Silents Are Golden: A Look At Six (Very) Early Film Directors

A Look At Six (Very) Early Film Directors

You’ve likely all heard about Thomas Edison’s irreplaceable contributions to the development of cinema — particularly as a business — and are probably familiar with the iconic work of Georges “A Trip to the Moon” Méliès. The Lumière brothers probably ring a bell, too. But who were some other important early directors, who perhaps fly a little under the radar for most non-silent-film-fanatic folks?

6Siegmund Lubin

Siegmund Lubin

 One of the earliest directors and producers, Lubin was a native of Germany who moved to the U.S. in the 1870s. Having a background in optometry (he patented two types of spectacles), he was quickly drawn to the novelty of motion picture cameras and projectors. After spending some time as a distributor of Edison films he started his own film company, filming “actualities” (brief documentaries) and brazenly re-making films by fellow directors — he even re-made The Great Train Robbery... (This kind of copying wasn’t uncommon in the early days of cinema.) Not just content with re-makes, he also pirated some films. (Also not uncommon in the early days of cinema.) While not battling lawsuits from rival film studios, he churned out dozens of dramas and comedies and attempted to have his company be its own distributor, exhibitor, and manufacturer of its products. In 1916, at age 65, the headstrong Lubin decided to retire from film production, and would pass away a few years later.

5. Shibata Tsunekichi

Shibata Tsunekichi Image credit: Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema

One of the very first filmmakers in Japan, Shibata worked for the photography shop Konishi Camera, which had been on the scene since 1873 (a prominent Tokyo pharmacist had started selling photography equipment in his store). When the shop imported Japan’s first motion picture camera, famed benshi and producer of sorts Komada Koyo instructed Shibata to start making films, hoping to incorporate them into stage performances (a benshi was a type of lecturer who delivered running commentary for plays). Shibata obliged by first filming traditional geisha dances at a Kabuki theater in 1899, and then making Inazuma goto Hobaku no Ba (The Lightning Robber is Arrested), which was a hit. He would then film a number of Kabuki plays, featuring some of Japan’s most renowned actors. His last film credits are from 1904, and he apparently passed away in 1929.

4. Segundo de Chomón

Segundo de Chomon

The well-mustachioed De Chomón was born in Spain on October 17, 1871. He would marry Julienne Mathieu, an actress at the early film studio Pathé Frères. She was soon encouraging her husband to join Pathé, so he began working there as an agent and then a director. After filming documentaries, in 1903 he made Gulliver en el país de los gigantes (Gulliver in the Land of Giants) and discovered his new specialty: trick films. He was soon so talented at creating special effects that Pathé himself decided he should concentrate on competing with the work of the famed Georges Méliès. De Chomón happily obliged, and as a result his intricate, surreal fairytale-style films are often mistaken for work of Méliès today. He would eventually focus less on directing and more on cinematography, helping create effects for classics like Napoléon (1927). He passed away from a heart attack in 1929.

3. Alice Guy-Blaché

Alice Guy Blache Guy-Blaché was born in Paris in 1873. Her father would pass away in 1891, and she became a stenographer in order to help her widowed mother. She soon became a secretary to Léon Gaumont, who at the time owned a company that sold camera equipment. Guy and Gaumont would attend one of the famous Lumière film showings in 1895, and inspired by this, Gaumont decided to start producing films. Guy-Blaché became one of his first film directors–which made her the world’s first female director. Her lengthy filmography began with La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy), which some consider the world’s earliest fiction film. She soon rose to becoming head of production at Gaumont, and after marrying Herbert Blaché in 1907, the two formed their own company, Solax. In 1919, after making literally hundreds of films (including many early sound films), Guy retired from directing. She drifted into obscurity, passing away quietly in 1968, but her pioneering work is gaining interest again today.

2. Edwin S. Porter

 

 

You likely know Porter as the man responsible for familiar film milestones like The Great Train Robbery (1903) and Life of an American Fireman (1903). Born in 1870, he was raised in Pennsylvania along with his six siblings and grew up to work a number of odd jobs, eventually settling on working with electrical devices. By 1899 he was a mechanic at the Edison Manufacturing Company and was soon involved in its film production. Working his way up to being a director, he was put in charge of Edison’s New York studio and his work became very popular with the public. He was a pro at both editing and dissolve techniques. After 1909 he left Edison and jumped from film studio to film studio until retiring in 1925. A quiet, humble individual, he would focus on his private film equipment inventions until passing away in 1941.

1. William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson

William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson

Otherwise known as William K-L. Dickson, you may know him as the young man holding a hat in the super early short Dickson Greeting (1890). Born in France in 1860, at age 19 he wrote to Thomas Edison asking for a job. While he was turned down, he and his family immigrated to the U.S. later that year and by 1883 he finally managed to be hired to work in Edison’s laboratory. He quickly proved himself, becoming one of the head assistants. Around 1888 he began experimenting with film, which fascinated him, and eventually designed both the earliest “kinetoscope” and the Black Maria — the world’s first film studio. Dickson is credited not only with  patenting a practical type of cellulose film and the emulsion needed for it, but deciding that film needed to be 35mm, making him possibly the most important figure in the history of cinema’s development. He founded the American Mutoscope Company in 1895 and left Edison that same year. While he kept working as an engineer and director of documentaries, he became an obscure figure and spent his remaining years in England, passing away in 1935.

These hardworking directors, from all different backgrounds and from all over the world, are just a sampling of the important contributors to the art form that inspires and influences us today. They may not be household names (unless you’re a film historian), but the results of their long-ago experiments can still be seen every time you switch on your TV screen.

–Lea Stans for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Lea’s Silents are Golden articles here.

Lea Stans is a born-and-raised Minnesotan with a degree in English and an obsessive interest in the silent film era (which she largely blames on Buster Keaton). In addition to blogging about her passion at her site Silent-ology, she is a columnist for the Silent Film Quarterly and has also written for The Keaton Chronicle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Posts by Lee Stans, Silents are Golden | Leave a comment

The Covered Wagon (1923) Silent Classic DVD/Blu-Ray Giveaway (now through March 24)

The Covered Wagon DVD/Blu-Ray Giveaway

It’s time for our next giveaway, courtesy of Kino Lorber. This time, we’ll be giving away FIVE copies of the 1923 silent classic The Covered Wagon, starring J. Warren Kerrigan, Lois Wilson and Alan Hale… This is the first time ever that this film has been available on either DVD or Blu-Ray.

In order to qualify to win one of these DVDs or Blu-Rays via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, March 24 at 10PM EST. However, the sooner you enter, the better chance you have of winning, because we will pick a winner on five different days within the contest period, via random drawings, as listed below… So if you don’t win the first week that you enter, you will still be eligible to win during the following weeks until the contest is over.

  • Feb 24: One Winner
  • Mar 3: One Winner
  • Mar 10: One Winner
  • Mar 17: One Winner
  • Mar 24: One Winner

We will announce each week’s winner on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub (or this blog, depending how you entered), the day after each winner is picked at 10PM EST — for example, we will announce our first week’s winners on Sunday Feb 25 at 10PM EST.

the covered wagon 1923 silent classic

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ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, March 24 at 10PM EST— BUT remember, the sooner you enter, the more chances you have to win…

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

2) Then TWEET (not DM) the following message:
Just entered to win “The Covered Wagon” 1923 silent film classic #Giveaway courtesy of @KinoLorber and @ClassicMovieHub contest link: http://ow.ly/RS8230itxKn

THE QUESTION:
Why do you want to win this DVD/Blu-ray? 

