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Thursday, April 03, 2014

High-Hat Premieres For Paramount's Talking First

Interference Takes 1928-29 Roadshow Glory --- Part Two

Carthay Circle's World Premiere of Interference on 11-5-28 was gala, being what the Exhibitor's Daily Review called a "High-Hat Opening." Here are particulars: admission was $5.00, and that went for everyone, even Paramount employees. Only press got in on the cuff. Trades called it a biggest premiere since Jolson and The Singing Fool wowed them at NY's Winter Garden two months before. The Exhibitor's Herald World boosted "top rank" Interference and noted "an audience that showed extraordinary astonishment" over Paramount strides with sound. What was seen/heard at Carthay Circle, of course, was the Pomeroy presentation using dual prints for picture/sound, viewers understandably "knocked into a cocked hat at the perfection in photography and voice of the first Paramount talkie" (Exhibitor's Daily Review). The Carthay Circle and New York's Criterion would be the only sites that utilized  Pomeroy's double print/projection format, "thereby lifting both the voice and photography to such a high plane of perfection." Effective as it was, the system was impractical for wide exhibitor use, and Paramount would resort to synchronized discs or Movietone (sound plus picture on film) for all Interference playdates to come. "Certainly the discs will not show Interference to the advantage that was seen at the openings in both Los Angeles and New York. But it will permit Paramount to get the picture out in all the key centers," said the Exhibitor's Daily Review.

Book The Whole Interference All-Talking Show, advised Paramount, as here was sound substitute for stage-and-screen programs till now a bloat on first-run house budgets. Who could afford Eddie Cantor and Ruth Etting live appearing in any case? --- yet here they were in comic and singing support of Interference. Cantor had done two-reel That Party In Person specifically as coattail for the feature; he'd even refer to Interference as part of nonsense filmed at Paramount's Long Island studio. Etting's contrib offered the Ziegfeld Jazz Singer in recital of hits by Irving Berlin and others ("In her eyes are twinkling orbs of fascination," said Variety's reviewer). The package made simple any booking for Interference, as there'd be no need for live/film support beyond the Cantor/Etting pair. New York's Criterion put Eddie's name in lights above the marquee as if he were there in the flesh, which after all, he virtually was in terms of what Para and Pomeroy were offering. The Criterion had been home to Wings for over a year to November 1928. Now it would go three weeks dark "for wiring and installation of sound devices," all supervised by Roy Pomeroy in preparation for Interference's opening night.

A Scene with William Powell From The Silent Version of Interference

November 16 was night of NYC premiere of Interference, and a Criterion event. As with Carthay Circle, dress would be formal, the late 20's waning day for tuxedoed attendance to film premieres. It meant something to be seen among glitterati on a first night, dress-up and willingness to pay $5.50 per seat statement in themselves that you'd arrived in Manhattan society. The Criterion was a safe Interference bet thanks to comparatively small size (861 seats), Paramount and Pomeroy knowing that sound would reproduce better in closer surrounding. Exclusivity was further enhanced for stage-derived Interference being set among upper-crust. "It is tense drama, played out by cultured, educated people," said The Film Spectator, whose writer went on to predict "that not only will all-talking pictures completely supplant silent pictures within a year, but in less than five years, they will supplant stage productions." A heady prospect for Paramount/others at talkie grindstones, and certainly the prophet was correct insofar as demise of silent cinema.

William Powell Gets Bad News From Doctor Clive Brook in an Interference
Scene Much Applauded in 1928

