Creaky Talkies

Where we can talk about photoplay created after the silent era!
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BettyLouSpence
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Creaky Talkies

Post by BettyLouSpence »

Creaky talkies (aka stilted talkies) are early sound pictures that suffer from the limitations of the talkie technology of the time. Movie making as it was known in the silent era had to be altered completely to prevent any unwanted noise from being picked up by the omnipresent, all hearing all powerful microphone. You'll know them when you see them, but the most obvious signs of a creaky talkie are:
  • Unnaturally delivered dialogue, with every word enunciated at a certain volume so that the microphone can pick it up clearly and completely
  • Stiff movement from the actors, resulting from on-set constraints in order to remain in range of the microphone
  • Static cinematography compared to contemporary silents, thanks to the camera having to be in a giant sound proof box in order to hide the cranking from the sensitive microphone
These qualities are best found in sound pictures from 1928 to 1929; by the end of the latter year, many of the issues in early talkie production were already being smoothed out. Some talkies are less creaky than others, owing to such factors as different tricks to allow for more natural acting (e.g. use of a boom mike instead of hiding a microphone somewhere on set), a higher budget, etc.

This isn't meant to trash early talkies; rather, it's a fascination—okay, sometimes a morbid one—with the fruits of a transitional and unique period in cinema history. Bring on the creakiness!
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BettyLouSpence
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Re: Creaky Talkies

Post by BettyLouSpence »

Here's a pretty creaky talkie from 1929 called The Line-Up, a poverty row part-talkie short starring William Black and Viola Richard, the latter of whom silent comedy aficionados will recognize from her work with Hal Roach.

What stood out to me the most was the complete lack of music. No opening title theme, no ending theme, no music for the silent section... nope, not even the nightclub scenes have so much as a live band or anything. I guess either the budget was stretched thin enough, or the music would've been added live in the theater, or this was common practice for poverty row productions (which I admittedly haven't seen very many of).

There's some pretty funny goofs at 12:22 and at 23:34, where you can hear the director yell, "Cut it!" I've seen my share of 'hell's and 'damn's in silents (along with some stronger words to be lipread), but I was still mildly surprised by the use of "Get the hell away!" by the bootlegger at 9:10. :mrgreen: And I may have had an immature giggle at the sound engineer's name.

Another super interesting aspect here was the twist of the cop being a villain. I don't think that was something often seen in the films of this era, at least not from the major studios (and certainly not something that would've been allowed at all under the Code). Finally, that shot of the gang in their masks after the title sequence at 18:38 was unexpectedly creepy. Probably not something I should've watched late at night in the dark.

This is a fascinating early sound movie and makes for a really cool watch!

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=OhMIhac6nWk
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donnie
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Re: Creaky Talkies

Post by donnie »

All right! :db: :D This thread is right up my alley!
BettyLouSpence wrote:
Tue Jul 26, 2022 7:27 pm
This isn't meant to trash early talkies; rather, it's a fascination—okay, sometimes a morbid one—with the fruits of a transitional and unique period in cinema history. Bring on the creakiness!
Yes, indeed. For some reason, I find primitive cinematic technology—the period when they were trying to find out how to do things—especially fascinating.

I'm looking forward to watching The Line-Up. I've just watched the first little bit—too tired to finish it up tonight, but I can already see this is going to be a splendid specimen. :D

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donnie
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Re: Creaky Talkies

Post by donnie »

I just finished watch The Line-Up. This is an interesting one, and yes, just dripping with creaky early talkie goodness. :)

A lot of the acting here seemed pretty amateurish, especially that of William Black and Viola Richard, though I have to admit they were beguiling characters, if a little unconvincingly childlike. Viola was very cute; I've not seen her in any of the earlier comedies.
BettyLouSpence wrote:
Wed Jul 27, 2022 1:14 am
What stood out to me the most was the complete lack of music. No opening title theme, no ending theme, no music for the silent section... nope, not even the nightclub scenes have so much as a live band or anything. I guess either the budget was stretched thin enough, or the music would've been added live in the theater, or this was common practice for poverty row productions (which I admittedly haven't seen very many of).
Yes, this did give it a particularly odd feel. I think I've seen other films of this era that were mostly devoid of music (especially in the opening credits), but I don't know as I've seen one with absolutely no music. It would be interesting to know the reason behind that. (I suspect budget.) And the lack of music makes more noticeable the jarring shifts between the totally silent segments and the noisy background of the sound segments (which seems to be a common feature of early sound films).
BettyLouSpence wrote:
Wed Jul 27, 2022 1:14 am
There's some pretty funny goofs at 12:22 and at 23:34, where you can hear the director yell, "Cut it!"
Ha! I missed those. The sound quality was so bad, I probably just took them for some extraneous background noise. I actually had a hard time understanding some of the dialogue, particularly Bum's. I did catch the surprising "Get the hell away!" though. And naughty you, laughing at the poor sound man's name. :( 8-)

Speaking of the directing, sometimes it seemed really awkward (the static long shot at the very beginning, the unnecessarily long newspaper printing series of shots). And at other times it seemed uniquely creative (the silhouettes behind the window at 14:12, the unusual closeups of the policemen's feet running and the call box, the masked faces—yes, those were pretty creepy!)
BettyLouSpence wrote:
Wed Jul 27, 2022 1:14 am
Another super interesting aspect here was the twist of the cop being a villain. I don't think that was something often seen in the films of this era, at least not from the major studios (and certainly not something that would've been allowed at all under the Code).
Probably not. And by the way, how exactly
► Show Spoiler


One final thing: Farron vows the club will never sell alcohol. But when Whitey and his date are sitting at the table, those look awfully like shots of liquor in their glasses. And this seems to be confirmed shortly thereafter when Whitey says, "Let's have another drink." Hmm. A blooper, or did I miss something?

