THE COMING OF SOUND

The advent of talking pictures created a huge upheaval in the film industry. Was sound a novelty or would it provide the industry with a much needed stimulant. Regarding American films abroad, the changes wrought by sound would be complex.

It was interesting to read a 1928 piece in which two of the most well known Hollywood producers gave their thoughts on the upcoming year of 1929.

Carl Laemmle

Carl Laemmle, head of Universal :

”No one could have predicted what a rage they (talking pictures) would become. In my opinion it will be the same in 1929……”  but Laemmle had reservations.

”Eventually talking  pictures will be restricted to certain types of productions rather than the trend to make all pictures talk.

The silent picture technique is too well established to permit a variation of its form.”

 

Jesse L. Lasky of Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation had strikingly similar thoughts to Carl Laemmle.

Lasky says: “It is obvious that the talking picture has a definite place in the film scheme. But this does not mean that the silent picture is doomed. 

On the contrary, it will remain the backbone of the industry’s commercial security…….there will be only a few limited stories whose true medium is 100% dialogue.

Those companies will prosper most which understand best how to use sound .”

 

I suppose it’s not surprising that such a major shift in technology involving not only the studios but also the cinema  chains would be a frightening prospect for studio owners who had only known silent picture making and could only guess at the cost of converting to sound.

From the moment the public first heard Al Jolson, the demise of  silents became inevitable. “The Jazz Singer” In 1927, even though it only used limited dialogue, was the first step in the commercialisation of sound films.

Though  Louella Parsons didn’t see it that way. On the  Jazz Singer”, she proclaimed: “ I have no fear that the screeching sound film will ever disturb our theatres.”

Considering that it was Warner Brothers who made “The Jazz Singer”, it’s surprising to read that only a year earlier , in 1926, Jack Warner was quoted as saying, “Talking pictures will never be viable!”

”You’ll see and hear him!”

 

During that transition period of 1928/1929, the studios shifted gears so quickly that from 220 silent releases in 1928, the number of silent films dropped to only 38 in 1929. The camera may have been stuck in a soundproof booth and the films may have become studio bound (with early microphones unsuitable for location filming), but the public knew what they wanted.

 

Initially Warner Bros.  used the Vitaphone system of sounds being recorded on a disc then synchronised with the cinema projector. But Fox introduced  Movietone , a sound on film process which became the standard.

As more and more cinemas were wired for sound, talkies were taking over and the days of the silent film accompanists playing in cinemas were over.

And a new film genre was created – the musical. Broadway was raided both for material and performers. One film SHOW GIRL IN HOLLYWOOD (1930), starring Alice White and Blanche Sweet, was one of the first to have a plot centred around the making of movies. We see the new sound stages with heavily encased cameras  and off camera orchestra and microphones. Some good dialogue too:

Alice White: ”Hello there. I’m Miss Dixie Dugan.”

Reception clerk: “Who isn’t .”

Alice White: “I’ve come all the way from New York.”

Reception clerk: “Who hasn’t.”

Alice White: “I wanna see the boss.”

Reception clerk: Who doesn’t.”

Many directors  and stars made the transition from silent to sound, but some didn’t – Pickford,Fairbanks,Keaton, Lloyd,Chaplin , all made far fewer films  while Garbo, Colman, Cooper, Crawford, the Barrymores  continued to draw the crowds.

Clara Bow, in 1930, said: “I had talkies, they’re stiff and limiting….but I can’t buck progress.”

Was Hitchcock tongue in cheek when he said: “The only thing wrong with the silent picture was that mouths opened and no sound came out.”

 

Such an amazing time in Hollywood history. I could see a great TV mini-series about that transitional period from 1927 to 1931.

 

One slogan said, “At Last!  Pictures that talk like living people!”

 

Meanwhile, there’s always SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NANCY GATES (1926- 2019)

 

Sad to hear that Nancy Gates has passed away. Although under  contract to RKO from the tender age of 15, Nancy’s career in Hollywood was not extensive but she will be remembered by western  fans for her role in COMMANCHE STATION (1960).

Nancy was screen tested in 1942 for “The Magnificent Ambersons”, but lost out to Anne Baxter. RKO didn’t do her any favours, loaning  her out for supporting roles in films like “Cheyenne Takes Over.”

 

Nancy played Sterling Hayden’s wife in SUDDENLY.

With Frank Sinatra. SUDDENLY.

 

Back to supporting roles in MEMBER OF THE WEDDING and AT SWORD’S POINT.

 

With Cornel Wilde and Maureen O’Hara In AT SWORD’S POINT.

