IN GLORIOUS BLACK AND WHITE

If you have stopped by on recent Sundays you have seen some movie lists.  My top 20 Coming of Age movies included the 1971 B&W feature, The Last Picture Show.  The top 20 Films All Guys Should See included a half-dozen black and white films, including a couple mentioned below.

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 Trek, Jason Bourne, The Secret Life of Pets?  Maybe Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, Iron Man, Captain America or Suicide Squad?  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.

 

Related:
Coming of Age
Films All Guys Should See

32 thoughts on “IN GLORIOUS BLACK AND WHITE

  1. Always love Casablanca – what a movie it is, a kiss is a kiss, a sigh is a sigh, the fundamental things apply as time goes by, Play it again Sam 🙂 Nice set of movies, will watch the others listed here

    Liked by 1 person

      • GREAT list, Rich! “Casablanca” would top my B&W list. “Sunset Boulevard” would also be a top 5 along with “The Maltese Falcon” and “High Noon” (The suits tried to strong arm Kramer and Zinnerman but they refused to shoot it in color. They also wanted Gregory Peck for the lead but he turned it down because he had just done “The Gunfighter”. So, Coop became Will Kane).
        I’d also include “The Third Man” (those rainy streets and glimmering sewers); “Sunset Boulevard” (Holden floating in the pool) and Swanson as the faded queen of B&W when actors were giants; “Night of the Hunter” (Laughton’s directorial images would be lost in color); “Blood On The Moon” a 1948 B&W film noir western from Robert Wise and starring Robert Mitchum. Chilly and eerie.
        Of course, there all those gritty 40’s film noir crime dramas from RKO (“Out Of The Past”), Fox (“Where The Sidewalk Ends”, “Kiss of Death”), etc.
        Love this one, Rich!! But, then again, you’re certified movie maven!!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Talk about great old movies. Thanks for the walk down memory lane. I’ve seen all of the ones mentioned and have to agree with you, I could watch Casablanca over and over again. One of the best movies I’ve ever watched.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. my husband adores High Noon, the minute I hear the theme song I know he’ll be lost for the evening. One of my all time favorites was “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, with Jimmy Cagney. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not film noir, but I just watched a clip of it and I was suddenly awash. No idea why. And of course, Casablanca.

    Liked by 1 person

      • lol yes, and the dancing was hysterical. I read that he was imitating Cohan’s style, which was strange but effective. It helped that Cagney was the consummate ham, too. They did colorize it, as I recall, but I saw just a clip of that, and it’s not very good.
        Just hunted this up on You Tube, what fun. Only thing missing is the popcorn.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Judy, we adore “Yankee Doodle Dandy”!! The last scene with Cagney dancing down the White House stairs is a classic cinema moment. We usually replay three or four times. “Dandy” is a good subject for this post. It should have been done in color given its production values. It was a big propaganda film so there’s no reason why Warner Brothers shouldn’t have spent the bucks for color.
      Back in the early 70’s when I met Cagney on Martha’s Vineyard, he gave me a “who knows?” response to why they didn’t shoot “Dandy” in color. He did emphasize it was his personal favorite “job”.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Recently watched Casablanca for the first time. Really enjoyed it.

    I like a lot of the others you mentioned (High Noon, Citizen Kane, etc). I prefer foreign B&W personally, however. Kurosawa, Fellini, Bergman, Lang, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

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