*If you do not have a Twitter account, you can still enter the contest by simply answering the above question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog — BUT PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU ADD THIS VERBIAGE TO YOUR ANSWER: I do not have a Twitter account, so I am posting here to enter but cannot tweet the message.

ALSO: Please allow us 48 hours to approve your comments. Sorry about that, but we are being overwhelmed with spam, and must sort through 100s of comments…

…..

the covered wagon poster

About The Film: The first Western epic! A great caravan of covered wagons, filled with hearty pioneers and their families and possessions, are waiting for the Spring “jump off” at Westport Landing, now Kansas City. The time is 1848, and the destination is far-off Oregon, in The Covered Wagon (1923), the first big-budget Western epic. Where countless pilgrims fell, a love triangle flourishes, as Molly Wingate (Lois Wilson) must choose between the brutish Sam (Alan Hale) and the dashing Will (J. Warren Kerrigan). Complicating her decision are the perils of the trail: a mile-wide river, prairie fire, heavy snowfall, a buffalo stampede, crippling hunger, and Native American attacks. Boasting a cast of thousands and an unparalleled commitment to authenticity, The Covered Wagon was an enormous box-office success in 1923 and became one of the major milestones in the history of the Western.

You can visit Kino Lorber on their website, on Twitter at @KinoLorber or on Facebook.

Please note that only residents of the Continental United States (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and the territory of Puerto Rico) entrants are eligible to win.

For complete rules, click here.

And if you can’t wait to win, you can click on the image below to purchase on amazon :)

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Good Luck!

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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Noir Nook: Four Noir Fellas: Show Biz Beginnings

Four Noir Fellas: Show Biz Beginnings

Last month’s Noir Nook focused on the opening scenes from some of my favorite noir features. In a further nod to the start of the new year, this month I’m taking a look at four of my favorite noir fellas, and how they got their starts on the silver screen.

Richard Conte

richard Conte with Marilyn Maxwell in New York ConfidentialRichard Conte with Marilyn Maxwell in New York Confidential, 1955

Born Nicholas Peter Conte  in Jersey City, New Jersey, this future noir star was the son of a neighborhood barber who insisted that his son take lessons in piano and art. Although he organized and performed in a jazz band during high school, Conte was a mediocre, unfocused student, and after graduation, he took on a variety of jobs, quitting when he got bored or getting fired for failing to fulfill his duties. (He was once dismissed as a floor walker at a department store for “permitting women to wear more clothes out of the store than they had when they entered,” he recalled.) His life took on a notable focus in 1935, when he landed a job as a waiter at the Pinebrook Country Club in Connecticut, where he was required to entertain the guests in addition to waiting tables. Conte’s performance in a play at the country club was spotted by a member of The Group Theatre, who suggested he pursue an acting career and later arranged a scholarship for him at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. Conte remained at the Playhouse for two years; he debuted on Broadway in 1939 in My Heart’s in the Highlands, the first play penned by William Saroyan, then landed the title role in the road company of Golden Boy. After this production, Conte decided to give Hollywood a try, and was quickly signed by 20th Century-Fox, earning fourth billing in his first film, a western called Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence (1939).

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Dan Duryea

Dan Duryea with Yvonne DeCarlo in Criss CrossDan Duryea with Yvonne DeCarlo in Criss Cross, 1949

Born in White Plans, New York, Dan Duryea first showed a fondness for acting as a member of his high school’s drama club and, later, at Cornell University, where he succeeded future star Franchot Tone as president of the Dramatic Club. By the time he graduated, though, Duryea had decided to pursue an advertising career, and he landed a job selling ad space in small daily and weekly newspapers. After several years in this field, Duryea suffered a mild heart attack during a basketball game, and was encouraged by his doctors to choose a less stressful job. He turned to his former love for acting, finding small roles in summer stock and making his Broadway debut in 1935 in Dead End (written by a former Cornell classmate, Sidney Kingsley). For 85 weeks, Duryea played small parts in the production, but toward the end of the play’s run, he was given the lead role. This led to a string of additional roles, and a few years later, he was hired for the part of Leo Hubbard in the Broadway production of The Little Foxes, starring Tallulah Bankhead. When producer Sam Goldwyn bought the rights to the film, he hired Duryea to reprise his role and he made his big-screen debut in the feature in 1941.

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Robert Ryan

Robert Ryan with Ida Lupino in On Dangerous GroundRobert Ryan with Ida Lupino in On Dangerous Ground, 1952

Ryan was born in Chicago, the first child of a well-to-do building contractor. While a student at Dartmouth College, Ryan was editor of the school newspaper, participated in track and football, and became the first freshman to win the college’s heavyweight boxing championship. After graduating with a degree in English, Ryan toiled at a number of jobs, including digging sewer tunnels, working in the engine room on an ocean liner, and serving as paving supervisor for the Works Progress Administration. (“I just didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Ryan later recalled. “If times had been different, people would have called me a bum.”) Finally, in 1936, Ryan joined an amateur theater group in Chicago, and two years later, he moved to Los Angeles to join the Max Reinhardt Workshop. After making his professional stage debut in Too Many Husbands at the Belasco Theatre, he was spotted by a Paramount talent scout and signed to a contract. In his first film, Golden Gloves (1940), he was able to put his boxing skills to good use, playing a bit part as a boxer.

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Richard Widmark

Richard Widmark with Victor Mature in Kiss of DeathRichard Widmark with Victor Mature in Kiss of Death, 1947

A native of Sunrise, Minnesota, Richard Widmark once claimed to have been a “movie nut” since the age of three, and while he wasn’t necessarily interested in acting, he discovered early on that he had an affinity for public speaking. With plans to utilize this ability as a lawyer, Widmark enrolled at Lake Forest (Illinois) College as a pre-law student, but while there, he was encouraged by the school’s drama coach to pursue an acting career. After his graduation, he remained at the school for two years, teaching speech and drama, then headed for New York, where a former classmate gave him a job on the radio series, Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories. He appeared in countless radio programs during the next several years, sometimes as many as eight a day, from morning until midnight. Rejected for service in the U.S. Army due to a perforated eardrum, Widmark entertained servicemen during the war years as part of the American Theatre Wing, and he made his Broadway debut in 1943, in Kiss and Tell, playing a young Army Air Corps lieutenant. He went on to appear in several other theater productions, and got his big-screen break when Hollywood director Henry Hathaway visited New York to cast the role of a vicious hoodlum in his upcoming film, Kiss of Death (1947). Although Hathaway didn’t want Widmark (“I have a high forehead – he said I looked too intellectual,” Widmark said.), he was overruled by studio head Darryl Zanuck, and Widmark debuted in the film, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Who are some of your favorite noir performers? Let me know and I’ll spotlight their show biz beginnings in a future Noir Nook!

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– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Karen’s Noir Nook articles here.

Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
If you’re interested in learning more about Karen’s books, you can read more about them on amazon here:

 

 

Posted in Noir Nook, Posts by Karen Burroughs Hannsberry | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Win Tickets to see “TCM Big Screen Classics: Vertigo” (60th Anniversary) (Giveaway runs through March 3)

Win tickets to see “Vertigo” on the big screen!
In Select Cinemas Nationwide Sun Mar 18 and Wed Mar 21!

“You shouldn’t keep souvenirs of a killing. You shouldn’t have been that sentimental.”

CMH continues into our 3rd year of our partnership with Fathom Events – with the 3rd of our 13 movie ticket giveaways for 2018, courtesy of Fathom Events!

That said, we’ll be giving away EIGHT PAIRS of tickets to see “TCM Big Screen Classics: Vertigo – the Hitchcock masterpiece starring James Stewart and Kim Novak — the way it was meant to be seen — on the Big Screen!

In order to qualify to win a pair of movie tickets via this contest, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, March 3rd at 6 PM EST.

We will announce the winner(s) on Twitter on Sunday, March 4, between 6PM EST and 7PM EST. If a winner(s) does not have a Twitter account, we will announce that winner(s) via this blog in the comment section below.

TCM Big Screen Classics VERTIGO

The film will be playing in select cinemas nationwide for a special two-day-only event on Sunday, March 18 and Wednesday, March 21 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. local time. Winners will be responsible for their own transportation to the Event. Only United States entries are eligible. Please click here before you enter to ensure that the Event is scheduled at a theater near you and that you are able to attend. (please note that there might be slightly different theater listings for each date)

ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, March 3rd at 6PM EST…

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

THE QUESTION:
What is it about “Vertigo” that makes it a classic? And, if you haven’t seen it, why do you want to see it on the Big Screen?

2) Then TWEET* (not DM) the following message:
I just entered to win tickets to see “TCM Big Screen Classics Presents: Vertigo” on the Big Screen courtesy of @ClassicMovieHub & @FathomEvents #EnterToWin #CMHContest link here: http://ow.ly/S4sy30inBUY

*If you don’t have a Twitter account, you can still enter the contest by simply answering the above question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog — BUT PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU ADD THIS VERBIAGE TO YOUR ANSWER: I do not have a Twitter account, so I am posting here to enter but cannot tweet the message.

NOTE: if for any reason you encounter a problem commenting here on this blog, please feel free to tweet or DM us, or send an email to clas@gmail.com and we will be happy to create the entry for you.

ALSO: Please allow us 48 hours to approve your comments. Sorry about that, but we are being overwhelmed with spam, and must sort through 100s of comments…

James Stewart and Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock's VertigoJames Stewart and Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo

About the film: Considered one of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest cinematic achievements, Vertigo is a dreamlike thriller from the Master of Suspense. Set in San Francisco, the film creates a dizzying web of mistaken identity, passion and murder after an acrophobic detective (James Stewart) rescues a mysterious blonde (Kim Novak) from the bay and must unravel the secrets of the past to find the key to his future. This 60th Anniversary event includes exclusive insight from TCM host Eddie Muller.

Please note that only United States residents are eligible to enter this giveaway contest. (see contest rules for further information)

BlogHub members ARE also eligible to win if they live within the Continental United States (as noted above).

You can follow Fathom Events on Twitter at @fathomevents

Good Luck!

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Fathom Events | Tagged , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Classic Movie Travels: Jobyna Ralston and South Pittsburg

 

Jobyna Ralston and South Pittsburg

Jobyna RalstonJobyna Ralston

While fans of silent film may easily recall comedian Harold Lloyd  working with many terrific actors, one of my favorite co-stars of his is Jobyna Ralston. Jobyna easily projects an image of innocence, comfort, and sweetness against whatever chaos befalls Lloyd in their films. However, Jobyna worked with many more actors, both comedic and dramatic, throughout her film career.

Jobyna (pronounced “Jo-bean-a”) “Joby” Lancaster Raulston was born on November 21st, 1899, in the mountain town of South Pittsburg, Tennessee. Her stage-struck parents were Joe Lancaster Raulston and Sara E. Kemp Brady Raulston, and they named their daughter Jobyna after actress Jobyna Howland. The Raulstons also welcomed a son, Edward Angus, into the family on April 14th, 1905. The family lived in a red frame house on the main street in town, surrounded by many bustling businesses. The Raulston home also featured beautiful white rose bushes.

Jobyna’s mother was South Pittsburg’s only photographer and enjoyed posing her daughter before the camera. She enjoyed making dresses for Jobyna and using a finger to curl Jobyna’s tresses about her face. Intrigued by the motion picture industry, Mrs. Kemp-Raulston devoured movie magazines and kept up-to-date about the latest directors and producers. Moreover, she taught her daughter how to pose before the camera to instill confidence and poise in her and to eliminate any sense of self-consciousness. At age nine, Jobyna carried out her first stage performance in Cinderella at the Wilson Theater and Opera House in South Pittsburg.

When Jobyna turned sixteen, she began dating John Campbell, who had a farm several miles away from South Pittsburg. Though the Campbells and Raulstons were amiable with one another, they did not approve of the match. Nevertheless, the couple married but divorced shortly thereafter.

Jobyna Ralston YoungA young Jobyna

In response, Jobyna decided to leave South Pittsburg and take acting classes in New York, where she appeared in Ned Wayburn’s company of performers. In 1919, she made her film debut in a short called Starting Out in Life, though she was incorrectly billed as Juliana Ralston. Her next film appearance was in a short called The Sultan of Djazz (1919), which credited her as Jobyna Ralston.

After working on a series of shorts, Jobyna appeared as the heroine in a now-lost production of a Marx Brothers short called Humor Risk (1921). Additionally, she was also featured in a 1921 Vincent Youmans Broadway show called Two Little Girls in Blue. Jobyna continued a career in comedy, mostly working for Hal Roach Studios, when she was recognized as a Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers (WAMPAS) Baby Star in 1923.

When Harold Lloyd was looking to replace his frequent co-star, Mildred Davis, whom he was planning to marry, Jobyna Ralston was hired on as an ideal counterpart to his characters. The pair worked in six films together, including Why Worry? (1923), Girl Shy (1924), Hot Water (1924), The Freshman (1925), For Heaven’s Sake (1926), and The Kid Brother (1927). They can also be spotted in a cameo appearance during the Our Gang short, Dogs of War (1923), as Why Worry? was being filmed alongside the short.

Harold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston in The FreshmanHarold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston, The Freshman, 1925

In the midst making films with Lloyd, Jobyna’s mother fell gravely ill and passed away in 1925. Jobyna had shared a California bungalow with her father, mother, and brother, and was inconsolable over the loss. She traveled home to South Pittsburg to clear out the house and spent time in front of the rosebushes, while also packaging the dozens of photographic plates her mother had produced over the years.

While Jobyna also worked with another comedian, Eddie Cantor, in Special Delivery (1927), she also took on a more dramatic role in the film Wings (1927). Wings was the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, also starring Clara Bow, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, and Richard Arlen. Jobyna and Richard Arlen met on the set of Wings and married later that year. Their marriage produced a son, Richard Arlen, Jr., who was born in 1933.