As to talking competition for Interference, there was Alias Jimmy Valentine from MGM at the Astor, which had William Haines and chat confined to closing reels, the balance of Jimmy Valentine being silent. Warners had talkers up and down Broadway, The Singing Fool in its second month at the Winter Garden and still the hottest ticket in town. Their On Trial was courtroom-set, 100% spoken, and playing in opposition to Interference at the Warners Theatre. Of all these, Interference got best critical notice. "A marked step forward," said Motion Picture News, even as Martin J. Quigley of Exhibitor's Herald World warned that talkies in order to succeed must hew "to the pattern of the stage play." The New York Times' Mordaunt Hall noted "at times strange pauses between the lines of the players," but was otherwise encouraging, while Variety pointed up "weaknesses of uncertainty" and said the play, which had been a hit on Broadway, was much better. Novelty, in the end, propelled Interference. Variety figured eight weeks "ought to be ample" on reserved-seat, two-a-day basis, that being period for which the program was Criterion-committed. Talkies were, after all, still more curiosity than settled attractions, a fact known by Paramount's Jesse Lasky, who pledged that "Silent pictures still will receive the most careful attention, being considered as of no less importance than those with sound."

Roy Pomeroy --- Come December 1928 and He'd Be Out 
The Criterion kept Interference for ten weeks, all of that on two-a-day, reserved seat basis. It was only in a final two frames that ticket sales fell below weekly average for the house. Then it was simply a matter of moving across the street to the 3,666 seat Paramount Theatre, where Interference took a quick $80K for its week stay. With monies like this from long urban running, Interference hardly needed smaller markets to go into profit. It would break more than even from NY and LA receipts alone. Sound of course was the selling point as Interference US-spread over outlying '29 playdates. Advertising beat All-Talking like a hammer --- Four Dramatic Favorites Who Speak Their Parts From Start To Finish --- Not A Silent Scene In It --- and so on. Frisco's St. Francis Theatre forfeited logic altogether to promise a Whole, Wondrous 1000% ALL-TALKING Paramount Program, which we may assume was 900% better than mere 100% all-talking. A problem Interference had was quick strides made by talkies as it played roadshow. By time of late winter-spring 1929 and general release, Interference would look/sound primitive by comparison with slicker models coming off rival assemblies. As others mastered  talkie mystery, geniuses of a year before seemed not so ingenious anymore. Roy Pomeroy fell on a sword of studio politics and those he insulted along power trip way. They'd gang up and see him out of Paramount, the "chief sound engineer" leaving six months ahead of his June 1929 contract expiration date.

Considering its being among first to enter the breach, Interference used sound well. There was intimacy to quiet conversation that foresaw an end to theatrical gesturing and silent era pantomime of emotion. A scene where Dr. Clive Brook tells patient William Powell that he'll die of heart ailment was '28 noted for high drama achieved in low tone, Brook and Powell underplaying to admirable effect. The scene works to this day. There is also phone conversation where we are privy to both ends, another advance, and while we may not notice birds chirping in a cage behind Clive Brook and Doris Kenyon, audiences certainly did in 1928-29, and were impressed by the naturalistic touch. Sound plus closeness of camera would expose suddenly outdated modes of performing. While Brook, Powell, and Evelyn Brent came off well, hapless Doris Kenyon "took a back seat," said Exhibitor's Daily Review, with her gesturing to back rows now brought close by talkies. Interference came and went in that first season of Paramount sound, was never reissued and for good reason, but did turn up among 700 pre-49 Paramount features released to television in April of 1958. The fact it survives at all is probably thanks to that.


Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer remembers Evelyn Brent:

Evelyn Brent became a real star with Josef von Sternberg's "Underworld.." Sternberg thought her a stupid woman and a bad actress, who simply assumed a position in front of the camera, feet apart and hands on hips, and let loose. Maybe so, but he made good use of her sultry beauty. It was something audiences couldn't get enough of for awhile. "Interference" provided a smooth transition from silent film to the talkies, but she was already 30 years old and typecasting as a gang moll or vamp didn't help. Gradually her roles diminished, playing leads on Poverty Row and supporting roles in better pictures, and then anything she could get. Some people remembered her. "Daughter of Shanghei" was shown at a Cinecon one year, a stylish "B" picture directed by Robert Florey and starring Anna May Wong. Brent had a small part in it. When she made her brief appearance, I could hear a murmur go through the audience in the screening room: "Evelyn Brent...Evelyn Brent...Evelyn Brent"


6:46 AM  
Blogger VP81955 said...

Used this and part one as the basis for an entry (giving you credit, of course):

7:22 PM  

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