In Hollywood, films symbolically associated with the colour yellow usually seem to refer to the period roughly 1940-1965. This is the era that we see the ‘Hitchcock Blondes’ of Grace Kelly, Eve Marie Saint, Tippi Hendren etc. The figure of the blonde has been analysed as having many meanings. Blondeness is stereotypically associated in popular culture with youth, fragility, naivety and lack of intelligence. This of course has been perpetuated by Hollywood through the film’s and perceived behaviour of the original ‘dumb blonde’ Marilyn Monroe. She is probably the most famous filmic blonde of this time, enhanced by popular images of her being recreated as seen in the famous ‘Pop Art’ Andy Warhol screen print.
My favourite Marilyn film is The Misfits [DVD] which was written by her soon to be ex-husband Arthur Miller (a favourite playwright of mine). The Misfits is the last film Monroe made before she died and is interesting because it shows a different side to Marilyn and I think also provides evidence that she was a good actress and more intelligent than people thought. This film is also doused in melancholy, it is shot in black and white with Marilyn playing a divorcee who seems to drift from one troubled relationship to another which Marilyn portrays extremely well, no doubt because echoes of this were found in her real life.
For more of a strong blonde figure you cannot beat in my opinion Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity [DVD]  I have written about this film before in the following blog post. Stanwyck’s fierce attitude and confidence seeps through this character and though her actions are negative (manipulation, murder, deception) she represents at least a strong and intelligent blonde character in film and TV that aside from the independent sector did not really get represented in such a way again in mainstream Hollywood films. It is a great counterpoint to for instance the character of Krystle Carrington, in Dynasty – Complete Season 1-9 [DVD]  who played with relish the stereotypical unintelligent and submissive blonde. Though this 1940-50s period of film noir also had its range of brunette femme fatales too seems to me to be associated with the colour yellow forever more.
In more recent times, films such as L.A. Confidential  [DVD] set in the early 1950s, references the blonde as a femme fatale figure with Kim Basinger playing this role. Also suits worn by characters referencing that film noir period such as Jim Carrey in The Mask [DVD]  and Dick Tracy [DVD] are bright yellow. Of course in more recent years the costume worn by Uma Thurman’s charcter in The Kill Bill Collection [DVD] is also bright yellow but I think something different is going on with this as it is a Tarrantino movie and pastiche-y in nature this costume is clearly referencing Brue Lee’s costume in Game Of Death [DVD] his last film, especially as the character performs martial arts. I am by no means an expert on film costume and history but if you are interested in learning about this in more depth then please see the excellent website Clothes on Film which has a huge amount of information on this subject.
The Wizard of Oz
Of course one mention of the use yellow is the classic yellow brick road in The Wizard Of Oz – 75th Anniversary Edition [DVD] All of the colours in Oz are vivid, you have emerald city, the red slippers, Dorothy’s blue dress and red hair, the yellow brick road, the green Wicked Witch of the West. So in this use of colour I think it was most likely used to serve to appeal to children and as a contrast to the black and white Kansas scenes before.
Overall, then the use of yellow in films is varied and seems to be re-referenced in modern films in a kind of a cartoony pastiche-y way. If you have any examples of yellow in films or think we have missed something then get in touch.