1938 is the first year where Technicolor really burst off the screen. The first all-color film was in 1935. And for the next two years, Hollywood was still getting used to telling stories with a full palette. There’s a whole interesting lesson to be told about how it all worked, but the quick version is — for a while they felt that people might get overwhelmed if they put too much color out there, so they muted themselves for the first couple of years. You see a lot of the movies of 1936 and 1937, and all the colors are very subdued and made to look utterly realistic, to the point of falling into the background in a lot of cases.
But you get to 1938, and Hollywood just let loose. The color bursts out on the screen the way it was intended to. The colors are vibrant and pop off the screen in ways they never really would again. (Unless of course you were Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.) It’s a fun time. First they mute them, then they go all out, and then everything settles down into a balanced norm.
The other great thing about 1938 is that this is the era where the screwball comedy is firmly entrenched and they’re just churning them out. So there’s a bunch of great ones all over the late 30s. This year has what might be the greatest one ever made. (more…)