Color in Silent Film: What Are Your Favorite Examples?

“An old black and white silent movie.”

The phrase trips off the tongue easily but it’s really inaccurate. Color was an integral part of the cinematic experience from the very beginning and the various methods of recording or adding hues are fascinating.

What are your favorite color methods? Hand-color, stencil color, tinting, toning, Technicolor… and any other method. Please share some films that really showcase the beautiful color available during the silent era. (Period or restored.)

I’m going for an obvious one here but A Trip to the Moon in color is a revelation. Applied by hand by the famous Madame Thuillier’s color team, the pigments are breathtaking reminders of the beauty of Belle Époque cinema.

For restored tints, Behind the Door is just stunning. Wow!

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  1. moviepas

    Sequences in The Ten Commandments(1923); The King of Kings(1927); The Phantom of the Opera(1925); Ben-Hur(1925) to name a few special ones that survive and have their color sequences moreorless intact.

  2. Shari Polikoff

    I loved seeing color in a silent film for the first time in ‘Seventh Heaven,’ then later in ‘Hell’s Hinges,’ ‘Toll of the Sea,’ and many more – most recently, to my surprise, in a rewatching of ‘A Trip to the Moon.’ It’s really an effective device, especially for dreamy or eerie night scenes, and orange/red battles.

  3. Nick

    The restored Lost World has tinting/toning–and for one brief shot there’s actually some (hand?) applied color. It’s a great dramatic effect!

    As far as tinting/toning goes, it’s surprising how well it works at making you feel like you’re watching a color movie, even though technically it’s still “monochrome”.

    I kind of miss those amber and green monochrome monitors computers had in the early days.

  4. Birgit

    I always loved the coloured sequence in Phantom of the Opera. I thought that was splendid and eerie with the Masque of the Red Death appearing

  5. Ross

    The Pathé stencil colour collection (DVD published in UK by BFI as “Fairy Tales”).

    Also published more recently and also by BFI: “The Informer” (1929 silent and compromised sound version, not the John Ford version of 1935.) This replicates the mauve tinting of the original print and works well for this excellent moody and almost noir film.

  6. James Knuttel

    Cecil B. DeMille’s THE KING OF KINGS (1927) has been restored in France by Lobster Films. The film can now be seen in its original roadshow length with color tinting, toning, hand coloring, and sequences in two-color Technicolor. You can now get this restored version on blu-ray and DVD (try French Amazon and search for LE ROI DES ROIS). Although a French release the film is presented in English and it’s a region-free!

      1. James Knuttel

        You may also note that Flicker Alley has a new release of A TRIP TO THE MOON. This one gives you a choice of three music scores for the hand-colored print (including the one with Serge Bromberg’s narration). Missing (good riddance) is that horrifyingly bad score by Air.

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