Photography and cinema both started in black and white yet these media successfully captured the "colorful life" of earlier eras. Do you agree?
As a combined product of science and art, cinema started out like its still photo ancestor; it captured life devoid of other hues from the color spectrum. All dark areas were rendered in black, light ones in white, and those in between fell within various shades of gray. Yet audiences never complained of this new technological wonder since it was able to present dynamic stories and scenes that the literary arts and the performance arts couldn't readily deliver.
Storytelling became a visual challenge with narrative experimentation for early filmmakers. Various artistic movements in cinema followed their respective styles and aesthetics. Directors and screenwriters created character types and storylines that will be best told through these shades.
And what's the result of these efforts? A treasure trove of classic black-and-white movies from the silent film and the early sound film eras. Many of these movies pioneered innovations that are still being used in filmmaking today, from the technical aspects to characterization and plot structures. That's why it's fun to revisit them once in a while and see how things were done back then. Let's appreciate these timeless classics that paved the way for our current cinematic options.
Can you identify some of these black and white classics? Roll cam and see what happens. Good luck!
This black-and-white classic is considered Orson Welles' masterpiece by film critics. What's the title?
Alexander Kahle/RKO Radio Pictures via Wiki Commons
Director-producer-actor Orson Welles co-wrote "Citizen Kane" with Herman J. Mankiewicz. The film opens with a yet unknown character uttering that classic mysterious line, "Rosebud." This film is noted for the narrative and technical storytelling innovations it contributed to Hollywood filmmaking.
Norma Desmond is "ready for her close-up" in which Hollywood-themed film?
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Stars of the silent film era had a hard time transitioning into sound films so many of them simply faded into oblivion. This was the background story of "Sunset Boulevard" where a young screenwriter encounters a silent era has-been. Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted the film into a musical in the '90s.
Check into the Bates Motel and you're sure to run into this guy, Norman. In which film can you find him?
Mystery film maestro Alfred Hitchcock already had the option to shoot a color film in 1960. However, he still chose to shoot his thriller, "Psycho," in black and white. He revealed in interviews that the murder scene might appear too gruesome if audiences during that era saw it in full color.
"Here's looking at you, kid," if you can pinpoint this film on the map. What is it?
Warner Bros. Pictures
"Casablanca," the 1942 World War II movie with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, was adapted from a Murray Burnett and Joan Alison play. They wrote the 1940 play, "Everybody Comes to Rick's," which became the basis of this film. They later sued Warner Bros for allegedly shortchanging them.
In which film can you see the Little Tramp "updating" himself in the industrial world?
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No classic black-and-white film list will be complete without the contributions of Charlie Chaplin. His iconic silent film era character, the Little Tramp, is portrayed as a factory worker in 1936's "Modern Times." Chaplin was reportedly hesitant to transition to full sound with this film.
Can you identify when Gary Cooper's scheduled duel is in this western?
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A film is often made in "reel time" to condense the time lapses in a narrative. Editing makes it possible for us to see a day or month's worth of events presented in a few minutes. "High Noon" wasn't like that because the film showed us what was happening in "real time," from beginning to end.
Robert Duvall debuted on film as Boo Radley in which black-and-white classic?
The name Atticus Finch became synonymous with upholding the law and defending the innocent, but in this film, Robert Duvall played the outcast named Boo Radley. These characters were showcased in the 1962 film adaptation of Harper Lee's novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird."
Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon "dragged" themselves out of trouble in this one. Can you name the film?
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Cross-dressing narratives became an early comedy trope in Hollywood. This was the strength of "Some Like It Hot" where Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon disguised themselves as women to run away from gangsters.
When bells began to ring in this film, an angel got his wings. Which James Stewart classic is this?
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"It's a Wonderful Life" is now considered a Christmas movie line-up staple that critics always include in "best films" lists. Initially, however, director Frank Capra wasn't ho-ho-ho-ing all the way to the bank when this film debuted in 1946. It was a flop at the box office.
In this film, what do you need to ride to reach Stellaaaaaaaa?
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"A Streetcar Named Desire" is a classic example of a stage play getting adapted into a film by the same core people. Elia Kazan directed this Tennessee Williams play on Broadway and he also directed the film version. Marlon Brando played both the stage and film versions of Stanley Kowalski.
Truffaut titled this film "Les Quatre Cents Coups." What's the English title?
Filming in traditional black and white in a world that can already be captured in color is one of the rebellious streaks of the French New Wave film movement of the '50s and '60s François Truffaut exhibited this kind of defiance in his iconic 1959 film, "The 400 Blows."
F.W. Murnau reportedly didn't ask permission from Bram Stoker to adapt his "Dracula" novel into which vampire-themed film?