 

In GUNFIGHT AT DODGE CITY, Nancy costarred with  Joel McCrea and Julie Adams.

With Joel MCrea and Harry Lauter.

 

Nancy played Arthur Kennedy’s  girlfriend in SOME   CAME RUNNING.

 

 

In a radio production of SUNSET BOULEVARD, Nancy played the role that Nancy Olsen played in the film.

 

Two films of Nancy’s films I havent seen are THE ATOMIC CITY and WORLD WITHOUT END.

She married in 1948 a prominent Hollywood attorney, J. William Haye and eventually retired from acting in 1969 after making over 50 TV appearances in all the well known tv shows of the 60s.

 

With Randolph Scott In COMMANCHE STATION.

Her quiet stoicism as the woman rescued from the Indians  in “Commanche Station “ will be remembered.

 

 

 

Rolf Armstrong

 

I came across this portrait of James Cagney and was curious about its origins.

It was the work of artist, ROLF ARMSTRONG (1889-1960) who was a friend of Cagney, and it dates from 1954. It was done on Hawaii where Armstrong lived.

 

Rolf Armstrong and James Cagney.

 

Armstrong  works on his portrait of Boris Karloff from THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

 

Boris Karloff, Rolf Armstrong.

 

 

Rolf Armstrong also worked on  several film magazine covers.

 

Bebe Daniels

 

Rolf Armstrong.

 

Rolf Armstrong’s nephew was  Robert  Armstrong of King Kong fame. Robert handled the funeral arrangements of his uncle in 1960.

 

Michigan born Armstrong did illustrations for magazines,  sheet music and calendars. His vibrant colours were very popular.

 

NEHI was a flavoured soft drink in America from 1924. Rolf Armstrong did this illustration in beautiful pastel colours.

SWINGTIME

Coming on June 11th,2019 from Criterion , SWING TIME on blu-ray. And with lots of extras: archival interviews with Fred and Ginger;

a new interview with George Stevens Jr.;

“In Full Swing”, a program on the film’s choreography and soundtrack.

 

Just a pity the scripts of the Astaire/Rogers films weren’t nearly of the same quality as the inspired musical numbers. In this one, I find Victor Moore particularly annoying and unfunny. But Helen Broderick in support is always good value.

 

”Listen, no one could teach you to dance in a million years. Take my advice and save your money!”

Earlier Fred says to Victor Moore, “Hoofing is alright, but there’s no future in it.”

Fred and Ginger in “Pick Yourself Up”, a terrific number and one of the great songs written by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields.

 

Pick Yourself Up.

 

Fred sings “The Way You Look Tonight” and Ginger forgets she’s just washed her hair. Whipped cream produced the required affect on Ginger’s hair.

 

 

Another fabulous number, “Never Gonna  Dance”, and a great Art Deco set of the ‘Silver Sandal’ nightclub. But that orchestra pit in the centre behind  Fred is tiny!

 

My favourite number in the film,  the “Bojangles of Harlem” salute to Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson.

I just  love  the tune  and lyrics and brilliant choreography. The special effects above, with Fred competing with three giant shadows of himself, are amazing.

I read Fred was also saluting another great dancer, John W. Bubbles who played ‘Sportin’ Life’ In PORGY AND BESS on Broadway.

 

George Stevens and Ginger Rogers.

George Stevens was 32 when he directed Swing Time. His father, Lander Stevens, played Betty Furness’s father in the film.

 

Fred on the set. Look at these enormous lights and wiring  behind  him.

Apparently another Kern/Fields song, “It’s not in the Cards” was cut from the film – which suggests  it was filmed. Wonder if we will ever see it.

 

Fred and Ginger with director George  Stevens discussing their number, “A Fine Romance.”

 

Hermes Pan, Fred Astaire, George Stevens

Hermes Pan was Oscar -nominated for his choreography in the film.

 

“It Follows  the Fleet  and tops Top Hat!”

 

 

THE DEATH KISS (1932)

THE DEATH KISS was made  at Tiffany Pictures, a small production company in business from 1921-32, with its studio on Sunset Boulevard.

Following on from  “The Invisible Woman” which I reviewed recently, The Death Kiss was a lovely surprise and I must thank Mike’s Take on the Movies for introducing me to it. http://www.mikestakeonthemovies.com/the-death-kiss

 

Star credits on a film can vary and the above picture shows what is an accurate reflection of the film. David Manners is in practically every scene and his character drives the narrative forward. In fact it should read “David Manners in The Death Kiss”.

