Here come the ‘Talkies’: From Silent to Sound

Posted by on Dec 12 2011 | Other

I’ve been taking a little time to write about all the films being broadcast on Turner Classic Movies ‘Tribute to George Eastman House  on December 14, and wanted to continue with the films that come from the very interesting period of transition from silent to sound, 1929-1931.


THE VALIANT (1929) was an Oscar-nominee for both its writing and the lead performance by Paul Muni. He would be nominated 5 more times, including I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (1932) and THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA (1937), and won for THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR (1936), but is likely still best-known as the original SCARFACE (1931). In this film he is an accidental murderer who gives himself up to authorities but refuses to reveal his name to keep from shaming his family. Our preservation of this title comes from a nitrate positive that came into the collection in 1972. The preservation was done in 1983, when we produced new picture and soundtrack negatives and a new print. Airs at 7:30 am.


One of our favorite silent stars is Gloria Swanson, and we are proud to have the film of her first speaking role in THE TRESPASSER (1929). In it, Gloria plays a lawyer’s stenographer who gives birth to a son after a short, annulled elopement. Her employer helps her out, which causes a scandal, suggesting that she is a “kept woman.” Swanson would work only rarely in the next 20 years, leading up to her magnificent star turn in 1950’s SUNSET BOULEVARD. The film was produced by Joseph Kennedy, with whom Swanson was having an affair. Kennedy had a short run in Hollywood, producing 10 films from 1926 to 1930. We had several elements of THE TRESPASSER to work with, including some elements that came from Swanson herself in 1967. We took the best of these elements in 2002 and created new sound and picture negatives and new prints. Airs at 10:00 am.


The next two films are early examples of the musical on film. THE LOTTERY BRIDE (1930) features operetta star Jeanette MacDonald in a bizarre musical melodrama which sees her enter a Norwegian marathon dance contest, help an Italian aviator escape from jail, be jailed herself, become a lottery bride, bought by her sweetheart but given to his brother, and finally lead a rescue party to save her sweetheart from a dirigible crash in the Arctic Circle in glorious two-color Technicolor. Two under-rated comedic actors give healthy support in the form of the romantic couple Joe E Brown and ZaSu Pitts. The George Eastman House cut of the film is longer than the version currently out on DVD and features the Technicolor ending, which is missing on the DVD. This preservation was completed thirty years ago, beginning with a nitrate positive, which created new negatives and a new print. Airs at 1:30 pm.


DELICIOUS (1931) is the first film that George and Ira Gershwin wrote music for. And they wrote it for the beautiful Janet Gaynor and her frequent co-star Charles Farrell (7th HEAVEN, SUNNYSIDE UP, LUCKY STAR and 8 other films). They star as immigrants coming to America on the same ship from Europe. They find love, but are from different classes, which keeps them apart, but in America anything is possible and after several misunderstandings and two botched deportations, they are married. DELICIOUS was a 1999 preservation project that started with a Fine Grain Master, which produced the new negatives and a new print. Airs at 4:30 pm.


Are you excited yet? I know I am. But I still have 7 more films to tell you about! Next, I’ll tackle the decade of the 1930s and leave the rest for last.

Be Sociable, Share!

    Jared Case is the Head of Collection Information and Access for the Motion Picture Department and one of the most popular instructors at the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation. He graduated from the school himself in 2002 and has been with George Eastman House ever since. He is a film noir aficionado and can be found at film festivals, mystery conventions and noir conferences around the country.

    3 comments for now

    3 Responses to “Here come the ‘Talkies’: From Silent to Sound”

    1. Looking forward to tomorrow and all its goodies — I just gave you and Eastman House a nod at my blog ( One of these days, I will have to visit Rochester and take in the Eastman House, especially regarding items on my all-time favorite actress, Carole Lombard. Congratulations.

      13 Dec 2011 at 11:27 am

    2. Ashley

      I’m very excited to see these films on TCM! However, I missed The Trespasser when it aired and only got to see the last 25 minutes and I am devastated as I am a huge Gloria Swanson fan and have been wanting to see it for years. Is the film for sale any where? Thank you! :)

      14 Dec 2011 at 11:41 am

    3. Ed Lorusso

      Hi Jared. Good write-ups. You won’t remember me, but I came to Eastman House a few years ago and watched THE TRESPASSER, which I loved.


      Any chance these films will end up on TCM?

      Is Eastman House sitting on THE BARKER or HIS GLORIOUS NIGHT ??

      Thanks for your great work!

      15 Dec 2011 at 11:30 am