Film Arts Guild
Its actual title is "Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror" but the film world generally refers to this silent film classic as "Nosferatu." This 1922 film is an example of the German Expressionist film movement wherein filmmakers showcased a stylistic rejection of realism and simple or happy storylines.
Rita Hayworth gave life to the femme fatale in which film noir classic?
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Rita Hayworth was one of the pivotal actresses who embodied the femme fatale in early black-and-white films. This character type features a strong-willed woman who often uses her sensuality to get away with things. Hayworth's most notable femme fatale character can be seen in the 1946 film, "Gilda."
Which military-themed film had a wide range of early Hollywood hunks, from Montgomery Clift to Burt Lancaster?
"From Here To Eternity" contains one of the most iconic kissing scenes. The 1953 film featured Burt Lancaster in black trunks and Deborah Kerr in a non-bikini cut halter neck swimsuit kissing away on a Hawaiian beach. Kerr also delivered this iconic line: "No one ever kissed me the way you do."
Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck took time out in Europe to have what?
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It's just proper that "Roman Holiday" got a screening at the 1953 Venice Film Festival. After all, it's about a princess who secretly escaped her entourage to go around Rome, Italy, on her own. Audrey Hepburn played the roaming royalty and Gregory Peck played the American reporter she encounters.
John Steinbeck harvested another honor when John Ford adapted which of Steinbeck's novels into film?
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When you're in Salinas, California, visit the National Steinbeck Center which is a museum and interactive exhibit featuring John Steinbeck's works. There you'll find an area that highlights the films based on his novels, such as 1940's "The Grapes of Wrath" starring Henry Fonda.
"The Magnificent Seven" was inspired by this black-and-white Kurosawa epic. Can you guess which one?
"The Magnificent Seven" may have been in color when it was shown in 1960 but its "original" was in black and white. That film, "Seven Samurai," was made by renowned Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. This 1954 classic contributed shooting and editing innovations in world cinema history.
Frank Sinatra's character had nightmares in which brainwash-themed film?
Ol' Blue Eyes didn't just sing his heart out, he acted it out a lot, too. One of his most memorable films is the 1962 mystery, "The Manchurian Candidate." Manchurian candidate has come to mean a politician who's being manipulated or paid by powerful wealthy people to be their puppet.
Bette Davis' eyes eyed Anne Baxter meanly in which iconic film?
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If you don't know what "All About Eve" is all about, heed Ms. Bette Davis' advice before viewing it: "Fasten your seat belts; it's going to be a bumpy night!" Its catty plot is about an adoring fan who usurps her Broadway idol's fame and influence. Marilyn Monroe was also in this 1950 classic.
John Huston's directing career flew for the first time with this work. Can you guess its title?
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The mystery angle of "The Maltese Falcon" was played up in its trailer, as it said, "He makes crime a career and ladies a hobby!" The man to which this line refers was played by Humphrey Bogart and his main lady is Mary Astor in the 1941 film adaptation of the novel, "The Maltese Falcon." Peter Lorre co-starred here.
Marlon Brando's character "coulda been a contender" in which Elia Kazan film?
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Marlon Brando is one Hollywood actor who delivered many great lines in his career. One of the most legendary came from "On The Waterfront" where he said, "I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody instead of a bum which is what I am." He played a former boxer in this classic film.
Italian neorealism's flagship work is this heart-wrenching working class-themed film by Vittorio De Sica. Do you know its title?
Ente Nazionale Industrie Cinematografiche
Italian neorealism is a film movement where filmmakers chose non-professional actors to act in their films. They also preferred shooting on location outdoors instead of indoor studio sets. "The Bicycle Thief" (1948) is one of the most critically acclaimed films to come out of that movement.
Among the guys in this film's count are Lee J. Cobb, Jack Klugman, Ed Begley and Henry Fonda. What legal drama is this?
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Unlike today, it was rare in early Hollywood for TV material to get adapted into movies. But this is what happened with "12 Angry Men," which was originally a 1954 legal drama on the CBS television network. Sidney Lumet directed this 1957 black-and-white film adaptation with Henry Fonda in the lead.
Mrs. Danvers dogged the new de Winter dame in which Hitchcock classic?
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The award-winning 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film, "Rebecca," featured one of the most memorable house helpers in cinematic history. That would be Mrs. Danvers, the dedicated but dark housekeeper keeping her loyalty to her departed female boss and psychologically scaring the new female boss in the process.
Frank Capra can rom-com it with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in this film. What's the title?
Claudette Colbert sure knew how to hail a car in "It Happened One Night," beating out Clark Gable's style. It was a bit risqué during 1934 but she hiked up her skirt and showed a leg. This Frank Capra film was a huge winner at the Oscars and showed rom-coms can indeed be award contenders.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced around in which happy musical?
