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Cinecolor Corporation came into being in 1932 as a result of the financial failure of Multicolor Corp. Technicolor and Multicolor were, by far, the two most successful two-color processes throughout the late 1920s. Technicolor probably survived because Herbert Kalmus was able to get more and more money from investors despite the company showing little or no profit for its first 15 years of existence. Cinecolor took the Multicolor system and continued to use it with little or no modification until the late 1940s when Eastman color negative and Ansco color made it possible to obtain three color photographs without the use of the Technicolor three strip camera.

Cinecolor Photography

Bell & Howell Bi-Pack Camera

Unlike the Technicolor two-color processes which photographed both color elements on the same piece of black and white negative, Cinecolor used two films in "bi-pack", meaning that two films were placed emulsion to emulsion. Each film was sensitized and/or filtered to record its appropriate portion of the color spectrum, red or green. Film used in the Cinecolor process was supplied by Eastman Kodak or DuPont. Essentially, any camera capable of handling bi-pack negatives could be used to photograph a Cinecolor film, though some special film movements were made specifically for the task.

Seen at right is a Bell & Howell bi-pack camera used to produce two-color films such as Cinecolor. The camera could also be used for other bi-pack requirements. It is doubtful that this type of camera ever filmed a scene inside the interior of an automobile.
Photo courtesy Jan-Eric Nyström

Click on the illustration at right to view a 1931 full page ad for Bell & Howell's bi-pack setup.

Cinecolor Printing

The Cinecolor two-color print carried its two color components on opposite sides of the film. To make this print, a special "duplitized" stock was used which had a yellow dye layer beneath the emulsions. A step printer placed the printing stock between the two color component negatives and both sides of the stock were exposed simultaneously. The sound track was also printed at this time on the blue-green side of the film. After conventional developing the print carried a black & white image on both sides of the film.

The second step of producing a color image requires that the film be floated on a chemical bath that converts the red record, in contact with the bath, to a blue-green complementary tone. The film is then dried and the process is repeated on the opposite side of the film using chemicals that convert the green image to a red-orange tone. The Cinecolor process is relatively complex, relying heavily on chemical reactions to create the image, and this brief explanation is presented to provide only a basic understanding of how it worked.

From 1932 to 1940, Cinecolor was used solely for short subjects, primarily from the smaller studios. The first feature film to use the process was The Gentleman from Arizona, produced by Monogram (later Allied Artists) Pictures. While the major studios used the process from time to time for short subjects, such as Paramount's Popular Mechanix series and Popeye cartoons, the primary customers for the system were Monogram, Producers Releasing Corporation, Screen Guild Productions, Eagle-Lion, and others. Republic Pictures, owners of Consolidated Film Industries, developed a similar system that they called Trucolor. In 1948, when a strike halted production at Technicolor briefly, Warner Bros released several Looney Toon cartoons in Cinecolor. These are probably the most commonly seen examples remaining in circulation today.

In addition to standard 35mm prints, Cinecolor also produced 16mm and 8mm reduction prints. Here is a typical example from a 16mm print from 1930s. The film is a U.B. Iwerks production, Old Mother Hubbard. Cinecolor, for reasons that are unclear, used a light orange film base quite similar to the orange mask that is used on color negative and intermediate films, but only for 8mm and 16mm. The illustration shows the film base much lighter than it actually is.

16mm Cinecolor print - UB Iwerks Cartoon - 1930s
film courtesy of Ron Merk

The resulting two-color print was capable of containing pleasing colors but accuracy was hardly more possible than with any other two-color system. Great care was taken in original photography to use costumes and set colors that resulted in the desired final hues. Below is a table of some of the color interpretations that Cinecolor and similar bi-pack systems yielded:

Color Reproduction using Bi-Pack System
Color of OriginalColor Reproduced
YellowLight Red-Orange
Yellow-GreenVery pale Orange
BlueDeep Green-Blue
Blue-VioletBlackish Green-Blue
PurpleReddish Grey
Rose Grey Red-Orange
Flesh ColorFairly correct
Foliage Grey Blackish-Green
Sky-Blue Pale Blue-Green

