Color Test on B/W Movies

I’ve been wanting to try my hand at colorizing b/w films, but my various efforts were frustrated by software that was beyond my poor comprehension to understand. They say that De-Oldify is the best of the current software but so far it is not “user-friendly” enough for me. I tried out other “consumer-friendly” programs that I could actually figure out but the results were middling. But I discovered that by applying two or even three of them to the same project, a not too bad results could be achieved by combining them.

There are lots of variables including the image quality of the b/w clip, the lighting used, and the need for an abundance of closeups and medium shots. Long shots look simply sepia-toned or worse. But through trial and error I have managed to create a few pleasing clips. Understand that this process has a long, long way to go, especially with the home software market that’s not meant to be professional grade. I have hope for the future but in the meantime, here are some glimpses of where this process is at the moment.

This clip is from the romantic musical comedy, MISSISSIPPI (1935), that stars Bing Crosby, Joan Bennett, and W.C. Fields. I call this clip the “Bing Crosby Fist Fight” because mild-mannered Bing is provoked into duking it out with famous movie tough guy Fred Kohler Sr. Meanwhile, W.C. Fields gets some laughs by just showing up.

The First Rock Stars of America

Throughout the year I am always colorizing photographs for my three Facebook groups. (Click any of the three here on the right under the listing for “Arliss Archives” and request to join >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

So, in no particular order I offer a parade of notable talented people from the past, all of whom we can see and hear today thanks to the restoration of their films on DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming.

Before the advent of so-called Rock Stars of our time, just who were the celebrities that were treated like the rock stars of today? Believe it or not, the public was first obsessed with opera singers. Film stars would develop a bit later, but among the many superstar opera singers of the early 1900s, none were more popular than soprano Geraldine Farrar. During her summers off from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, she traveled to Los Angeles in her own private railroad car to make films for Cecil B. De Mille. This portrait dates from 1906:

One of her most popular films was De Mille’s JOAN THE WOMAN (1917) where Gerry portrayed Joan of Arc. No, she didn’t sing, she didn’t even speak because it was a silent film. But audiences were mesmerized nevertheless:

A newspaper ad for her 1919 film had quite an eye-catching title:

Perhaps the most popular of rock stars, I mean opera singers, of that time was tenor Enrico Caruso. Yet another star of the Metropolitan Opera along with Farrar, he was recruited for movies in 1918, possibly because of Gerry’s success in that medium. His film debut was in MY COUSIN where he played two roles: a famous opera singer and his poor cousin.

Caruso literally established the standard of the opera star as a mass communications phenomenon. He embraced making records not merely as a sideline but as an important part of his career. It was said that Caruso made records an important commodity much more than records made him important.

Here are two pressbook pages used to help theater owners publicize MY COUSIN:

The Met was an unlikely source for movie stars, but the Ziegfeld Follies was another matter. Where to start: Marion Davies, W.C. Fields, Helen Morgan, Will Rogers, Billie Burke, Eddie Cantor, and many more Follies performers had long and successful film careers. But perhaps the most heartbreaking was Olive Thomas who soared from being a “Ziegfeld Girl” to becoming a major film star in the late 1910s:

Olive married Jack Pickford, Mary Pickford’s brother, in 1916 but their respective film careers kept them from getting away for a honeymoon until the summer of 1920. They sailed for Europe but one night in Paris Olive accidently ingested poison and died a few days later of kidney failure.

Latin actors were especially popular stars in American films of the 1920s. Here are two prominent Mexican actresses early in their careers: Lupe Velez and Dolores Del Rio.

Nobody planned it, but early Hollywood was a multicultural community long before the term was invented. Here is Hungarian Vilma Banky and Italian Rudolph Valentino with director Clarence Brown on the set of THE EAGLE (1925):

Valentino arrived in America in 1913 with not much more than optimism. Within a few years he was attracting attention as a dancer and in films. Rudy’s career blossomed in the early 20s and it seemed that just about everything he did attracted attention. He and his wife Natacha Rambova toured America in 1923 in a dance presentation that was wildly popular ……

….and widely imitated:

Movie star sisters Shirley Mason and Viola Dana raised funds for charity with their dance routine in imitation of the Valentinos.

