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Thursday, October 04, 2018

Vitaphone Digs In


The Divine Lady (1929) Is Big-Scale History with Sound


A Vitaphone special that lost money ($520K). The novelty of sound as end in itself was spent by 3/22/29 and release of The Divine Lady, which suffered too from word got round of its lacking dialogue, the Vita boost limited to scoring and infrequent song. Latter was said to have been sung by Corinne Griffith, but audiences were beginning to smell rats re stars bent on vocalizing, and besides, Griffith looked barely in sync with lyrics (her being dubbed was outed by Photoplay magazine). It was critical that tunes be emphasized, Warners having learned how much a hit theme could enhance both attendance and song sheet sales. A distinct advantage to sound movies was their ability to promote music the studios also owned, that much made clear by success of the early Al Jolsons. The Divine Lady was hugely expensive, more so than Noah's Ark of same year release, so getting back investment may have seemed hopeless going in.




Patronage was drunk on hearing favorites speak; Warners in fact ran ads of them doing just that, mouths agape as if to promise great things upon paid admission. For The Divine Lady to withhold Griffith speech was handicap built in. The company had lately placed modest female talent on pedestals, Corinne Griffith and Dolores Costello alternately lauded for supreme artistry plus status as "The World's Most Beautiful Woman." Both would crash on shoals of dialogue and  recording of same that flattered neither. To be a World's Most Beautiful Woman was no defense against pitiless microphones. Warners may have overestimated crowd interest in period settings, especially where three-cornered hats and ruffled sleeves factored in. It was tough enough adjusting to sound without having to overcome 18th Century costume/titles barrier.


Action was where The Divine Lady shined, maritime stuff profuse and ships looking full size. They weren't, but miniatures are convincing, enough so for WB to reuse footage in their 1935 Captain Blood. Frank Lloyd directed The Divine Lady, this well before his Mutiny On The Bounty that further established historical cred. A man could seal his reputation on efficient handling of challenger genres, and Lloyd was proficient, if not inspired, with these costumers. In a way, it was sad that such a spectacular production as The Divine Lady would come and go so quickly, being an altogether obsolete product within months of release due to industry-wide changeover to all-talking. We're lucky the thing survives at all ... nitrate prints were supplied to UCLA and MOMA by the Czechoslovak Film Archive, and sound discs had fortunately survived. The Divine Lady in its restored version is happily available from Warners' DVD Archive.

4 Comments:

Blogger Reg Hartt said...

According to THE CINEMA YEAR BY YEAR (1894--2002) in the silent era over 65% went to the movies. With the coming of sound those figures began to drop to where today it is less than 10%. Like those beautiful stars who lost their pubic once they spoke the movies began to lose their audience once they opened their mouth. How often have we see that happen with good looking men and women who opened their mouths only to shatter the spell cast by their looks? Nonetheless, you have made me want to see this. Too bad you were not around to boost ticket sales then. That's what I like post when I read you. I finish wanting to see the films you write about.

7:42 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Regarding that newspaper ad: what was "radio night" all about? Giving out radios as door prizes? Broadcasting from the theater? Broadcasting to the theater?

2:54 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

There were radio stations that would broadcast live from a theatre stage and invite audience members to participate. At some venues, it was a regular feature, sort of a live act that folks at home could listen in on.

5:02 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Speaking of radios, Max Gl├╝cksmann had a radio station within the building of the Grand Splendid since 1924. In September of that year he hosted his first tango contest in the theater that the station (Radio Splendid) broadcasted in the first ever event that an audience could attend. The station also broadcasted performances of the movie theater orchestra daily.

Today, the theater is a bookstore, a branch whose headquarters was Gl├╝cksmann's main store. Here is the theater today.

https://www.buenosairesfreewalks.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/El-Ateneo.jpg

12:45 AM  

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