Cinecolor resulted in not only a limited palette, it also suffered from other problems that were decidedly inferior to the Technicolor system. Having the color elements on opposite sides of the film resulted in a soft projected image because it was not possible to hold focus on both records at the same time. Whereas Technicolor applied a silver based photographic soundtrack equal to or better than any black & white film, Cinecolor created a cyan or Prussian blue soundtrack on the blue-green side of the film. While it was possible, through the use of special photocells, to obtain acceptable quality soundtracks, the cyan colored track was not especially compatible with sound reproducers that had been used for black & white films. Theatres did not convert their sound systems just to make Cinecolor movies sound better and black & white movies sound worse. Other color processes, both two-color and three-color, have used dye based soundtracks with similar inferior results, including Technicolor for a brief period.

Cinecolor Samples

While the color recording capability of Cinecolor was not accurate, it was, nonetheless realistic looking. Here are samples of nitrate frames from Hal Roach short subjects produced in 1947-48. The overall quality is quite good, far exceeding Technicolor two-component prints, but Cinecolor, not having a satisfactory method of photographing the full color spectrum until 1948 when Eastman and Ansco/Agfa stocks were introduced in the U.S., spent a lot more time refining their two-component system than Technicolor which essentially abandoned two-component in 1935. Additional examples will be added as they are prepared.

Original nitrate footage courtesy of Ron Merk

The sample images are from silent work prints with the exception of the upper right. As mentioned elsewhere, Cinecolor created their sound track with cyan dye, resulting in a lower quality audio than Technicolor's silver track.

Super Cinecolor

In 1948, Cinecolor introduced their three-color process. This was possible due to the emergence of three-color materials produced in the new Eastman color and Ansco color stocks, or from films made with the Technicolor three strip camera. Cinecolor never became involved in the actual imaging of a three-color film.

The three color process is discussed in some detail in the Alan M. Guldenfinger Cinecolor Three-Color Process article from the Society of Motion Picture Engineers article published in 1949.

In 1950, Eastman introduced their color print film, type 5381, so it became possible produce a high quality full color print. Cinecolor immediately adopted the Eastman color print film, but used it only for the production of "dailies". For release printing they used the three-color adaptation of their old two-color process as described in the Guldenfinger article. The Sword of Monte Cristo, an independent production released by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1951, was the first three-color Cinecolor feature picture. Like nearly every other film whose title contains the word sword, it was of mediocre quality.

Jack and the Beanstalk in SuperCinecolor

Jack and the Beanstalk (1952), starring Abbott and Costello, was photographed with Eastmancolor negative and printed in the Super Cinecolor system. The comedy team also made Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd in Super Cinecolor.
Super Cinecolor film courtesy of Jeff Joseph, Sabucat Productions.

Jack and the Beanstalk - Super Cinecolor

Lobby card from Jack and the Beanstalk, showing that an effort was made to inform audiences that this wasn't the same old Cinecolor.

Super or not, Cinecolor was on its last leg. The one thing that the company had always needed had finally arrived, a reliable three-color camera film. But at the same time along came print films that allowed any studio or competing lab to make good quality full color prints. Cinecolor's printing costs were too high to make a profit. One of the last films was Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd, an independently produced film released by Warner Bros. Seen above is a full color lobby card and three frames from the film.

While Cinecolor could now offer the full color spectrum in their prints, they still suffered from the inferior cyan soundtrack and fuzzy image caused by the color image being recorded on both sides of the print.
Son of Belle Starr Cinecolor FrameSon Of Belle Starr in Cinecolor

Son of Belle Starr (1953) was photographed on Eastmancolor negative and has been transferred to video in the full color palette of that system. The frame above is a two-color Cinecolor print used in trailers. Whether or not the feature itself was printed in two-color or three-color is unknown to the author at this time, though it is suspected that the film may have been printed on Eastmancolor positive stock. While its title might make it seem like grade "B" western schlock, the film is actually exceptionally good considering its genre.

Despite the availability of full color films from Kodak and Ansco, a substantial amount of Cinecolor's product was two-color films made in the old bipack system. In 1954 the company went out of business and its assets were bought by Technicolor.

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