Later, Jobyna worked in sound films, which included The College Coquette (1929), a Rin Tin Tin film called Rough Waters (1930), and Sheer Luck (1931). Around this time, Jobyna was also in a Los Angeles play called Bad Babies (1930). The entire cast was arrested by authorities due to “lewd and indecent exhibition.” All of the cast members opted to pay the $300 fine as opposed to spending 30 days in jail. Jobyna retired from acting in 1931. She and Richard Arlen separated in 1938 and divorced in 1945.

Jobyna Ralston and Richard ArlenJobyna Ralston and Richard Arlen

The last five years of Jobyna’s life left her suffering from rheumatism and several strokes. She died on January 22nd, 1967, from pneumonia at the Motion Picture Country Home in Los Angeles.

Today, South Pittsburg does possess a tribute to its famous daughter. On November 21st, 2004, which would have been Jobyna’s 105th birthday, the town dedicated a marker to her. The marker was paid through private donations and a group of roughly forty-seven people attended on the rainy day of the dedication, which included the county mayor, town mayor, road commissioner, city commissioner, and representatives from the South Pittsburg Historic Preservation Society. South Pittsburg Mayor Bob Sherrill read a proclamation during the event, which officially declared the day as Jobyna Lancaster Ralston-Arlen Day. Richard Arlen, Jr., was unable to attend, due to health issues. Upon the dedication of the Tennessee Historic Commission marker, guests enjoyed a screening of Hot Water (1924).

Jobyna Ralston Birthplace Marker in South PittsburgJobyna Ralston Birthplace Marker in South Pittsburgh

The Jobyna Lancaster Ralston-Arlen Birthplace marker stands in front of an apartment building at 324 S. Cedar Avenue. If you are ever in the South Pittsburg area, consider taking a moment to remember Jobyna where her childhood home once stood.

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–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Annette’s Classic Movie Travel articles here.

Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.

 

Posted in Classic Movie Travels, Posts by Annette Bochenek | Tagged | 1 Comment

Vitaphone View: The Coming of Talkies – The Theatre’s Angle, Part 1

Vitaphone View: The Coming of Talkies – The Theatre’s Angle, Part 1

This  is the first of my two-part blog series on how the coming of sound affected theatres and exhibitors.

In the conversion to the exhibition of talking pictures, Western Electric held all the cards. In February 1927, to install the full package of  disk and Movietone projection and playback, and amplification, the average theatre had to pay roughly $25,000. As with home telephones, Western Electric actually retained ownership of the equipment, “renting” it to the theatres on a five year cycle. They retained the right to reclaim it after that period expired.

Vitaphone Theatre MarqueeVitaphone Theatre marquee

As talkies increased in popularity, it became clear to theatre owners that remaining in business meant switching to sound exhibition. The speed and scope of this revolution can be seen in the over-massive increase in wired theatres between 1926 and 1930:

                                   1926          1927          1928          1929          1930          1931

Wired Theatres           12              157            4046           8000          13,206        13,880

By 1928, Western Electric found itself challenged by a multitude of “gray market” and knock-off disc systems. At first, WE threatened theatre owners who played Western Electric-recorded soundtrack discs on non-WE equipment. They backed off when RCA’s David Sarnoff appealed to the US  Department of Justice claiming the attempted monopoly was a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

Soon, the market was flooded with alternative synchronized disc systems, with some like Mellophone, Cinephone and Bristolphone costing under $1000. All were essentially the same in principle as Western Electric’s Vitaphone  system, but usually with inferior sound reproduction.

goetz cheap talkie setAd for a cheap talkie conversion set, substantially less than Western Electric’s $25,000.

Larger theatres usually made the switch to talkies by installing dual Vitaphone (disc) and Movietone (sound-on-film) systems to have the greatest flexibility in exhibition. While Warner Brothers (and also First National, which they bought in 1928) issued films only in disc versions, the other studios filmed productions in sound-on-film, then issued them to theatres in both formats.

For the first few years of talking pictures, the sound quality from Vitaphone discs was substantially better than sound on film. By 1930, however, Movietone had caught up and by March of that year, even Warners switched to that format.

Loews Kings Projection BoothInside the projection booth, converted to sound, at the Loews King Theatre in Brooklyn, NY, 1929

Because the cheapest method of converting a silent theatre to sound was by going with the disc-only format, Hollywood studios were forced to issue discs long after film production had gone exclusively to sound-on-film. After a film was completed, the studio would transfer the optical track onto discs (one per reel) so that disc-only theatres could exhibit them. This costly process continued through at least 1935. The Vitaphone Project has uncovered some discs for RKO’s Roberta (1935), as well as a Monogram 1936 western and the Hal Roach Charlie Chase comedies of 1934. Maintaining these dual systems so late into the thirties was an economic necessity. As late as 1932, over 3,200 theatres (mainly in the south and midwest) still could only exhibit in the disc  format.

Vitaphone Thrills the World

By the end of 1929, virtually all Americans lived within driving distance of a talkie theatre. Wired theatres reached 5,251 on July 1st of that year, and 10% of those theatres were in the five boroughs of New York alone. Wiring initially began on the east and west coasts, and migrated towards the center of the country. Some regions of the south and midwest remained unwired until 1930.

Many smaller theatres chose to close rather than go through the expense of converting to sound. In just two weeks of March 1929, 313 theatres closed. Smaller, silent theatres not only had to compete with talking pictures themselves, but against modern theatres with cooled air, new seating, and wired theatres’ ability to pay the higher cost of sound prints.

The Transition to All-Talkies 

The first 100% all talking feature, The Lights of New York, did not appear until 1928. During the period  between Don Juan (1926) and early 1929, there were hundreds of already completed silent features, as well as many that were in production as the storm clouds of talkies were building. In early 1927, Warner Brothers announced that all of their future releases would have a synchronized Vitaphone accompaniment. This meant full orchestral score and limited sound effects. But not talking. Some surviving examples, such as The Better ‘Ole (1926) and When a Man Loves (1927) are considerably enhanced by this accompaniment.

Lights of NY HeraldHerald ad for the first all talking feature, The Lights of New York (WB/1928)

As the public’s demand for talkies grew, theatres realized that they needed to be advertising features the public could “see and hear.” Sometimes this meant just the synchronized score, but after The Jazz Singer, studios began grafting on brief talking sequences to otherwise completed silent features. In this way, these “goat gland” productions could be advertised as talkies. All of the major studios did this during 1928. MGM’s Show People, First National’s Lilac Time and Paramount’s Warming Up are all examples of silents released with a synchronized score. The switch from silence to talking in part-talkies on screen could be quite jarring, and the public did not care for them. These hybrids were obviously a transitional phase that had to be endured.

Not everyone agreed that silent pictures were dead. Many major studio executives, including Universal’s Carl Laemmle, believed that silent pictures and talkies would always co-exist. Through 1929, the major Hollywood studios released silent versions (with intertitles) of their talking pictures. This enabled theatres that were not yet wired to still exhibit these films. Ironically, on its initial release, more people saw The Jazz Singer as a silent than a talkies, due to the few wired theatres at the time.