Polish actress Pola Negri became a popular film star in Germany, then tackled Hollywood with help from some of her German friends who came over such as director Ernst Lubitsch. By the mid-1920s she was an “American” film star and her activities were covered as front-page news:

German film star Conrad Veidt was called “the John Barrymore of Europe.” So when John Barrymore invited him to travel to Hollywood to appear in his new film, THE BELOVED ROGUE in 1926, Veidt happily accepted. Conny – as he was called – made friends quickly in Hollywood and Universal signed him to a three-film contract. Here is a character portrait as the magician who is infatuated with his assistant, Mary Philbin, in THE LAST PERFORMANCE (1929):

But Veidt’s first stint in Hollywood – he returned during World War II to make propaganda films – was capped by the elaborate Gothic horror film, THE MAN WHO LAUGH (1928):

When Veidt returned to Hollywood shortly before his death in 1943, he scored in several war-related films, especially CASABLANCA (1942). Here Conny shares a scene with Claude Rains:

Mabel Normand became the first major female comedian in American films by about 1913. She also directed a number of her films for Mack Sennett and his Keystone studio. Believe or not, she directed Charlie Chaplin in a film during his first year making movies in 1914. Eventually, she focused on acting exclusively and for a number of years before poor health limited her activities, she was one of the most beloved film stars.

Mabel helps build morale during World War I with this 1918 schoolroom pose. Whether she actually drew that image of President Woodrow Wilson is open to speculation, but she focused attention where it needed to be.

Normand was not the only actress-director of that time. Lillian Gish gave it a try once by directing her sister Dorothy in one of her feature films. She never directed again and when she was asked why, she was quoted as saying, “It’s no job for a lady.” Here she is playing Mimi on the set of LA BOHEME (1926) with star John Gilbert on the left and director King Vidor on the right:

Lillian Gish continued to oversee her films more in a producer capacity and was involved in every aspect of filmmaking including set design. This is a stunning portrait of the set in ROMOLA (1924) that literally dwarfs its star. Much of this film was made on location in Italy:

Boris Karloff made plenty of films during the 1920s, but fame eluded him until he played the Monster in FRANKENSTEIN (1931). Lon Chaney Sr., the Man of 1,000 Faces, once advised him to play a character that would make himself memorable to the public. It took Boris a while to accomplish this. Here is one of his attempts circa 1925 in a film that I haven’t been able to identify. Anybody recognize it?

Speaking of Lon Chaney Sr., here is one of his thousand faces in the 1928 film, LAUGH CLOWN LAUGH:

Finally, here is an iconic group photo of some of the most popular silent film stars of the 1910s and 1920s as they appeared in the 1936 film, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD. No doubt you will notice that most of them still look relatively young in 1936. Well, they were. In some ways, not much has changed in Hollywood during the past decades. A star at 20 and an extra by 30. But many of these former stars skillfully reinvented themselves and did quite well in their later lives:

Who they are:

I hope you enjoyed our tour through times past. They were certainly colorful!

Welcome 2022 with our Selection of Old Hollywood Wall Calendars/Bookmarks!

This year we welcome in the New Year by focusing on many of the great Stars of the Silent Screen. How do you obtain any (or all) of these? That’s easy – just print them out on your favorite printer. At full size they make nice wall calendars or shrink them down a bit and they work very well as stylish bookmarks. And they’re also neat just to look at! Enjoy and please accept my best wishes for a wonderful 2022.

Now here they come!

By the way, the reference to “Silent Films Today” is the name of my Facebook group. Membership is by request so if you’d like to join please search FB for our group by name and ask to join. Thanks.

Finally, the 12-month template I used here is from an original vintage calendar for 1927. Why 1927? Because the days of the week in ’27 were the same as 2022. Think of it as recycling Time.

Happy 2022!

Just in Time for Halloween – Outtakes from Classic Horror Films

If there’s one thing that is more indestructible in film history than Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Phantom of the Opera, it has to be the films themselves. With every innovation in home entertainment, these Universal Pictures monsters were in the forefront – from the old days of broadcast TV, then VHS, and then DVDs, more recently Blu-ray, and most recently, 4K transfers, not to mention video streaming – these guys just won’t go away.

