Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 93: Let's badly colorize "Jail Bait" (1954)

Tampering with a classic.

NOTE: Let's be real here. It's Thanksgiving week. People are out of town or busy with relatives. It's very unlikely that anyone is even reading this article right now. So let's do something goofy and fun and meaningless. In other words, don't take this seriously. - J.B.
Always a bridesmaid.
When it comes to Ed Wood's filmography, three films tend to get all the attention: Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), Glen or Glenda (1953), and Bride of the Monster (1955). They're the first of Ed's movies I saw back in 1992. They're also the ones depicted in Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994). Not surprisingly, these are the titles that have been released the most times in the most formats for home viewing. In short, these are the three films that people know, even if that's pretty much all they know about Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Which means that Eddie's other films, including the 1954 crime drama Jail Bait, tend to get short shrift. Thanks to a company called Legend Films, Plan 9, Glenda, and Bride have all been released in computer-colorized form. While the colorization process deviates from the original intentions of the director and cinematographer, it also manages to bring out some background details that viewers might otherwise ignore. It also allows the films to reach viewers who might be averse to watching a black-and-white film.

To be honest, Jail Bait is probably never going to get the colorization treatment. It's nowhere near as popular as the other three films—Burton's biopic just skips right over it—and that sleazy, salacious title will probably keep many viewers away, even though it refers to a gun. Plus, there's that troubling, outdated blackface sequence featuring comedian Cotton Watts. Not to mention that there's no cross-dressing, nor any sci-fi or horror elements in the script. There's a lot working against Jail Bait.

But there is still hope!

I recently learned of a website called Algorithmia that uses "deep learning" to colorize photos automatically. To be perfectly honest, this was not my discovery at all but rather something I learned from a YouTube video by The Solomon Society. The makers of that video used Algorithmia to add color to a scene from King Kong (1933). I figured, if they could do it to King Kong, I could do it to Jail Bait. And where better to start than with that aforementioned blackface sequence? I mean, Cotton Watts has already added artificial color to his own face, so why not do the same to the entire scene? In for a penny, as they say.

Jail Bait color test #1

Pretty impressive results, right? Sure, it looks a little faded and sepia-tinted, but you could still halfway believe that this was simply an old print of a film that had once been in full color. Cotton's derby hat has been given a pinkish tinge, and the flesh tones of his wife/assistant Chick look halfway plausible. Algorithmia was able to distinguish between the foreground performers, the background performers, and the scenery. This experiment is off to a decent start.

Let's try to colorize an image with no human beings in it and see how the computer does with that. Here's a shot of the police station exterior.

Jail Bait color test #2

Eh, this one is less impressive. Algorithmia seems to have a real hankering for that faded pinkish/brownish color scheme. But, admittedly, there's not a lot to work with here. It's a pretty dull-looking building, apart from those random red and blue bars in the window on the left. Let's try another key location, specifically the interior of the McGregor home.

Jail Bait color test #3

Okay, this is our first outright failure. Algorithmia apparently recognizes that there is some kind of plant life or vegetation visible in this picture, but it has responded by putting a random dollop of green goo in the upper left hand corner and nowhere else. And that's the only green we've seen thus far. If this is the future, color me underwhelmed.

Let's switch gears and colorize another image with people in it.

Jail Bait color test #4

Well, that's a little better. Algorithmia's results tend to improve when there are people in the shot. The flesh and hair look just about right, and I like that the computer distinguished between Theodora Thurman's silk pajamas and Timothy Ferrell's suit. And the colorization does tend to bring the background to life. Look at those plates back there, for instance. Algorithmia does rather overdo it on the red tones, though, and I'm not wild about those random red splotches on Theodora's sleeve and Tim's shoulder.

Let's try our luck with the film's other big couple, Dolores Fuller and Steve Reeves.

Jail Bait color test #5

I'd say the results are similar to what we had with the last photo. Algorithmia does a nice job with the flesh tones and hair, and it manages to distinguish various background objects. The pink lettering on the "CRIME PREVENTION" sign is a nice touch. The computer has given Dolores a rather uninspired, muddy brown outfit. And Steve's shoulder has that same random red blotch that Tim Farrell had in the last picture. Does the computer not understand how men's suits work?

So now let's throw Algorithmia a curveball with a triptych showing Lyle Talbot, Herbert Rawlinson, and good old Bud Osborne. (And this time, I'll include a side-by-side comparison.)

Jail Bait color test #6 (with side-by-side comparison)

Again, the results are mixed. I'd say it gets worse as you move from left to right. I thought Algorithmia might be thrown off by the fact that there are three different scenes juxtaposed here, but that didn't seem to be an issue. I think I almost see hints of blue in Lyle Talbot's tie. At this point in the project, that excites me! But beige and pink still seem to be the dominant colors. And check out Bud Osborne's garish security guard uniform. The computer didn't understand or recognize that at all. No self-respecting ex-cop would be seen in that getup! In fact, no self-disrespecting ex-cop would be seen in it either! (For the record, I got similar results with other screencaps of Osbone's character.)

Before we wrap this thing up, I thought I'd try one more photo. This time, rather than a screencap, it's a lobby card for the film. We'll see if that makes a difference.

Jail Bait color test #7

Wow! I'd say this is the best one yet! Bud Osborne's uniform is now at least a believable color, and Clancy Malone and Tim Farrell look pretty decent as well, though all three men appear as though they went wading waist-deep in a swimming pool full of fruit punch. Again, you could almost buy that this was a color photograph at some point in its life. Or maybe a black-and-white photograph that had been hand-tinted by a real person.

This is the point at which I pass the issue off to you. Presumably, Algorithmia could automatically colorize Jail Bait frame by frame. The results would probably look a lot like what I've posted above. Is this acceptable? Do these pictures change your perception of the movie? This could very well provide a glimpse into events yet to come, as studios use "deep learning" to update old black-and-white movies. Future events such as these... etc., etc.