Jazz Singer HeraldHerald Ad for the initial release of the part-talkie Vitaphone feature, The Jazz Singer (WB/1927)

In early 1929, if a picture was purely silent (with not even a synchronized music track) it was rapidly dumped by studios to make way for their talking product. That year, the release of each Hollywood star’s talking debut was an event unto itself, and theatres wisely heralded them as such. Harold Lloyd had completed Welcome Danger as a silent feature in 1928. But realizing that talkies were here to stay, he completely reshot the film in sound, retaining only a few scenes from the silent version, dubbing in talk and effects. While perhaps Lloyd’s worst feature up to that time, Welcome Danger still made a fortune. Audiences wanted to hear what their favorite stars sounded like.

The Price of Sound – More than Just Talk

From a people perspective, the transition from silents to talkies had its winners and losers. The revolution was good for theatre projectionists. They asked for, and received, higher pay and assistants. Projectionists now had to handle and synch-up discs, deal with the catastrophic impact of film breaks, and “ride the sound” by adjusting levels per studio-provided scripts throughout the running time of each feature. In 1929, a typical projectionist was paid $150 per week, with a second operator assisting on each shift.

Theatre musicians, by comparison, found their  livelihoods largely wiped out by 1930. Many contracts ended annually on August 31st,  and warning clouds appeared as early as 1927 after the silent but musically synchronized Don Juan and other WB features began circulating. Initially, union theatre musicians demanded and got full pay during the run of Vitaphone programs, even when they did not play a note. But violence soon erupted in 1928. Exhibitors realized that with canned prologues and synchronized  features, the need for a full complement of theatre musicians was  rapidly evaporating. Attempts to cut back or eliminate pit bands triggered labor unrest. The Idlewild Theatre in East St. Louis was bombed. To stem the chaos, the Skouras brothers temporarily stopped their wholesale musician layoffs. In one market, seven musicians were kept on the payroll just to play 2-3 minutes  between films, while still getting full pay. Clearly, this could not continue for  very long.

By the end of 1928, 2600 theatre musicians were unemployed, and things worsened the following year. At the close of 1929, the musicians’ union claimed 35,000 of their ranks were out of work, with little prospects of ever finding work again. A handful went to work at local radio stations or at the film studios.  But for the vast majority, the choices were leaving music entirely, unemployment, or suicide.

The Wurlitzer and Morton organ companies were also not happy with the talkies. Virtually all of the larger big city theatres had organs installed during construction in 1927-29, even though talkies would clearly soon silence them. Wurlitzer sold theatres their state-of-the-art theatre organs for a down payment and seven to ten years of monthly installments.

B&W Noah's Ark MarqueeAdvertising talkies – theatre marquee in New York City for Noah’s Ark (WB/1929)

“The Mighty Wurlitzer” theatre organ was designed originally by Robert Hope-Jones, as a “one man orchestra” to accompany silent movies. In all, Wurlitzer built over 2,200 pipe organs (and indeed more theatre organs than the rest of the theatre organ manufacturers combined); the largest one originally built was the 4 keyboard / 58 rank (set of pipes) instrument at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

In the depths of the depression, most theatres had not used their organs for several years and refused to make further payments. Wurlitzer threatened to pull the organs out of the theatres, which they ultimately did in the hundreds during the 1930’s. By the early 1940’s, Wurlitzer’s plant in North Tonowanda, New York had become more of a graveyard for unwanted theatre organs than  a manufacturing facility. By then, jukeboxes were what brought in their revenue. This explains why so many surviving theatres of the golden age no longer have their original organs. The Brooklyn Paramount is a rare exception, with their original Wurlitzer recently restored at a cost of over $200,000. In the early 1930’s, struggling theatre owners convinced the IRS to allow for the  accelerated depreciation of theatre organs, but only if they were physically removed from the theatre.

Another cost of exhibiting talkies was climate control. During silent days, theatre doors could be opened in the summer to give some level of comfort to audiences. Because street noise would drown out the soundtrack, that practice ended with the dawn of sound. The installation of expensive, quiet air conditioning systems allowed for year-round exhibition, and income. Early air conditioning used ammonia as the heat transfer agent. While efficient, a break in the system coils could release toxic fumes. Other systems used air blown over ice cakes or even early geothermal processes that tapped cool water from underground rivers.

Besides the obvious expense of installing sound projection equipment, speakers, and perforated “sound” screens, theatre owners also had to purchase soundtrack disc storage cabinets which held duplicates of each disc  for every reel of the program. For a full program of shorts, trailers, cartoons, a newsreel and a feature, this could mean as many of fifty discs (with duplicates) per program, any one of which could break and ruin the show. Exhibitors were initially charged $3 per disc and were required to return them to the exchange when the show  was finished. The expense of pressing, shipping and replacing soundtrack discs — which were to be played no more than 40 times to ensure sound quality — accelerated the death of the disc system even more than synchronization issues.

 …..

– Ron Hutchinson, Founder of The Vitaphone Project, for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Ron’s Vitaphone View articles here.

Ron is widely recognized as one of the country’s foremost film historians, with special emphasis on the period covering the transition to sound (1925-30) and early attempts to add sound to film. As the founder of The Vitaphone Project, he has worked with Warner Brothers, UCLA, LOC and private collectors worldwide to find previously lost soundtrack discs and restore early sound shorts. Ron’s unique knowledge has  been sourced in over 25 books as well as documentaries for PBS and TCM, and commentary for “The Jazz Singer” DVD boxed set. He was awarded the National Society of Film Critics “Film Heritage Honor” for his work in film preservation and discoveries, and was the presenter of rare Vitaphone shorts at the 2016 TCM Film Festival. For more information you can visit the Vitaphone Project website or Facebook Group.

And, if you’re interested in exploring some of these newly discovered shorts and rarities, you can pick them up on DVD via amazon:

               

 

 

 

 

Posted in Posts by Ron Hutchinson, Vitaphone View | 2 Comments

“Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” Movie Ticket Giveaway (Landmark Theaters) (Feb)

“Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story”
Landmark Theatres Movie Ticket Giveaway: Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Denver, San Diego, San Francisco, Berkeley

“A thoroughly engaging, eye-opening showbiz doc!”
– The Hollywood Reporter

Do you live near, or expect to be in, any of the above cities, in early March? If so, we have a very special ticket giveaway contest just for you!

CMH is so VERY EXCITED to say that we have MOVIE TICKETS to give away to see the recently-released documentary, “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” courtesy of  Zeitgeist Films and Landmark Theatres. We have two pairs of tickets to give away for each of the eight Landmark Theatres listed below. The tickets will be redeemable for available showtimes in early March as listed below.

Mon-Thurs March 5-8 

  • Boston: Kendall Square (One Kendall Square, 355 Binney Street, Cambridge, MA)
  • Washington DC: E Street Theater  (555 11th St NW, Washington D.C.)
  • San Diego, Ken Theater  (4061 Adams Avenue, San Diego, CA)
  • Minneapolis: Theater TBD  (check back soon for Theater info)
  • Theater TBD, Denver (check back soon for Theater info)

Mon-Thurs March 12-15 

bombshell the hedy lamarr story
The story of the unusual and accomplished Hedy Lamarr

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In order to qualify to win a pair of tickets to see “Bombshell” via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, February 24 at 9PM EST.  We will select two lucky winners for each Theatre location at random, and announce them on Twitter (and/or this blog, depending how they entered) on Sunday night (Feb 25) around 9PM EST.

