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Category:    Home > Essays > Filmmaking > Printing > Cinematography > History > Technicolor Movies - The History Of Dye Transfer Printing (Book Review)

Technicolor Movies – The History Of Dye Transfer Printing

Richard W. Haines/McFarland Press (Book Review)


Rating: A-



At FulvueDrive-in.com, we often discuss how important color fidelity in films are, even down to the color process.  It is practically at a crisis level that most books, magazines and websites neglect or trivialize this aspect of film.  Most could not and do not bother, but it is vital to understand what the color processes mean.  After hundreds of reviews where we have discussed the color processes, we now have an exceptional must-read book about the most famous color process of them all.  Technicolor Movies – The History Of Dye Transfer Printing (1993) is writer Richard W. Haines key volume on the rise and fall of the original legend, known often and appropriately as “Glorious Technicolor” in endless press releases.


There have been books that have discussed the process in passing and a few sadly out-of-print books that described the process, but here is a book that lays out the facts about Technicolor in excruciating detail.  It explains all the versions of the format worked up until its 1997 to 2001 revival, which will make for a great later addition.  Except for being detailed in the chemical specific department, it explains how the imbibition (another term for dye-transfer printing) process was used and applied.  It also tells us about Technicolor Company related filmmaking processes (Techniscope, Technirama) and some of the few competing formats to Technicolor, though it does not cover the titles of those processes.  I would have liked to see more on that, particularly about Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954) a three-strip Trucolor film that could go a few rounds with just about any three-strip Technicolor film made.  That limits its “jurisdiction” in being thorough about dye-transfer printing, but Brian Coe’s incredible (and also out of print) coffee table-sized History Of Movie Photography (1981) did, including some full color illustrations.


This book is also illustrated beyond diagrams of dye-transfer printing with photos, advertisements and industry-related items that give further insight into the exceptional text offered on the subject at hand and its history.  If that was not enough, the book seals its reference quality by offering two-dozen lists of the various kinds of feature films issued in Technicolor alone.  That does not even include al the animated cartoon shorts, for which there are thousands, enough for another volume.  See what film favorites and film greats you may not have been seeing properly, which alone justifies the cost of the book.


The layout of the book is as follows:


Two Strip Technicolor (the first three processes and the 1930s)

Three Strip Technicolor (process four in the 1930s and 1940s & more)

Consent Decree (how the studios lost their older theater chains and related events)

The Fabulous Fifties (process five, 3-D & great large frame/wide screen formats)

Decline & Demise (process “six” & other key changes into the 1960s & 1970s)

Eastmancolor Today (i.e., 1994 and Technicolor’s dye transfer hibernation)



Herbert Kalmus, the founder of Technicolor, is given top attention as an innovator beyond his company.  The infamous story of the rise and fall of his marriage to Natalie Kalmus is skipped, though she is mentioned here and there.  She stayed onto the company as a de facto advisor long after their split.  The story about how Walt Disney had to be bought out of his Technicolor exclusive contract so Kalmus could supply the likes of MGM & Paramount with the format is also not explored with great detail, but except for these few exceptions, Haines has created one of the most dense books on film ever published.


For those who scoff at the names like Technicolor and CinemaScope as if they were a joke or label to fancy-up filmmaking as if it were very general and generic, a great book like this lays out why that is a damaging, idiotic myth and is more important than ever for serious filmmakers, scholars and film fans to own.  As a matter of fact, it will shame the many sources of information you deemed “reliable” in the past and collectors of film memorabilia and DVDs (along with digital High Definition that is already here) will find this book indispensable.  No serious film person can be without it.


For the record, “process seven” was used to create prints in dye-transfer for the following titles:


Giant (as used on the DVD)
Batman and Robin
(some prints)
The Wizard of Oz
(Warner Bros. DVD only, now you can see the money on screen!)
Gone with the Wind
(as used on the Warner Bros. DVD, if problematic)
Rear Window
(all reissue prints)
Toy Story II
(some prints, film presentations only)
The Thin Red Line
(as used on DTS editions of the DVD)
(some prints)
Funny Girl
(all reissue prints)
(some prints)
13th Warrior
(some prints)
Apocalypse Now Redux
(as used on the DVD, all prints)
(some prints, even if it did not look like it)
Pearl Harbor
(some prints)


If any of those films seemed to have looked better than usual when you went to see them in the theaters, you likely saw how great a three-strip print can look.  Not even digital and High definition can totally capture how great the ivory whites, jet blacks, and deep reds are when printed properly.  That is why this book is remarkable and why FulvueDrive-in.com will continue to advocate the best presentation possible of film whenever and however it is shown.


You can order this must-have book straight from McFarland & Company, Inc through the following means:


1)     call them at their order line at 1-800-253-2187

2)     visit their website at www.mcfarlandpub.com

3)     or write them at:


McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers

Box 611

Jefferson, North Carolina  28640


Haines has also written another must-have film volume called The Moviegoing Experience, 1968 – 2001 (2003), which we will also be reviewing when we return.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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