Black and white quality?

For years, I always just assumed that if a show was broadcast/taped/whatever in black and white, that was it, black and white, no variance in color or anything.

Yet, I was watching Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita” last night, and the black and white was really really good. At first I wasn’t even sure it WAS black and white. It seemed like the colors were much more rich and vibrant than in, say, “A Wonderful Life,” or even the beginning of “The Wizard of Oz.”

What gives? Is it the quality of film used, or was Kubrick using advanced black and white technology, or what?

I haven’t seen Lolita in a theater so I’m not sure if you’re talking about apparent “color” in the B&W image or an overall tint.

Looking at your question again I’ll take a stab and say that your perception of “vibrant colors” in a B&W film are due to the care the cinemetographer took to match the scenes to the exposure latitude of the film. B&W film generally has more tonal range than color but this is effected by film speed, amount of actual exposure and the the lighting and elements of the scene. They may have taken pains to spot meter specific elements of the scenes so they would fit into the tonal range of the film. Just taking a single exposure reading of the “average” ignores that important elements may be at the high or low end of the film’s range. If for example I want to capture detail in sunlight blonde hair the average tones in the scene must be a bit darker and shadow detail may need to be safrificed.

Frank Capra may not have worried about such details as much in It’s a Wonderful Life and the scenes The Wizard of Oz were more about showing the contrast between drab Kansas and the oversaturated color of the merry old land of Oz.