Each winner will be entitled to redeem a pair of tickets to see “Bombshell” at the theater for which they specifically entered the contest, for an available showtime between the dates specified above. Tickets are subject to availability. Tickets must be redeemed at least 15 minutes prior to the screening/show time. Transportation not included. See information below for further details.

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ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by February 24 at 9PM EST…

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

THE QUESTION:
Why do you want to see “Bombshell”?  And which city are you interested in winning tix for (Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Denver, San Diego, San Francisco, or Berkeley?)

2) Then TWEET (not DM) the following message in its entirety*:
Just entered to win tickets to see “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” courtesy of  @zeitgeistfilms & @ClassicMovieHub – contest link: http://ow.ly/GANB30ifpvc

*If you do not have a Twitter account, you can still enter the contest by simply answering the above question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog — BUT PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU ADD THIS VERBIAGE TO YOUR ANSWER: I do not have a Twitter account, so I am posting here to enter but cannot tweet the message.

If you don’t have a 280-character twitter account yet, please leave off the contest link information, and be sure to include @ClassicMovieHub in your tweet (so that I can see your tweet).

NOTE: if for any reason you encounter a problem commenting here on this blog, please feel free to tweet or DM us, or send an email to clas@gmail.com and we will be happy to create the entry for you.

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About the Film:  What do the most ravishingly beautiful actress of the 1930s and 40s and the inventor whose concepts were the basis of cell phone and bluetooth technology have in common? They are both Hedy Lamarr, the glamour icon whose ravishing visage was the inspiration for Snow White and Cat Woman and a technological trailblazer who perfected a radio system to throw Nazi torpedoes off course during WWII. Weaving interviews and clips with never-before-heard audio tapes of Hedy speaking on the record about her incredible life—from her beginnings as an Austrian Jewish emigre to her scandalous nude scene in the 1933 film ECSTASY to her glittering Hollywood life to her ground-breaking, but completely uncredited inventions to her latter years when she became a recluse, impoverished and almost forgotten—BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY brings to light the story of an unusual and accomplished woman, spurned as too beautiful to be smart, but a role model to this day.

PLEASE NOTE for all prizing: Ticket winners will be entitled to redeem TWO (2) tickets to see “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” at the specific theater for which they entered the contest, valid for available show times during the time period specified above for that theater. Tickets are subject to availability. Tickets must be redeemed at least 15 minutes prior to the screening/show time. Winners will be responsible for their own transportation to the city and/or the Theatre. Prizes do not include hotel accommodations, travel or ancillary expenses.

BlogHub members ARE eligible to win if they meet the requirements above.

If you’re not in any of these cities during that timeframe, or if you can’t wait to win tickets, you can find the film’s complete screening schedule here:  Bombshell Movie Schedule

Good Luck!

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–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Contests & Giveaways, Posts by Annmarie Gatti | 11 Comments

Kino Lorber Oscar (Facebook/Blog) Blu-Ray/DVD Giveaway Contest (Feb)

Celebrating Oscar Month with Kino Lorber!
DVD/Blu-Ray Giveaway, Winner’s Choice of 4 Classic Titles

Now it’s time for the Facebook/Blog version of our Kino Lorber Oscar Giveaway Contest! This time we’ll be giving away TWO Kino Classic titles via Facebook and this blog, courtesy of Kino LorberEach of our two winners will be able to choose their prize from the four titles listed below. And, remember, we’re also giving away TEN MORE DVDs/Blu-Rays via Twitter this month as well, so please feel free to enter that contest too…

In order to qualify to win a prize via this Facebook/Blog contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, March 3 at 10PM ESTWe will pick our two winners via a random drawing and announce them on this Blog the day after the contest ends (Sunday March 4).

If you’re also on Twitter, please feel free to visit us at  @ClassicMovieHub for additional giveaways — because we’ll be giving away TEN MORE Kino Classics there as well! PS: you don’t even need a twitter account to enter! (Click here for twitter contest details)

betsy blair ernest borgning marty meeting mama
Betsy Blair and Ernest Borgnine in Marty, 1955 – Won four Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenplay)

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Here are the titles up for grabs:

     

       

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Marty (1955): Blu-Ray or DVD available. Mastered in HD – “I’ve been looking for a girl every Saturday night of my life,” says Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine, The Wild Bunch). Yet, despite all his efforts, this 34- year old Bronx butcher remains as shy and uncomfortable around women today as on the day he was born. So when he meets Clara (Betsy Blair), a lonely schoolteacher who’s just as smitten with him as he is with her, Marty’s on top of the world. But not everyone around him shares Marty’s joy. And when his friends and family continually find fault with Clara, even Marty begins to question his newfound love – until he discovers, in an extraordinary way, the strength and courage to follow his heart. Winner of 4 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director (Delbert Mann, Separate Tables), Actor (Borgnine) and Screenplay (Paddy Chayefsky, Network). Nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, and Art Direction.

Witness for the Prosecution (1957):  Blu-Ray or DVD available. Screen legends Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton star in this “brilliantly made courtroom drama” (Film Daily) that left audiences reeling from its surprise twists and shocking climax. Directed by Billy Wilder, scripted by Wilder and Harry Kurnitz, and based on Agatha Christie’s hit London play, this splendid, one-of-a-kind classic “crackles with emotional electricity” (The New York Times) and continues to keep movie lovers riveted until the final, mesmerizing frame. When a wealthy widow is found murdered, her married suitor, Leonard Vole (Power), is accused of the crime. Vole’s only hope for acquittal is the testimony of his wife (Dietrich)… but his airtight alibi shatters when she reveals some shocking secrets of her own! Nominated for 6 Academy Awards® including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Laughton) and Supporting Actress (Elsa Lanchester).

A Farewell to Arms (1932):  Blu-Ray or DVD available. A ravishing adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s legendary novel, A FAREWELL TO ARMS stars Gary Cooper (High Noon) as Lt. Frederic Henry, a young ambulance driver for the Italian army in WWI, more interested in chasing women than the enemy. When seeking cover during an air raid, he encounters Nurse Catherine Barkley (a radiant Helen Hayes), and the world shifts under his feet. They fall in love, but the war keeps wrenching them apart. These painful separations force Frederic to choose between love and battle, a decision that tests him morally and spiritually, and leads to one of the most rapturously romantic endings of all time. Directed by the great Frank Borzage, winner of Best Director Oscars for 7TH HEAVEN (1927) and BAD GIRL (1931), A FAREWELL TO ARMS was a Best Picture nominee, and one of the crowning achievements of the studio system. Also a nominee for Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Recording, and Best Art Direction.

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943):  ONLY Blu-Ray available. Brand New 4K Restoration! Gil Carter (Henry Fonda, My Darling Clementine) and Art Croft (Henry Morgan, Dragnet) ride into a town frustrated by the prevalence of cattle rustlers. Suddenly, word comes that a popular rancher has been murdered, which puts the already enraged town over the edge. When the spiteful mayor forms a posse, Gil and Croft are swept up in their mission – to seek vengeance – even upon those innocent of any wrongdoing. As it becomes clear that bloodlust may win out over rationality, the tension mounts in this masterpiece with its timeless message about the dangers of mob mentality. The great William Wellman (Yellow Sky) directed this classic western, which was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award® and featured a stellar cast that includes Dana Andrews (Boomerang) and Anthony Quinn (Across 110th Street).

