Laura Wilkens

Thoughts - A Design and Film Related Blog

The blog portion of focuses on graphic design, film, and travel.

Opening Title Design - the 1940s

The 1940's brought more and more success for the movie industry compared to previous decades of the 1920s and 1930s. The forties shed light on popular new genres such as film noir (and the character of the femme fatale) and comedies from duos such as Abbot and Costello to raise American spirits during the war. Production values went up even more to keep people coming to the theatres despite many famous leading men going to fight overseas. Higher production values meant better title design. The forties are the starting point where there are literally countless great titles from big budget award winners to the smaller films. 

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
You can have a movie about a family that's fallen on dire times due to the Dust Bowl that has opening titles with bold and whimsical fonts. Therefore, the titles that Grapes of Wrath does use are perfect for the film. The most important information is in a scraped up font while the less important info is in a font so thin, it looks as if it's literally starving. In the background there's an image that can be interpreted as a dying tree or cracks in a drying earth. Either way the struggles that the characters go through in the film are symbolically shown in the titles.

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
Can opening titles be any more patriotic? The font is made up of the American flag and we have images of the founding fathers in the background. With such strong themes in support of America and that this is a musical, the positive tone of Yankee won it multiple awards and resulted in it being Warner Bros. biggest box office success up to that point.

Saboteur (1942) 
Saboteur ensues an anxious feeling from the start. With a mounting soundtrack that builds with more and more anticipation, the opening titles are shown against a paneled wall as a silhouette of a questionable-looking man inches closer and closer to the viewer. The font is a thin and simple serif font, whose lines almost blend in with the wall behind it. This makes the shadow figure the focal point of the titles and makes it difficult for the viewer to divert their eyes.

Casablanca (1942)
The opening titles of Casablanca are very practical, assisting the viewer with where the story will be taking place. Much like how Game of Thrones uses interactive maps to guide the viewer through the different locations of the tv show, Casablanca's opening titles let people know that Africa will be the dominant location for the storyline (with fonts that match those in the map to tie it all together). Casablanca may not have been the most well-known place in the 40's before this film made it famous, (I definitely didn't know it was a city in Africa when I first saw it in middle school) so the map is a great idea. 

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Frank Capra's Christmas classic has beautiful opening titles. The production credits show up on pages of a book which are turned to reveal more information. Each page is decorated with illustrated Christmas trees and laurel leaves, bells and Christmas scenes, and the fonts are very ornate scripts and serifs. These titles bring you into the spirit of the film before it even begins and brings about holiday cheer overall.

The Big Sleep (1946)
The opening titles for The Big Sleep are the epitome of film noir. The two main characters are shown on silhouette in the background, smoking. The smoke from their cigarettes is mirrored as each frame of titles text disappears and reappears in a puff of smoke. The background then zooms in on an ashtray as both characters put down their cigarettes, and us not knowing what happens next.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
An epic adventure tale in the search for gold, Treasure of the Sierra Madre can be seen as obvious inspiration for movies such as the Indiana Jones series. The titles are weathered and distressed as the font used has bits missing as if its been worn down into the dirt and stone beneath it with a subtle shadow of a palm tree highlighting each frame. The pounding soundtrack adds to the rush and anticipation of the film and prepares the viewer for the action to come.