COLOURISED CHRISTMAS ~ MIRACLE ON 34th STREET (1947) & IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)


Last Monday, just a day after Frank Capra’s classic, It’s A Wonderful Life’s 69th Birthday, we have sat down to celebrate Christmas with two classic festive movies, both of whcih have the dubious honour of being some of the first to be colourised back in the mid 1980’s.

Miracle On 34th Street (1947) was actually released in May of that year, despite the fact that it is set between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This was apparently due to studio head, Darryl F. Zanuck feeling that more people went to the cinema in summer rather than braving the cold of winter so the publicity, including the theatrical posters were toned down, without any festive artwork whatsoever.

But in 1985, this film was colourised, a process which I, as many, have a fundamental problem with. I feel that it is unnecessary and as wrong as CGI special editions or post conversions of old films into 3D.

But whilst I feel there is little need for any of these processes, I am guilty of enjoying the results. It can be nice to revisit classics such as Jurassic Park (1993) or The Wizard Of Oz (1939) after an IMAX 3D conversion, without detracting from the originals, it can offer a new viewing experience of a film which has been watched to death! At the very least, a novelty.

So what a pleasant surprise to discover how good A Miracle On 34th Street looked after the 1985 colourisation process. Granted, the colour is not as rich as Technicolor but it works, breathing new life into a film which looked perfectly fine in black and white but why not have the option to see it colour, certainly with such a light and breezy subject such as this.

The colour complimented the film’s festive tone and whilst not better than the original, it was a nice alternate way to see this classic.

But what about the 1946 classic, It’s A Wonderful Life? This too, was converted back in the mid 80’s but the version which is available on Blu-ray now, is the 2007 Legend Films version and what a beautiful print it is!

The first thing I noticed about this version was that it did offer a different look at the film and one which added some visual flair to the narrative itself. For example; Violet Bick (Gloria Grahame) was seen as both a child in the pharmacy flirty with the young George Bailey whilst wearing a pink cardigan and then she is seen again as an adult, wearing a pink dress.

This detail is impossible to see in the black and white version and whilst it hardly makes of breaks the film, it does add a little character detail. But in the famous scene in which Jimmy Stewart’s Bailey is sat in Martini’s Bar contemplating his suicide, the bar actually looks to cosy, with the black and white version presenting a more gloomy and dour place for Bailey’s darkest moment.

Overall, both these films faired well from the colourisation process, not perfectly and both movies suffered from a lack of richness, in many ways caused by the original black and white lighting and cinematography but on the other hand, from someone who has seen the black and white versions numerous times before, this was a great double bill of bright, vibrant and colourful classics, seen for the first time in way which presented them in quite literally, a different light.

A red Kris Kringle and a Pink Dress. Two images which I would never have seen if not for this controversial process. Is colourisation wrong?

No, not as long as the originals are both definitive and respected. The colour versions make for a nice novelty and should be enjoyed as such. And I did enjoy them.

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