Witness-For-The-Prosecution marlene dietrich charles laughtonMarlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton in Witness for the Prosecution, 1957 – nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor

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ENTRY TASK to be completed by Saturday, March 3 at 10PM EST…

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

THE QUESTION:
What is one of your favorite Oscar winning (or nominated) movies or performances and why? (does not have to be one of the prize titles)

ALSO: Please allow us 48 hours to approve your comments. Sorry about that, but we are being overwhelmed with spam, and must sort through 100s of comments…

…..

You can visit Kino Lorber on their website, on Twitter at @KinoLorber or on Facebook.

Please note that only Continental United States (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and the territory of Puerto Rico) entrants are eligible.

And — BlogHub members ARE eligible to win if they live within the Continental United States (as noted above).

For complete rules, click here.

And if you can’t wait to win any of these titles, you can click on the images below to purchase on amazon :)

 

Good Luck!

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Contests & Giveaways, Posts by Annmarie Gatti | Tagged | 16 Comments

Pre-Code Corner: Oh, No You Don’t – Or Yes, You Do? Three on a Match and Kidnapping

Oh, No You Don’t – Or Yes, You Do?: Three on a Match and Kidnapping

Three on a Match (1932) doesn’t play around. The notorious pre-Code jam packs scenes featuring drunkenness, dope, illicit sex, gangsters, and suicide all within a cool 63 minutes. No sweat for the Studio Relations Committee (SRC) to handle, right? Sure, with the exception of a subplot appearing in the film’s final 10 minutes involving a kidnapping, ransom, and a subsequent child murder scheme, which morphed into a pretty big deal.

Three on a Match movie posterCan you correctly identify Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell, and Bette Davis? Neither can I. Interesting how supporting actor Warren William Robert, playing a rare congenial pre-Code role, appears largest and most menacing – and right above the match. (Fun fact: William starred as The Match King a mere two months after Three on a Match came out.)

In Three on a Match, Vivian (Ann Dvorak), Mary (Joan Blondell), and Ruth (Bette Davis) resume their friendship over a decade after parting ways. As the wife of lawyer Robert (Warren William) and mother to Junior (Buster Phelps), Vivian leads a comfortable life – during the Great Depression, no less – but there’s one problem: she’s terribly bored. Upon leaving Robert for the thrills Mike (Lyle Talbot) offers, Vivian tumbles into a life of drugs, thugs, and depravity that culminates with Junior’s abduction and ends with Vivian’s epic sacrifice to save her son’s life.

Three on a Match Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, and Ann Dvorak Who knew what luck – and tragedy – this little reunion would bring.
(Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, and Ann Dvorak )

Despite encompassing approximately 0.1666 of Three on a Match’s runtime, the kidnapping, ransom, and plot against Junior’s life, all universally touchy subjects, generated ample anxiety from the SRC for another reason: the infamous Lindbergh baby kidnapping dominated global headlines for months in early-mid 1932, and the grief was still etched in the public’s mind when this picture came out.

Three on a Match Buster PhelpsDirty, hungry Junior (Buster Phelps) breaking hearts with those innocent, sad puppy eyes.

Compared to the apprehension the story later provoked, Warner Brothers’ first script submission in May 1932 remarkably only elicited minor notes, mainly involving drunkenness and suggestive dialogue. Such a tepid reply was possible because no abduction angle existed in the tale – yet. That bombshell plot addition, plus the child murder conspiracy, only appeared in the finished film the SRC reviewed in August 1932. Surprise! Appalled, the SRC’s Jason Joy reprimanded Warners’ Darryl F. Zanuck and Jack Warner:

I’m at a loss what to say about it… The general impression here has been that no one would follow the Lindbergh tragedy with a picture dealing with the kidnapping of a baby for ransom. With the present fear on the part of parents… the public resentment is apt to be strongly against such a picture.

The SRC’s concern pervaded the studio, too. In late September, right after the SRC reviewed a re-edit and approved the film, something I’ve never heard of before happened: Zanuck entreated Joy to contact the New York censor board and “in a round-about way, put in a plug for ‘THREE ON A MATCH,’” as the producer sensed a hit and figured “it certainly proves that kidnapping is a very unhealthy occupation from which nothing comes but misery, grief and no reward whatsoever.”

Three on a Match Lyle Talbot  Mike (Lyle Talbot): Bad news.
Three on a Match - Buster PhelpsA child kidnapped by someone he knows – that wouldn’t terrify parents or anything. (Phelps and Talbot)

Following Zanuck’s request, Joy directed Vincent Hart in the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America’s (MPPDA) East Coast office to visit the New York board and promote the movie’s “fundamental moral values” in consideration of the baby snatching point. Joy insisted the industry be able to portray this and “any other subject within reason so long as the moral and legal values are rightly handled,” and in Three on a Match, right triumphs over wrong in the end as we are to assume the gang is captured – by way of Vivian’s suicide, but still.

Vivian’s descent:

Three on a Match - Ann Dvorak and Lyle Talbot Three on a Match - ann dvorakThree on a Match ann dvorak

Following Hart’s visit, the New York entity approved Three on a Match, as the kidnappers’ plot was foiled; miraculously, no other cuts were recorded. With that reaction from one of the country’s strictest boards, Warners requested Hart extend his service to Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Ohio at the studio’s expense. In Hart’s notes from the road, he reported that the organizations promised to carefully consider the picture while also cautioning against similarly themed movies in the future. Ironically, Hart arrived in most locations before the print did, which meant that he stressed the film’s moral elements – and then it was up to the picture to do the rest of the heavy lifting.

Three on a Match Humphrey Bogart and Ann Dvorak  Gangster Harve (Humphrey Bogart) referring to one of Vivian’s rather immoral habits.

After the movie finally made its official rounds, the feedback rolled in. Joy boasted to Zanuck that Hart’s promotion resulted in Three on a Match passing the states visited with either no edits (New York, Maryland, Ohio) or minor ones unrelated to the kidnapping (Pennsylvania); in reality, Ohio’s censors excised a shot featuring a knife in the third act and dialogue alluding to the child’s death, while Pennsylvania cut an innocuous line delivered by a gangster during the film’s final scenes. Outside of Hart’s tour, Three on a Match passed Maryland, Kansas, and Virginia without a cut, while Massachusetts edited two minor items evidently too lewd for the churchgoing crowd, as they applied for Sunday screenings only.

Three on a Match - Vivian fallsMassachusetts assumed this shot of Vivian falling to her death was too ghastly for pious Sunday viewers.

Considering all the unscrupulous subjects Three on a Match covers, the fact that the film squeaked by untouched in some areas and with only miniscule edits in others is astonishing. Equally surprising to me was Zanuck’s request and Hart’s resulting personal censor board tour, proving just how ardently the SRC worked on behalf of the studios, which was their job, after all. Did the SRC’s staunch defense of the picture, in particular the kidnapping, blind the boards and allow other potential violations to slide? Who’s to say? Nevertheless, Hart’s journey also verified the SRC’s effectiveness in reducing state censor edits; I mean, what else could account for the fact that Three on a Match was approved without eliminations by New York, one of the country’s strictest boards, following Hart’s visit, while another territory recognized for its tough policies, Chicago, rejected the film outright due to the gangster, kidnapping, and murder plot points?