But of course, studios have to decide what will sell tickets. Bela  Lugosi had been a big hit in DRACULA in 1931 and all advertising for The Death Kiss indicated that Lugosi was the star of the film.

In fact, Bela Lugosi has quite a minor role as the studio manager and was in just a few scenes.

Even Kino  Lorber , the dvd distributor, on their website boosts Lugosi’ s role: “Bela Lugosi stars as the head of a struggling studio.”

 

“The Death Kiss” is an enjoyable murder mystery and the scene below starts the film. We think we are watching a scene where a evening-gowned woman walks up to a man coming out of a night club and kisses him. She has previously stepped out of a car, telling the two men inside she will identify the target by kissing him!

That’s the Death Kiss!

Gunshots ring out and the man drops dead.

Adrienne Ames, Edmund Burns.

Then, the camera pulls back and it becomes clear we are on a film set. The director (Edward Van Sloan) calls “Cut!” and shouts  to the actor who has just been shot, “When you die this time, let’s have less gymnastics, and don’t spin when you fall.”

The movie being made is called “The Death Kiss”.

Turns out the actor is really dead and the film follows the efforts of studio scenario writer Franklyn Drew (David Manners) to find out who the murderer is. The murdered man wasn’t liked by anyone in the studio so there are plenty of suspects.

 

 

Alexander Carr, Bela Lugosi, John Wray

The studio head (Alexander Carr),  the studio manager (Bela Lugosi) and the detective investigating the murder (John Wray.)

Who substituted a real gun for  the prop one, where is the murder gun – nobody is allowed to leave the set.

 

David Manners with Adrienne Ames as the star of the ‘film’.  Ames was married to the murdered man and becomes a prime suspect.

Adrienne Ames had little to do in the film.

David Manners, Adrienne Ames.

 

Tonart Studio , the fictional studio in the film.

Conveniently for Death Kiss, most of the story is told on the sound stages of Tiffany Pictures which means we get to see quite a lot of the  studio.

 

John Wray, David Manners, Adrienne Ames.

 

John Wray, David Manners.

The murder gun is found by Manners, hidden in one of the arc lights.

Manners, as the writer Franklyn Drew,  is always one step ahead of the police, with the help of the studio security guard – played for laughs by Vince Barnett.

 

There was some tinting near the end of the film of gun shots and flashlights. Seemed a bit odd.

I love how one review in 1933 said,”Bela Lugosi of “Dracula” fame appears in a murder mystery and is not the guilty man…….no more than this will be revealed in these columns! “

When the murderer is revealed (I guessed!), the studio head says, “Let’s avoid film titles with ‘Death’ in them!”

 

David Manners

I wonder why Canadian  David Manners (1900-1998) wasn’t snapped up by a major studio.He was handsome, sophisticated, just so darn likeable!

He made 38 films from 1930 to 1936. He reminded me of a young Cary Grant or Joel McCrea. I look forward to catching up on his films, like “Torch Singer” with Claudette Colbert.

Apparently he lost interest in Hollywood and left films in 1936. There is a website, Davidmanners.com and the blogger, John Norris corresponded with David for many years.

On The Death Kiss, David said, “That was one of the things I did strictly for the cash and promptly forgot!”

 

 

The blatantly false advertising. Bela Lugosi menacing Adrienne Ames – But it never happened in the film. Though Bela’s stare is enough to make you think he’s the murderer!

Why Bela went from Dracula the year before  to the small role in Death Kiss is anyone’s guess.

The Death Kiss can be seen on You Tube. The dvd release on Kino Lorber Classics is ‘a 35mm archival restoration.’ Perhaps it was a poor source print because the audio quality was not great.

Still, good  to have it on dvd – just don’t expect a horror movie!

 

David Manners, Claudette Colbert. TORCH SINGER.

 

ON THE SET 41

 

Ida Lupino and Alan Hale. THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT.

 

Humphrey Bogart, Raoul Walsh. HIGH SIERRA.

 

David Niven, Dame May Whitty, Olivia De Havilland.RAFFLES (1939}.

“Girls, are you listening to me?!”

 

First read-through. ROMEO AND JULIET. With Edna May Oliver, George Cukor, Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard, John Barrymore.

 

James Stewart. CARBINE WILLIAMS

 

Gene Kelly and his brother Fred. They did a great dance number in DEEP IN MY HEART.

 

Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre, James Mason. “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.”

 

Mark Stevens, Olivia De Havilland. The Snake Pit.

 

James Stewart in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. Jean Arthur and Frank Capra on the balcony.

 

Walter Brennan, Doris Davenport, Gary Cooper. . THE WESTERNER.