Roy Rogers starred in nineteen Trucolor features for Republic Pictures between 1947 and 1950. As early as 1952, some of these features were re-issued theatrically in black and white.
These films were badly handled over the years. The color elements were considered worthless to the studio during the years when they were syndicated to television. As a result, six of the nineteen are now lost in color.
Trucolor (formerly Magnacolor) was the first widespread use of 35mm safety film for theatrical distribution. Unfortunately, the dyes were not stable so any surviving copies of these once colorful prints will now be completely faded. Here is a frame from an existing 1949 Trucolor cartoon, ROMANTIC RUMBOLIA.
While Trucolor had a limited palette, this example will give you an indication of how much is lost when only a poor quality black and white copy exists of a film originally designed for color.
Here is an updated status report on the six missing Roy Rogers Trucolor features.
Click each title to see the complete report of existing 35mm nitrate elements
at the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
Filmed August 22 - September 25, 1946
Released February 15, 1947
LOST: No 35mm color elements are known to exist.
Filmed April 25 to June 11, 1947
Released October 15, 1947
Red picture negative - reels 1,2
Blue picture negative - reels 3,5,6,7,8
Composite Master positive (color unknown) - reels 2,3,4,5,6,8
Track Negative - reels 1-8
Filmed July 22 to August 20, 1947
Released December 1, 1947
Blue master positive - reels 2,4,5
Track negative - reel 3
When the Roy Rogers Trucolor films were re-issued in the 1950s, the market for B-westerns had become so decimated by television, the titles were released in black and white as a cost saving measure. This was accomplished by taking the red portion of the red and blue master positives -- they were, after all actually black and white -- and striking a black and white negative, often resulting a contrasty, but serviceable release print.
Following a favorable decision after lengthy litigation with Roy Rogers, Republic Pictures was finally allowed to sell the Rogers films to television, which they did in blocks of 26 titles -- in chronological order -- beginning in 1956. All of the films were trimmed to a uniform 53:30 running time, which, in some cases meant deleting 15-20 minutes of the film. Not seeing any future potential for sales for films whose running times did not conform to television's rigid hour and half-hour programming blocks and to save money, Republic edited the actual original negatives and master positives and literally, threw away the deleted footage. There are still numerous Roy Rogers titles that are simply unavailable in their unedited format, unless in the hands of a private collector or an overseas archive, which was the case with BELLS OF ROSARITA, SONG OF NEVADA, and several other titles which resurfaced in recent years.
In the 1960s, as color television broadcasting was becoming more common, National Telefilm Associates -- heir to the Republic library when that company ceased active operation -- approached NBC with the idea of telecasting the Trucolor Roy Rogers features as part of that network's primetime Saturday Night at the Movies. NTA presented NBC with a print of TWILIGHT IN THE SIERRAS, which had been converted to a 16mm Eastmancolor negative from the Trucolor positives. The color did not broadcast well on the early sets and NBC rejected the print.
Thinking there was little market value for two-strip Trucolor films -- and, therefore, no reason to spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to convert the nitrate Trucolor masters and negatives to safety film -- the thrifty folks at NTA continued to sell the Rogers Trucolor titles to television in black and white. The unstable masters were left to deteriorate, which is exactly what they did. In 1973 and 1974, after conducting a full inventory of their holdings at Bonded Film Storage in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and discovering the nitrate Trucolor elements on several of the Roy Rogers films were in various stages of decomposition, National Telefilm Associates ordered the complete or partial destruction of several Roy Rogers Trucolor negatives and master positives, which had been deemed to be decomposing. Included were APACHE ROSE, ON THE OLD SPANISH TRAIL, EYES OF TEXAS, THE FAR FRONTIER, NIGHT TIME IN NEVADA and THE GAY RANCHERO.
To see how good restored Trucolor can look on Blu-ray and DVD, we highly recommend
SUNSET IN THE WEST from our friends at Kino Lorber Studio Classics
THE TRUCOLOR PROCESS
(Fleet, Roe (1948): The Trucolor Process. In: American Cinematographer, March, 1948, pp. 79 and 101.)
When the practicability of a 35mm color process is advanced, there are numerous vitally important factors to be taken into consideration. Of the hundreds of so-called color processes announced and projected during the past three decades with resultant losses of millions to public and private investors, only a handful have survived to provide commercially successful color film prints.
Processing of a color film method requires unlimited combined resources in capital, engineering and chemical research and direction, equipment, and trained technicians. The negative must be suitable exposed, but more important – the particular system must be capable of turning out uniform release prints without too great an expense in the laboratory and preventing excessive loss of stock in the printing procedure.
Consolidated Film Industries division of Republic Pictures Corporation has been processing a two color system for many years under the trade name of Magnacolor. By this method, which has generally been accepted for two-color systems, a double-coated positive film is exposed in either side through the appropriate component of a bi-pack negative, and developed to a low gamma in an ordinary black-and-white developing solution. This step is followed by fixation in a combined hardening and fixing bath. Next, the positive film is floated on an iodine solution so that the silver image in the emulsion facing downward is converted to transparent silver iodide.