And as familiar as many of us are with these classics through repeated viewings, it may come as a surprise that there were some scenes filmed but left on the proverbial cutting room floor. For this Halloween I thought we would marvel and be mystified with these “orphan” sequences that were deemed unsuitable for the finished product for one reason or another.

Alas, the sequences themselves no longer exist but a number of 8×10-inch stills have survived to hint at what was deleted. Our tour begins in 1923 and ends in 1935. I have taken the liberty of creating color version of these great B&W photos much in the same way that the old Hollywood studios themselves turned their b/w photos into the glorious colorized lobby cards.

[SUGGESTION: if you are viewing these photos on an iphone or ipad, I urge you to switch to a full-screen monitor to fully appreciate the clarity and detail of the images.]

Let’s began with a curious scene from Lon Chaney, Sr.’s THE HUNCHBACKOF NOTRE DAME (1923), based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo. This film has been recently restored by Universal on Blu-ray and 4K. This scene was included in the original “Road Show” exhibitions in major cities when the film was first released. Later, when released to local neighborhood theatres, the movie was shortened and among the excised footage was this touching scene where Quasimodo (Chaney) attempts to buy some clothes for Esmeralda (Patsy Ruth Miller). His efforts don’t go well with the shopkeeper and he ends up attacking the man:

Next we return to 1925 and the film that many regard as the granddaddy of American horror films: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Again, Lon Chaney, Sr. created an unforgettable character that, like HUNCHBACK, was based on a hugely successful novel by another Frenchman, Gaston Leroux. The filming was a muddle and many scenes were discarded after preview audiences reacted unfavorably. Among the deleted scenes is this one below where Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) and Raoul (Norman Kerry) meet secretly in a cemetery. Things do not go as planned as you can see, and we know that eventually even the Erik the Phantom (Chaney, of course) shows up:

It seems that there were problems in deciding who the Phantom’s victims should be. In this discarded scene, Erik strikes among the opera patrons as one of the stagehands, Simon Buquet (Gibson Gowland), is found dead on the Grand Staircase in the lobby. In the finished work, Simon not only survives, but leads the angry mob to invade the Phantom’s underground lair and force him out to a watery grave.

 

On a lighter note, scenes showing playboy Raoul De Chagney (Norman Kerry) flirting with the ballerinas were likewise cut:

Even creating a satisfying ending for PHANTOM proved difficult. The two photos below show the unused ending, inspired by the novel’s ending, where poor Erik dies of a broken heart. An action ending was substituted:

MGM gave the nascent horror film genre a try during the silent era with LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927), perhaps the most famous “lost film” of all time. This film was a vehicle for Lon Chaney. Sr. who plays a dual role in this murder mystery where one of the suspects is a vampire(!). Since the film can no longer be viewed, we have as a guide the existing continuity script that showed film editors how to assemble copies of the film back in ’27. Only shots that actually were used in the final edit are listed in the continuity script so photos of scenes not listed were likely cut. Here’s an atmospheric photo of Chaney as the vampire (aka “the man in the beaver hat”) and Edna Tichenor as a “bat girl,” which may simply be a posed photo or an actual scene that was cut:

American “horror” films of the silent era – the genre really was not established during that time – always explained away the supernatural events as caused by scheming humans. But the late 1920s play, DRACULA, based on the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker, didn’t flinch and insisted right to the end that vampires were real. With Bela Lugosi in the title role, American audiences needed very little convincing. The 1931 Universal film followed this construct and the first genuine American horror film dealing with the supernatural was created. A number of scenes were filmed but not included in the final cut. Among the most interesting are detailed sets, or likely scale models, of Castle Dracula and a nearby village that were not used in the film:

Perhaps this is a way station near the Borgo Pass for the coach that is taking poor Renfield to meet the Count, likewise cut:

