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 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.
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