The African Queen is in colour. Several of Humphrey Bogart’s films are. It can be a bit hard to remember that, though; even knowing the movie was filmed in genuine Technicolor, it’s always a bit difficult to picture that way. At least for me. I looked it up; several of his movies are in Technicolor—no more than a handful, but more than, you know, none. And yet, when I think of him, he’s in shades of grey. And he’s not the only one. There are some people who you can only remember in black and white.
I can remember Raymond Burr in colour. Oh, I’ll admit it’s mostly older Raymond Burr, from the TV movies he did toward the end of his life, but I do also remember him from Rear Window. Meanwhile, Barbara Hale was in those movies as well, not to mention The Giant Spider Invasion. Which I’m sure she’d rather I didn’t. Much of the rest of the cast, though, no. I know that William Hopper was in Rebel Without a Cause, among others, but he died relatively young, well before those later movies were made. Ray Collins was in Summer Stock, but I’ve only seen that once, and if William Talman did any colour movies, I haven’t seen any of them. To me, those three will always be in B&W.
For many of these people, colour photographs exist. Heck, there’s a color episode of Perry Mason, come to that. But crude colour photography predates the existence of film—not motion picture film but celluloid full stop. That’s not the point. The point is, we saw these people moving for decades before we would see them do so in full colour. That’s strange, but it’s also something we fully take for granted. Why should we remember Jean Harlow in colour? She made consecutive movies with “red” in the title in 1932, but they were both in B&W.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not for a minute suggesting colorization instead. I only see Guy Williams in B&W despite having seen the dreadful colorized versions of Zorro that used to air on the Disney Channel back around the turn of the century. It’s just interesting to consider, that’s all. There is perhaps a seventy-five year stretch where you can picture people moving and interacting and even talking but not see them as they really were in life but instead see them in a completely artificial visual.
Some faces shine in colour no matter how many movies they did in B&W. Vivian Leigh won an Oscar for a B&W movie, but I, at least, remember her first in bold, daring colour. Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, among others, can go back and forth between the two. Some people, like Bette Davis, I’m genuinely not sure which way I see them myself. In general, it’s people who lived into the years where all films were colour, I suppose, when even TV had finished making the shift, who don’t stay in B&W in my memories no matter what they made in B&W in earlier years. But there is a whole pantheon of performers, from the great to the terrible, who will always be shades of grey.