Three on a Match - Lyle Talbot If Mike was petrified by that blurry object on the table (the knife), surely audiences would be too. This scene was cut in some states and probably not appreciated by Chicago, either. (Lyle Talbot)

While the SRC did their best to assist Warners in getting the picture past state boards, when the Production Code Administration (PCA) opened after Code enforcement began in summer 1934, they took a different attitude and approach. In September 1936, Warners submitted a request to the PCA to reissue the film, but the office suggested they rescind their request, as the movie’s “central theme,” the kidnapping of a child, basically prohibited a re-release; as a result, the picture was shelved. That’s a far cry from Joy and Hart touting Three on a Match’s morality in lieu of the kidnapping just four years prior, wouldn’t you say?

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–Kim Luperi for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Kim’s Pre-Code Corner articles here.

Kim Luperi is a New Jersey transplant living in sunny Los Angeles. She counts her weekly research in the Academy’s Production Code Administration files as a hobby and has written for TCM, AFI Fest, the Pre-Code Companion, MovieMaker Magazine and the American Cinematheque. You can read more of Kim’s articles at I See A Dark Theater or by following her on twitter at @Kimbo3200.

 

 

Posted in Posts by Kim Luperi, Pre-Code Corner | 1 Comment

Kino Lorber Oscar Blu-Ray/DVD Giveaway Promotion (February via Twitter)

Celebrating Oscar Month with Kino Lorber!
DVD/Blu-Ray Giveaway, Winner’s Choice of 4 Classic Titles

This month we celebrate the Oscars courtesy of Kino Lorber! We are happy to say that we have TEN classic DVD or Blu-Rays to giveaway on Twitter this month, winners’ choice of four titles. But please stay tuned because we’ll also be giving away TWO more DVDs/Blu-Rays via a separate Facebook/Blog giveaway this month too. That said, here we go…

betsy blair ernest borgning marty meeting mamaBetsy Blair and Ernest Borgnine in Marty, 1955 – Won four Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenplay)

In order to qualify to win one of these prizes via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, March 3 at 10PM EST. However, the sooner you enter, the better chance you have of winning, because we will pick two winners on five different days within the contest period, via random drawings, as listed below… So if you don’t win the first week that you enter, you will still be eligible to win during the following weeks until the contest is over.

  • February 3: Two Winners
  • February 10: Two Winners
  • February 17: Two Winners
  • February 24: Two Winners
  • March 3: Two Winners

We will announce each week’s winner on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub (or this blog, depending how you entered), the day after each winner is picked at 10PM EST — for example, we will announce our first week’s winners on Sunday February 4 at 10PM EST.

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Here are the titles up for grabs:

     

       

…..

Marty (1955): Blu-Ray or DVD available. Mastered in HD – “I’ve been looking for a girl every Saturday night of my life,” says Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine, The Wild Bunch). Yet, despite all his efforts, this 34- year old Bronx butcher remains as shy and uncomfortable around women today as on the day he was born. So when he meets Clara (Betsy Blair), a lonely schoolteacher who’s just as smitten with him as he is with her, Marty’s on top of the world. But not everyone around him shares Marty’s joy. And when his friends and family continually find fault with Clara, even Marty begins to question his newfound love – until he discovers, in an extraordinary way, the strength and courage to follow his heart. Winner of 4 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director (Delbert Mann, Separate Tables), Actor (Borgnine) and Screenplay (Paddy Chayefsky, Network). Nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, and Art Direction.

Witness for the Prosecution (1957):  Blu-Ray or DVD available. Screen legends Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton star in this “brilliantly made courtroom drama” (Film Daily) that left audiences reeling from its surprise twists and shocking climax. Directed by Billy Wilder, scripted by Wilder and Harry Kurnitz, and based on Agatha Christie’s hit London play, this splendid, one-of-a-kind classic “crackles with emotional electricity” (The New York Times) and continues to keep movie lovers riveted until the final, mesmerizing frame. When a wealthy widow is found murdered, her married suitor, Leonard Vole (Power), is accused of the crime. Vole’s only hope for acquittal is the testimony of his wife (Dietrich)… but his airtight alibi shatters when she reveals some shocking secrets of her own! Nominated for 6 Academy Awards® including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Laughton) and Supporting Actress (Elsa Lanchester).

A Farewell to Arms (1932):  Blu-Ray or DVD available. A ravishing adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s legendary novel, A FAREWELL TO ARMS stars Gary Cooper (High Noon) as Lt. Frederic Henry, a young ambulance driver for the Italian army in WWI, more interested in chasing women than the enemy. When seeking cover during an air raid, he encounters Nurse Catherine Barkley (a radiant Helen Hayes), and the world shifts under his feet. They fall in love, but the war keeps wrenching them apart. These painful separations force Frederic to choose between love and battle, a decision that tests him morally and spiritually, and leads to one of the most rapturously romantic endings of all time. Directed by the great Frank Borzage, winner of Best Director Oscars for 7TH HEAVEN (1927) and BAD GIRL (1931), A FAREWELL TO ARMS was a Best Picture nominee, and one of the crowning achievements of the studio system. Also a nominee for Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Recording, and Best Art Direction.

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943):  ONLY Blu-Ray available. Brand New 4K Restoration! Gil Carter (Henry Fonda, My Darling Clementine) and Art Croft (Henry Morgan, Dragnet) ride into a town frustrated by the prevalence of cattle rustlers. Suddenly, word comes that a popular rancher has been murdered, which puts the already enraged town over the edge. When the spiteful mayor forms a posse, Gil and Croft are swept up in their mission – to seek vengeance – even upon those innocent of any wrongdoing. As it becomes clear that bloodlust may win out over rationality, the tension mounts in this masterpiece with its timeless message about the dangers of mob mentality. The great William Wellman (Yellow Sky) directed this classic western, which was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award® and featured a stellar cast that includes Dana Andrews (Boomerang) and Anthony Quinn (Across 110th Street).

Witness-For-The-Prosecution marlene dietrich charles laughtonMarlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton in Witness for the Prosecution, 1957 – nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor

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ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, March 3 at 10PM EST— BUT remember, the sooner you enter, the more chances you have to win…

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

2) Then TWEET (not DM) the following message:
Just entered to win the Oscar Celebration #DVDGiveaway courtesy of @KinoLorber and @ClassicMovieHub #CMHContest link: http://ow.ly/5VUO30i3eLa

THE QUESTION:
Which of the above films would you like to win and why? 

*If you do not have a Twitter account, you can still enter the contest by simply answering the above question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog — BUT PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU ADD THIS VERBIAGE TO YOUR ANSWER: I do not have a Twitter account, so I am posting here to enter but cannot tweet the message.

ALSO: Please allow us 48 hours to approve your comments. Sorry about that, but we are being overwhelmed with spam, and must sort through 100s of comments…

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You can visit Kino Lorber on their website, on Twitter at @KinoLorber or on Facebook.

Please note that only Continental United States (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and the territory of Puerto Rico) entrants are eligible.

And — BlogHub members ARE eligible to win if they live within the Continental United States (as noted above).

For complete rules, click here.

And if you can’t wait to win any of these titles, you can click on the images below to purchase on amazon :)

 

Good Luck!

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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