Boris Karloff soon joined Bela Lugosi as a major star of the horror genre as the result of his playing the Monster in FRANKENSTEIN (1931). Karloff’s follow-up film for Universal was THE MUMMY (1932), which seemed to combine the ideas of DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN to create an entirely new story of a long-dead Egyptian mummy who is restored to life by a magic incantation. Again, the audience was not spared by a last-minute “explanation” and the film created some real controversy in its depiction of reincarnation. The revived Karloff, after being dead for 3700 years, only wanted to find his lost love from antiquity, played by Zita Johann. In this photo from a scene cut from the film, we see Karloff and Zita in the throes of passion in ancient Egypt. It would end badly for them:

Our final film for this Halloween review is one of the finest – and abundantly edited – among all the classic horror film. It is a sequel that is generally considered superior to the original film, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935). There are many, many production stills suggesting many cut scenes. Most involved subplots that Universal decided to drop because they only complicated the plot line and added unnecessary footage to the film. Here’s an assortment among many deletions. First, here’s a nice portrait of Ann Darling, the shepherdess who is barely seen in the film. She is almost frightened to death by the Monster until two hunters drive him away:

In a jettisoned subplot, after the Monster escapes from jail and runs amuck, a little girl is found slain, among others. Suspicions fall upon the Monster. Indeed, the audience is left to assume that too. But the real killer is Karl, played by Dwight Frye, for reasons never made clear because the subplot was dropped:

Another dropped subplot involved the idea of using Elizabeth’s heart (Valerie Hobson), the fiance of Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), to implant in the Bride. It sounds absurd but this photo shows the kidnapped Elizabeth (to secure Henry’s cooperation) being approached by Karl with a very visible knife in his hand. This idea was dropped but in the finished film Karl murders an unfortunate young woman to obtain her heart:

Finally, here is a unique photo of the Bride herself, memorably played by Elsa Lanchester. Obviously, this is not a cut scene but I included this not only because it has Elsa’s autograph, but because it also has her sketch of her character.

I hope you enjoyed this tour in a true “cinematic crypt” of unseen scenes from these classic films.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN 2021!

Commemorating the 95th Anniversary of the Passing of Rudolph Valentino

Today marks the 95th anniversary of the death of Rudolph Valentino in New York City at the age of 31. He was on across-country tour promoting the release of his new film, SON OF THE SHEIK. The huge public reaction to Rudy’s death was unprecedented and is generally regarded as the first mass media response to the death of a celebrity. The commemoration of Valentino’s passing continues to make news every year now well into the 21st century.

Here is a video I made for a song that was written within weeks of Rudy’s death. No doubt it captured the mood of the public:

Published in: on August 23, 2021 at 12:15 PM  Leave a Comment  

Edward Everett Horton- his silent films now on DVD – First time 90 years!

A farceur par excellence, Edward Horton (1880-1970) became an indispensable figure in Hollywood films of the 1930s and 1940s. By the 1960s a whole new generation discovered him as the narrator in “Fractured Fairy Tales” on TV. I also recall him a co-host on the Mike Douglas Show. Horton seemed indefatigable but today his extensive stage appearances and radio work are all but forgotten. As if on cue, this month will unveil Eddie’s long-unseen silent film work showcasing his delightful series of two-reel comedies, freshly restored, accompanied by new music scores, and looking better than when they were new in the 1920s.

(Disclaimer: I have no relationship to the DVD set. I’m just an old Eddie Horton fan).

Horton kept busy with filmmaking throughout the 30s and 40s but also continued with his theater work between making films. Recently, I came across this 15-minute live interview from 1940, apparently unscripted, where Horton publicizes his local appearance on the stage as the star of SPRINGTIME FOR HENRY. He’s quite the raconteur!

This is a newspaper ad that was published wherever Eddie was appearing in the play:

Here are a series of portraits dating from his silent film days through the 30s. Color by Moi:

Horton with Florence Vidor in MARRY ME (1925)

 

 

 

And last but not least:

Our New Lineup of Calendars for 2021

If you like what you see, click on the image and then print it out.

HAPPY NEW YEAR to One and All!

Seasons Greetings to One and All!

 

Published in: on December 21, 2020 at 12:00 PM  Comments (2)  

A New Crop of Color Transfers

These days I tend to colorize an image only if inspiration strikes me. The impulse perhaps comes from a mystical level and seems to say, “Color me, please.” Of course, it’s more likely that it originates in my overactive imagination. Regardless, these are my most recent transfers from the past six months or so.

