Monday, 21 December 2009

Two-strip Technicolor and The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

On Saturday I watched my first two-strip Technicolor film, Michael Curtiz's "The Mystery of the Wax Museum" (1933), despite owning "Doctor X" on DVD since it came out. The film itself is a mix of pre-code dialogue and early talkie horror/mystery. It works much better on the pre-code side, mainly because of Glenda Farrell who despite third billing is the de facto lead of the film. She's funny, fast and naughty, and doesn't hurt that Frank McHugh is there to support her. As a horror/mystery it left me cold, probably because I knew the twist before I watched the film.

However, what fascinated me the most about the film was the fact that it was in colour (well, sort of...). This was the last major studio production of a two-strip Technicolor film, a process that only registered red and green (the three-strip would add blue). By 1933 Disney had successfully released "Flowers and Trees" and this one had to look bad. Because it actually does look bad. The colours are rather awkward to look at. It almost looks like it has been discoloured by the sun. The flesh tones are pink, but not the right sort; and there's way too much green for New York. Not too far away from colourization of a black and white film. Fair enough, this particular film also had the misfortune of being considered lost once and the copy that resurfaced was not in the best shape. I saw it projected rather than on a TV, in a dark cinema rather than a bright living room. Even that didn't help. Furthermore, the fact that this wasn't shot in black and white also takes out all atmospheric elements that a film like this needs - it just looks way too bright. Maybe in a comedy it would have worked better, but a horror film?! It flopped, I need not add, and I am not surprised.

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