1939 was a watershed year in Technicolor history, the most obvious reason being the public affirmation the company received by way of the Academy Award Oscar statue presented that year to company founder Dr. Herbert Kalmus. This industry validation was very likely prompted by two major Technicolor films of 1939: The Wizard of Oz, and then Gone With the Wind. Gone With the Wind won the Oscar that year as Best Picture, along with many more including one for Color Cinematography. Although not a commercial hit upon theatrical release, The Wizard of Oz is likely the more beloved movie by subsequent generations – a film that arguably had the greatest cultural impact, leaving behind so many references that immediately entered the English language and motion picture lexicon: the concept of the wizard “behind the curtain” in all its current industry connotations remains alongside the yellow brick road, “we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto” as iconic movie references. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s classic ballad remains one of the most beloved songs ever employed in a film in motion picture history – it’s been covered over 100 times.
IMAGE CREDIT: David O. Selznick’s Hollywood by Ronald Haver
For the company, after its first quarter century of reinventing itself and refining the IB dye-transfer printing process they had been refining for decades, it had to have been heady times. But in fact, the whole industry was also celebrating a group of incredible films – considered by many to have been the best of best year in American motion picture history. Joining Technicolor’s projects were: Stagecoach; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; The Hunchback of Notre Dame; Wuthering Heights; Goodbye Mr. Chips; Ninotchka; Dark Victory; Of Mice and Men; Jesse James; Gunga Din, and many more.
But this amazing set of movies, made in America, was offset however, by the pending global war that was raging in central Europe. For Technicolor, already an emerging global creative force, the reports received in Hollywood from its lab in London were rather ominous. Motion Picture production in London had slowed dramatically as filmmakers left their ranks at movie studios and joined the war effort. Caught in the last weeks of principal photography, in London, was Alex Korda’s production of The Thief of Bagdad, being directed at that moment by Michael Powell. Once Germany invaded Poland, and Britain declared a state of war exists, Powell resigned and enlisted, production nearly stopped while all chemical resources needed in a motion picture laboratory for processing and print production were re-consigned to the war effort. Technicolor engineers turned their attention from movies to the technological needs of defending England. Aircraft, bomb and artillery sights became the challenge of our engineers almost immediately. The Thief of Bagdad moved to Hollywood for completion.
The British motion picture industry rebounded in time, and in a few years, Technicolor continued working with Powell and his partner Emeric Pressburger with their classic The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Actor Laurence Olivier would go on to direct Henry V, another film reflecting the continuing genius of British filmmaking.