An unusually cosmopolitan Bela Lugosi circa 1930. Mr. Lugosi has quite a presence on this blog so look for his name in some earlier posts.

Lon Chaney, Sr. and Mae Busch (best remembered for her roles in Laurel and Hardy films) in the police drama, WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1928):

Dorothy Dalton looks fetching in THE TEN OF DIAMONDS (1917), a lost film:

Mae Murray‘s trademark was her “bee-stung” lips. She managed to seem both exotic and down to earth. This worn postcard captures Mae at the peak of her career in 1925. Even so, her name is misspelled. But look what 21st century software can do to the image quality:

A remarkable “on the set” photo showing the amount of activity even while filming is in progress. Clues in the picture suggest that it was produced by Cecil B. De Mille‘s company, which would place the time frame between 1925 and 1929. The actress who is the center of attention may be Phyllis Haver. This was a complicated one to color:

A contemplative George Arliss during the filming of his comedy, A SUCCESSFUL CALAMITY (1932). I colored this one a few years ago but I wasn’t happy with it. I tried it again recently and found that newer software helped bring better results:

Renee Adoree poses with her new car circa 1928. I suppose the house is hers too:

Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino in their only film together, BEYOND THE ROCKS (1922). Lost for decades, a sole surviving print turned up in the Netherlands about ten years ago and was issued on DVD. Also in this photo from the left is director Sam Wood, author Elinor Glyn, and a young violinist providing mood music for the scene:

Marion Davies in a magazine ad for her new picture, WHEN KNIGHTHOOD WAS IN FLOWER (1924). The texture of magazine pages from that era usually don’t transfer very well but modern software helps smooth out the roughness.

An artistic photo of Marie Prevost who was the very image of the Roaring Twenties:

Makeup artists seem ubiquitous with Hollywood but in fact actors were responsible for making themselves up until about the mid-1920s. Improvements in the sensitivity of film stock brought challenges for actors and their cosmetics so almost overnight a generation of makeup artists suddenly arrived on the scene. The following images were novel in their day since they showed somebody preparing the star for the cameras.

A newly-minted star such as Joan Crawford circa 1928 seemed to like the attention from MGM makeup artist Cecil Holland:

Greta Garbo was at the beginning of her American career in 1926 when she handled her own makeup during the filming of THE TORRENT:

And finally – we have run this one before but it’s worth a repeat. Legendary makeup artist Jack Pierce (before he became a legend) had the responsibility for contriving Conrad Veidt‘s carved smile as Gwynplaine in THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928). Within a few years, Pierce would be designing extraordinary makeups for the Frankenstein Monster (Boris Karloff) and the WOLF MAN (Lon Chaney, Jr.), among many others:

Leslie Howard R.I.P June 1, 1943 – A Victim of World War II

Today is a sad anniversary among the many stunning events of the Second World War. The death of actor, director and writer Leslie Howard onboard an unarmed civilian aircraft bound from Lisbon to the UK shocked the world. Not merely his death itself was shocking, but the fact the plane was shot down by German fighters, a serious breach of wartime engagement. Howard had been tireless in his work for the war effort, returning to war-torn Britain to help. Ironically, his death as a war victim did much to boost the morale of the beleaguered English, indeed of the civilized world.
I found this tribute (below) in the BBC Archives that was broadcast on or about June 6, 1943, six days after his death. You will hear Howard describe his life in his own words.
Leslie Howard managed to combine careers on the stage, in films, and on radio, playing drama or comedy with ease. When WWII began he returned to his home in England when many British actors headed to the states for the duration. He was tireless in his morale-raising work on the BBC and moving into film directing. In May 1943, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden asked him to fly to Portugal to persuade the king to remain neutral and not be tempted to join the war on Germany’s side. It was on his flight home over the Bay of Biscay on June 1, 1943, that his unarmed passenger plane was shot down by Nazi aircraft. To this day there are questions about the purpose of Howard’s mission and it seems that even now after all these years there are relevant documents still classified by the British Government and several unanswered questions.

Published in: on June 1, 2020 at 9:23 AM  Comments (2)  
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