a shadow on the floor which contains the lines of the window frame and perhaps the detective’s name help to create the scene. Black-and-white emphasizes composition, shadow and light, contrast and mood in ways color can’t.

Top movie of this type is The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart chasing his partner’s killer and the elusive Maltese Falcon. It costars Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, both of whom will turn up a year later with Bogart in Casablanca. The ending has one of the dumbest movie speeches, but paradoxically, one of the great closing lines. Altogether, it’s a great movie.

TODAY’S BOUQUET

Garry picked this one because he thought the colors were special. I wanted to take a few pictures of it, but I needed to wait until the sun came around to this side of the house. It’s been rather gray for the past few days. A bit of rain, then maybe the sun will come out for a little while, then disappear again.

bouquet memorial day

And I forgot the days are longer and the sun arrives later each day for the next few weeks. I did grab the camera from my office so if old sol put in an appearance, I’d be ready. The sun is only in the right position for a few minutes on a good day.

Bouquet Memorial Wknd

But of course, I wasn’t ready. I’d grabbed the wrong camera. And we were in the middle of dinner when I looked up, exclaimed “SUN!!” and pulled the camera out of the bag. I have three Olympus mirrorless cameras and keep a different lens on each. It was the wrong lens.

Memorial bouquet

No time to say oops and get a different camera, so I shot anyhow. I got a few good ones despite everything. Wearing my computer glasses and using the wrong camera with the slower lens didn’t make it easier.

bouquet memorial weekend

Especially wearing the wrong eyeglasses. It is hard to focus properly if you can’t focus your eyes further than 15 inches!

TRUE GLORY: THE REAL WAR – FROM D-DAY TO V-E DAY

Cover of "The True Glory - From D-Day to ...

From the Imperial War Museum Official Collection

The True Glory: From D-Day to V-E Day (1945)

The movie’s title is taken from a letter of Sir Francis Drake “There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the True Glory.”

Question: Which President won an Oscar?

Answer: No, not Ronald Reagan. The 1945 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature went to its uncredited producer, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower didn’t merely produce the movie. He also directed the Allied forces of Word War II, a feat which deserved its own Oscar. So we gave him the presidency. It was the best America had to offer.


A co-production of the US Office of War Information and the British Ministry of Information, The True Glory documents the victory on the Western Front, from the invasion at Normandy to the collapse of the Third Reich.

The officially credited director was Garson Kanin. British director Carol Reed was not officially credited, but is listed as director on IMDB and other sources. Paddy Chayefsky is the officially listed writer.

Other writers not officially credited are Harry Brown, Frank Harvey, Gerald Kersh, Saul Levitt, Arthur Macrae, Eric Maschwitz, Jenny Nicholson, Guy Trosper and Peter Ustinov. So many people were involved in this remarkable documentary — which received the Oscar for best documentary in 1945 — it’s impossible to list them all.

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the ...
General Eisenhower speaks with members of the 101st Airborne Division on the evening of 5 June 1944 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The film was brilliantly edited down from more than 10 million feet of film taken by hundreds of war photographers, none of whom are credited.

The editing involved is extraordinary. During one long segment of film, there must have been thousands of cuts, each less than 2 seconds in length, most no more than one second long. That is a lot of splicing. It’s beautifully done, professional all the way.

You have likely seen many propaganda films from World War II. This isn’t one of them.

I’ve seen a lot of war movies. This is real war, not the Hollywood version.

English: Senior American military officials of...
Senior American military officials World War II.

The effects were not done with a computer. The bodies of the dead are the bodies of soldiers, not actors. The guns are firing ammunition, not special effects. The ships are on the seas. The aircraft, pilots, bombardiers are the real deal. The battles are life and death in real-time. It gave me the shivers.

As the movie progresses, there are maps so you can follow the progress of the various armies. It’s the first time I actually understood where the Battle of the Bulge took place and why it was called “the bulge.” It was like time travel for me, listening to Dwight D. Eisenhower. I grew up when Eisenhower was President. I remember his voice as the voice of the president of my childhood.

Perhaps it’s a good moment to ponder whether or not Eisenhower displayed his Oscar in the White House. My guess is, he didn’t. After you’ve been commander-in-chief of the Allied forces for a world war, the Oscar isn’t as big a deal as it might be for someone else.

English: Gen. of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower...

If you have not seen this movie and you have an interest in World War II, you should see it. It’s remarkable. It is now available on a 2-disc DVD. The set includes the European war, the Italian campaign and the battles in the Pacific.

There are many good movies about the war, but this set of documentaries has the most remarkable footage. Seeing it without any Hollywood manufactured footage is seeing it for the first time.

This is not a movie about the war. This movie is the war.