Last year I wrote about exploring two separate versions of the landmark 1930 movie All Quiet on the Western Front: the traditional early talkie and a recently-discovered silent version with a music score and synchronized sound effects. Now, UCLA Film and Television Archive is giving film buffs in Los Angeles an unprecedented opportunity to view six pictures from the transitional period from silence to sound in dual versions, back to back. The program began last weekend with All Quiet and Cecil B. DeMille’s Dynamite. Friday night, January 18, brings Clara Bow in True to the Navy, followed on Sunday by Hoot Gibson in Trailin’ Trouble, which is rare in any form. The series concludes the weekend of February 16, with Frank Capra’s Rain or Shine and an unknown Columbia potboiler called Brothers starring Bert Lytell and Dorothy Sebastian.
The variations between the two surviving negatives of these pictures can be small or great. Obviously, the novelty of Clara Bow singing was lost on 1930 audiences who only saw the silent print. Rain or Shine in its sync-sound version apparently has a completely different ending from the talkie, while, according to UCLA’s program notes, Brothers has a major story shift: “After one twin is adopted by a wealthy family and the other by a laborer, the pair meet again when the wealthy twin defends his brother in court for a murder that he committed. Identical plot holes aside, the structural differences between the two versions are striking, particularly in the open sequences where the order in which the twins are adopted is reversed, shifting responsibility for their separation.” Who made the decision to change the storyline? An editor who thought it made more sense, or an executive? We may never know.
This 1930s small-town newspaper ad shows how much talking pictures meant to audiences of the day.
This kind of series depends on an institution that is still able to project 35mm prints and generous archivists at studios like Sony and Universal who are willing to cooperate. Bravo to UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program. The profit motive for such a serious-minded film cycle, of interest primarily to diehard buffs and scholars, is nil. Yet Universal was willing to put the “silent” version of All Quiet on the Western Front
, which played on TCM, on its 2012 Blu-ray
release of the film, so you never know.
What’s exciting to me is that discoveries like this are still being made. The next step is trying to locate documentation of the “hows” and “whys” of these alternate prints from 1930.
Click HERE for a full program guide.