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Warner Brothers’ The Jazz Singer “Sounds” Great

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

October, 1927Warner Brothers’ rolled the dice with the sound synchronization of both music and dialogue in their film The Jazz Singer and came up winners.

Al Jolson opened the door for sound in motion pictures.

Al Jolson opened the door for sound in motion pictures.

Facing serious financial problems for quite some time, the success of Don Juan, Warner’s first feature film to use their Vitaphone sound-on-disc system motivated the studio to go for broke with their production of The Jazz Singer.

Having successfully used the system for sound effects and musical score, the production of The Jazz Singer became the first motion picture to also synchronize spoken dialogue. The honor went to Al Jolson, thought by many to be the finest entertainer in the world.

Jolson agreed to play the role of Jakie Rabinowitz for $75,000 after the role had previously been offered to both George Jessel and Eddie Cantor. Negotiations with Jessel were not going well and the role was offered to Cantor. Cantor, being a friend of Jessel, politely declined believing that eventually Warner Brothers and George Jessel would come to an agreement.

This opened the door for Al Jolson who was the inspiration for the story that started as a stage drama starring George Jessel. Giving the role to Al Jolson turned out to be the best casting decision Warner Brothers could have possibly made.

Jolson’s rendition of “Toot, Toot, Tootsie Goodbye,” and his showstopping blackface rendition of “Mammy,” brought cheers from the audience, but it was his improvised declaration of “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” that drove them wild.

While the production and popularity of silent films still dominated Hollywood, clearly the door to the “talkies” was now open. Warner Brothers’ The Jazz Singer had changed the future of the motion picture industry.

Metropolis – A Fritz Lang Glimpse of the Future

Monday, July 9th, 2012

January, 1927 – Director Fritz Lang screened his eagerly-awaited science fiction production of Metropolis to a guest audience of 2,500 that included German Chancellor Wilhelm Marx. The screenplay was written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou and is sure to be the pioneering work of the Science Fiction genre.

Metropolis - A frightening look at the future.

Metropolis – A frightening look at the future.

The film takes us to the year 2000, and the gigantic futuristic city of Metropolis, where a startling vision of the future portrays social class polarization as we have never seen it before. A city consisting of wealthy factory owners exploiting the working class as if they are slaves. A frightening separation of class consisting of those who are wealthy and progressive and the distressed and downtrodden. This type of society comes with only one guarantee… eventually, there will be rebellion.

Inspired by a 1924 visit to New York, Lang designed his sets with the New York skyscrapers in mind. The production combined live action with models and artwork, easily making Metropolis  the most expensive German production ever. Costs exceeded 5 million marks, and production took 11 months to complete.

A beautiful young working-class woman falling in love with an industrialist’s son, a mad scientist, and a robot designed to be a perfect replica of the young woman, all enable Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to set a new standard for science fiction.

Rudolph Valentino Dies At the Age of 31

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

August, 1926Rudolph Valentino, silent film’s most romantic star, has passed away at the age of 31, from peritonitis. After collapsing at the Hotel Ambassador in New York City earlier this month, Valentino was hospitalized and immediately underwent surgery for appendicitis and gastric ulcers. In spite of the surgery, the star developed peritonitis which would ultimately result in his death.

Silent Screen legend Rudolph Valentino.

Silent Screen legend Rudolph Valentino.

The star’s death has resulted in an unprecedented outpouring of emotion from his millions of women fans around the world. Although an Italian actor, Rudolph Valentino became a 1920’s sex symbol and was often referred to as the “Latin Lover.” It is estimated that upwards of 100,000 people lined the streets of New York to pay their respects at his funeral.

The mass hysteria at Valentino’s funeral required over 100 mounted New York Police Officers to maintain order. So passionate were his fans that there were rumored to have been several suicides. The funeral mass was held at Saint Malachy’s Roman Catholic Church, often referred to as “The Actor’s Chapel.” Notable attendees included Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Gloria Swanson.

Valentino’s body was then transported, by train, across the country where a second funeral was held at The Church of the Good Shepard in Beverly Hills, California. His body is interred at The Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

When asked to describe his immense popularity with women, Valentino replied, “Women are not in love with me, but with the picture of me on the screen. I am merely the canvas on which women paint their dreams.”

Although Rudolph Valentino is now gone, the silent screens greatest lover will never be forgotten.

The Black Pirate Offers Thrills, Chills, and Technicolor

Monday, September 19th, 2011

March, 1926United Artists release of The Black Pirate, filmed in two-tone Technicolor, proves to be a great success, and not just for the color.

The dashing Douglas Fairbanks stars in the first full-length picture to be shot using this process for wide distribution. As with any Fairbanks action/adventure, the stunts and special effects are outstanding.

Audiences are holding their breath as Fairbanks, playing The Black Pirate, climbs up the mast of a ship and slides down to its deck by piercing the sail with his sword, holds on, and descends as the sword tears downward through the sail.

The two-tone Technicolor process, invented by Herbert T. Kalmus, and Daniel F. Comstock, has previously been used for sequences in the films Ben Hur and The Phantom of the Opera. Only eleven of these cameras exist and producer-star Douglas Fairbanks was able to get four for use in The Black Pirate and the results are outstanding.

The Black Pirate provides exciting entertainment and a visual treat for the eye.

Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush – From Tramp to Prospector

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

June, 1925Charlie Chaplin’s newest film, The Gold Rush, premiered at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater in spectacular fashion. The film has succeeded in the delicate balance of comedy, emotion, drama, and satire. Helping the audience to get in a cold Yukon mood the film was preceded by a show featuring Eskimo dancing girls and live seals.

Charlie Chaplin's, The Lone Prospector.

Charlie Chaplin’s, The Lone Prospector.

Chaplin has stated that he considers this to be his finest film, and the film for which he would most like to be remembered. The Gold Rush is a Klondike love story played out in the vast Alaskan wilderness. In the film, Chaplin’s signature character, The Little Tramp, turns into The Lone Prospector and continues to carry on with his pursuit of true love.

Shooting The Gold Rush had taken over a year and proved to be Chaplin’s most elaborate undertaking. Editing the film was a monster of a project with 27 times the amount of actual film shown on the screen having to be edited. Chaplin got the idea for the story after viewing some Klondike photographs while at the home of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.

Mack Swain plays The Lone Prospector’s only friend, Big Jim McKay, in a relationship that spans from happy to homicidal. Delirium and starvation will do that to you. Tom Murray plays the menacing fugitive, Black Larsen, who attempts to steal Big Jim’s gold claim and will stop at nothing to get it.

Georgia Hale, a recent discovery of Josef von Sternberg, takes over the role of Georgia, a local saloon entertainer and the object of The Lone Prospector’s affection. The role was originally to be played by Chaplin’s new wife Lita Gray who had to be replaced as a result of her pregnancy.

Don’t miss Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, a love story as warm as the Yukon is cold.