RKO Radio Pictures
No black-and-white film listing would be complete without featuring the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers dancing tandem. One of their most memorable pairings can be seen in "The Gay Divorcee." This 1934 film was an adaptation of a Broadway musical but its title was originally "The Gay Divorce."
The world fell in love with sweet Italian heartthrob Marcello Mastroianni in this Fellini classic. What's the title?
One of Italy's greatest filmmakers is Federico Fellini. His films featured stylized storytelling full of symbolism and comments on politics, society, religion and culture in general. This style is evident in his 1960 classic, "La Dolce Vita," which translates to "the sweet life."
Beatlemania also produced films aside from albums. Can you guess the title of this film?
Cinema also capitalized on Beatlemania in the '60s. One of the movies that came out of that era was "A Hard Day's Night," a black-and-white film featuring the Beatles and endlessly screaming fans. You'll also hear Fab Four songs featured in their album of the same name.
Fay Wray got trapped in the clutches of which gigantic monster?
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Black-and-white cinema's stylistic look played well for the 1933 monster film, "King Kong." The gigantic ape's dark shadowy feature seen against the clear New York sky heightened the Empire State Building "fight scene" tension.
Billy Wilder does rom-com well in which Jack Lemmon-Shirley MacLaine film?
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As the trailer said, the 1960 film, "The Apartment," had a "very special kind of problem" enacted by its leads Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. Lemmon's character opened up his New York apartment as a temporary love nest for his adulterous officemates. Oh, and he's also in love with the mistress of his boss.
Howard Hawks delivered laughs with the help of a leopard in which film?
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Though "Bringing Up Baby" was in black-and-white, its colorful story and dialogue won the hearts of fans during its rerelease and in subsequent decades. Even with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in the leads, this 1938 Howard Hawks film was a box-office flop when it first came out.
Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland sang their way to fame and fortune with films such as this one. Do you know it?
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Child actors turned teen idols, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were partnered in movies. They always had musical numbers in their films, like in the 1939 musical, "Babes in Arms." The song, "Good Morning," was first heard here and was popularized more in 1952's, "Singin' in the Rain."
Lauren Bacall beckoned Humphrey Bogart in which film noir classic?
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Humphrey Bogart worked on mystery films based on crime novels like "The Big Sleep." This 1946 film adaptation of Raymond Chandler's novel co-starred Lauren Bacall. Her stylish screen presence here is what the musical, "Evita," referred to in the lyric that said "So Lauren Bacall me" in "Rainbow High."
This Chinese-themed film starred the great German-American actress, Marlene Dietrich. What's the film called?
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The 1932 film, "Shanghai Express," starred Marlene Dietrich as the feisty foreigner named Shanghai Lily roaming around war-torn China. The successful hit film also featured Anna May Wong, one of the earliest Chinese-American actresses to appear onscreen in Hollywood.
This George Cukor classic carried Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn to more fame, along with James Stewart on the side. What film is this?
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James Stewart joined the Cary Grant-Katharine Hepburn tandem in the 1940 film, "The Philadelphia Story," as the third wheel of their off again-on again love story. After appearing in a string of flops, the tandem hit it big again with this film.
This Fritz Lang classic is a silent era gem and the general grandparent of sci-fi films. What's it called?
Early sci-fi films intersected humanity and technology issues with powerfully artistic visuals. One such work is the 1927 German Expressionist film, "Metropolis," by Fritz Lang. This film was important enough to be included in the UNESCO archival initiative called Memory of the World Programme.
Which 1955 Robert Mitchum film featured him as a man of the cloth who kills?
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Spike Lee paid tribute to "Night of the Hunter" in a recreated a scene in his 1989 film, "Do The Right Thing," The old film had the lead character tattoo "love" and "hate" in each hand to tell the story of life. Lee's version had his character wear rings bearing these words in each hand.
Cary Grant can't resist Rosalind Russell in which Howard Hawks classic?
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Today, the term "girl Friday" is an offensive way of calling a female assistant, even though it originally had a counterpart term of "man Friday." It's only OK to use when referring to the 1940 comedy hit film, "His Girl Friday," which is about a female reporter working as the reluctant assistant of an editor.
This film supplied us with sci-fi horror chills in the '50s. What's this pod-filled movie called?
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Classic movies from the '50s reflected hot issues in society, even fears and worries of the changing times. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" is considered one of such films by film critics and historians. They said it used the sci-fi alien element as an allegory to the "communist scare" during that era.
The image of Death roams around in which Ingmar Bergman classic?
AB Svensk Filmindustri
Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman gave world cinema one of its greatest masterpieces as often touted by film critics and film historians: "The Seventh Seal." Its unforgettable black-and-white images feature actor Max von Sydow as a knight who played chess with Death to buy him more time to live.
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