After various washings and clearing baths, the entire film is submerged in a bath of basic dyes which have the property of mordanting to the silver iodide image only. Further prolonged washings and clearings follow, after which the film is submerged in an iron toning solution which converts the unchanged silver image into the well known blue tone. This type of process was decidedly complex, with great number of progressive steps required, and print uniformity a general problem.
Miller Develops New Procedure
With the technical and engineering experts of Consolidated cognizant of the limitations of the Magnacolor type of process, research was conducted on a more simplified procedure. Mr. Arthur J. Miller, now general manager of the Fort Lee, New Jersey, plant of Consolidated – about seven years ago – conceived the idea of a non-color-sensitive emulsion containing color couplers in place of the ordinary double-coated positive which required the applicating of subsequent coloring agents to black and white images.
Following a long series of experiments and research, the color-coupler emulsion system was developed to a point where it gained the enthusiastic approval and support of Herbert J. Yates, president of Republic Pictures, who authorized placing of an initial order for 12,000,000 feet of Trucolor raw stock with Eastman Kodak – the stock to be manufactured in accordance with detailed specifications furnished by Miller.
Resources Accentuate Development
The widespread financial, production and laboratory resources of Consolidated Film Industries and Republic Pictures were made available for the long process of testing and improving the Trucolor system. Without that combination of resources under the direct guidance and control of Yates, it is doubtful that the Trucolor process could have been brought to the point of production practicability in less than double the time actually consumed. Yates provided the huge amount of capital required to bring the process to the production line; the laboratory staff of engineers and chemical experts devised simplified procedure for printing and developing the color prints; and the production and technical resources of Republic studios were dovetailed into the proposition to provide suitable tests under actual production conditions.
Production Camera Technique
In photographing Trucolor, the regulation N. C. Mitchell camera – with a few minor adjustments to provide for the use of bi-pack negatives – is used. Lenses and other camera accessories are the same as for standard black-and-white shooting.
High intensity arces with Y1 filters, and incandescents with Macbeth filter at normal key or effect lighting; are utilized for interiors. Background projection can be used to the same extent at monotone.
For exteriors, the motion picture cameraman is not restricted to any particular type of natural lighting, but correct exposure and well-balanced negatives are necessary to insure good color rendition. From experience, it is stated that exteriors are handled practically the same as for black-and-white, and booster lights are used for lighting faces, with reflectors employed for back and background lighting.
Negative Development Simple
The exposed bi-pack negatives are immersed in a single developer bath which brings out the appropriate colors directly. A standard negative developing machine to specified time-gamma standards is used. The red dye of the front negative is removed in a sodium hydrosulphite bath as part of the same operation. Printer light tests of each negative provide preselection of proper printing exposure for each scene; and allow for 24 different printer lights.
Trucolor printing machine consists essentially of a printing head for each of the bi-pack negatives with an individual printer lamp, relay rack, control strip, and stop-motion unit for the matte boxes. Trucolor positive film is printed with the red image on one surface and the blue image on the other. After leaving the red gate, the raw stock takes a half twist and proceeds through the blue gate, where the blue image is exposed on the opposite surface of the film. A tungsten filament lamp is used as light source for each head, and exposure value is controlled through a relay arrangement by the control strip.
The processing machine is a top drive unit with one sprocket per shaft. Two developing tanks, a hypo tank and wash tank are located in the dark room section of the processing unit; while bleach, wash, hypo and final wash tanks – together with the track treatment unit – are in the white light end of the machine. Trucolor prints remain in the wet section for 45 minutes, while later drying time totals about 20 minutes.
Taking advantage of various technical improvements available, Trucolor prints use non-inflammable stock; the Dubray-Howell perforation; and the Eastman protective coating on both sides of the finished prints for greater wearability and service in the theatres.
Important improvements of the Trucolor method in contrast to the double-coated prints of regulation bi-pack – as outlined by an official of Republic – include: simplicity and speed in processing; excellent luminosity on the screen; retention of negative image sharpness without loss; automatic print uniformity; and unimpaired sound reproduction.
Further, the color rendition is pleasing for the general theatre audience. However, being a two-component process, it is not possible to reproduce all of the colors faithfully, or to the extent that can be accomplished with a three-color method. Some colors – such as red, blue, brown, light greens, pink, and silver – reproduce almost perfectly; while others – such as yellow and purple – are distorted. But careful planning of sets and costumes can obtain the most value in color from the process with limited distortions. Flesh tones are particularly successful in the Trucolor system.
Production at Republic Studios
With both emulsions and the Trucolor method being constantly improved, and with specially trained technicians only available at Republic studios at this time, all productions made in Trucolor will have to be photographed at the Republic studios. However, although Republic will produce and release a number of its own features in the Trucolor system, the other producers will not necessarily have to use the distributing facilities of Republic. Cost of prints in Trucolor is competitive with other present color methods, but Republic executives point out that production negative costs can be materially lowered with Trucolor, and medium priced features can have the advantages of color photography which has been generally denied such pictures.
Release prints can be supplied rapidly, and on the same schedule as regulation black-and-white prints, just as soon as the master print is okayed by the producer. As the two-color Trucolor method progresses with continual improvements in quality of color values, the Consolidated and Republic engineers expect that the addition of the third color will eventuate.