And
     so 
        my 
          remarks 
                end.
:D

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BettyLouSpence
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Re: Creaky Talkies

Post by BettyLouSpence »

donnie wrote:
Sat Jul 30, 2022 10:44 pm
A lot of the acting here seemed pretty amateurish, especially that of William Black and Viola Richard, though I have to admit they were beguiling characters, if a little unconvincingly childlike. Viola was very cute; I've not seen her in any of the earlier comedies.
Someone commented on the video that this was Viola's only known talking role; although she'd been in a couple sound pictures, they were apparently non-talking walk ons.

Viola's voice and face actually reminded me a bit of Jean Arthur as Janie from The Saturday Night Kid, which incidentally also has a bootlegger among the characters.
donnie wrote:
Sat Jul 30, 2022 10:44 pm
Yes, this did give it a particularly odd feel...
It made the scene with the masked men creepier than it would've been with music. With the crackling of the background noise as the only sound... *shudder*
donnie wrote:
Sat Jul 30, 2022 10:44 pm
I actually had a hard time understanding some of the dialogue, particularly Bum's. I did catch the surprising "Get the hell away!" though. And naughty you, laughing at the poor sound man's name. :( 8-)
Yes, there were some parts where the audio was nearly drowned out by the background buzz to the point where I couldn't make out individual words. Bum Chiggers got a pretty raw deal in the name department himself, having a parasitic mite for a surname... but he at least has an advantage over poor George Crapp by being fictional. :lol:
donnie wrote:
Sat Jul 30, 2022 10:44 pm
Speaking of the directing, sometimes it seemed really awkward...And at other times it seemed uniquely creative...
That's a good point. Pretty mixed bag, huh? I tried looking up some more of Charles L. Glett's work and according to IMDb his only other directorial credit is for a short called Bill and I Went Fishing in 1927. He's also claimed as an uncredited general production manager for Duel in the Sun (1946). IMDb also says he makes an appearance in the April 28, 1917 issue of Moving Picture World, but I'll have to check that for myself (and that's assuming it's the same guy, anyway). His industry credits are sparse and scattered over some pretty big time jumps. Maybe he used different names.
donnie wrote:
Sat Jul 30, 2022 10:44 pm
And by the way, how exactly
► Show Spoiler
Yeah, that made no sense. :lol: I'm gonna rewatch that again in case I missed something that would, um, somehow "logic" the effects of that decision away.
donnie wrote:
Sat Jul 30, 2022 10:44 pm
One final thing: Farron vows the club will never sell alcohol. But when Whitey and his date are sitting at the table, those look awfully like shots of liquor in their glasses. And this seems to be confirmed shortly thereafter when Whitey says, "Let's have another drink." Hmm. A blooper, or did I miss something?
Oh, I'm sure it was just a soda...

donnie wrote:
Sat Jul 30, 2022 10:44 pm
And
     so 
        my 
          remarks
                end.
:D
I didn't know that effect was an option. Thanks. :D
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donnie
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Re: Creaky Talkies

Post by donnie »

BettyLouSpence wrote:
Tue Aug 02, 2022 11:00 pm
It made the scene with the masked men creepier than it would've been with music. With the crackling of the background noise as the only sound... *shudder*
It does! And a idea occurs to me. I wonder if there wasn’t a vein of thought among some of the early talkie producers that music wasn't important anymore? Perhaps they were so engrossed with the new capabilities of live dialogue that they felt (wrongly) that it replaced music in terms of setting the mood. Do you think that’s a possibility, or does that sound far-fetched?

Or perhaps it's not that they were not that deliberate about dispencing with music, but just felt it less essential and were interested in putting most of their resources into the dialogue soundtrack. I'm just speculating, I guess there's no real way to know...

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Re: Creaky Talkies

Post by BettyLouSpence »

donnie wrote:
Wed Aug 03, 2022 1:47 pm
I wonder if there wasn’t a vein of thought among some of the early talkie producers that music wasn't important anymore? Perhaps they were so engrossed with the new capabilities of live dialogue that they felt (wrongly) that it replaced music in terms of setting the mood. Do you think that’s a possibility, or does that sound far-fetched?

Or perhaps it's not that they were not that deliberate about dispencing with music, but just felt it less essential and were interested in putting most of their resources into the dialogue soundtrack. I'm just speculating, I guess there's no real way to know...
Perhaps. Out of the two possibilities, I lean more towards them finding it not as essential as before. I'd be interested to read more about the talkie transition at the time.
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Re: Creaky Talkies

Post by donnie »

I watched one I'd been meaning to watch for quite some time: Peacock Alley (1930), starring "the girl with the bee-stung lips," Mae Murray. This is actually one that the Coming of Sound Episode from the Hollywood series used as a prime example of early creaky talkies. :) That's what had originally piqued my interest in seeing it.

And indeed: this is a fine example of SETS (stilted early talkie syndrome). The plot is very slow moving: the entire 53 minutes basically revolves around one situation. And the empty space between lines is incredibly long in some places. (Things pick up somewhat in the hotel office scene, but then slow back down again toward the end.)

One thing that makes this one interesting to watch is the look and feel it conveys of an upscale (incredibly upscale) New York hotel in the late '20s—lots of good interior decor and clothing shots. The musical performances in the opening credits and later near the beginning are quite interesting and quaint-sounding, also.

I'm undecided what I think about Mae Murray's performance. If you watch it, I'd be interested in an opinion on this. The reviews were apparently not good. Actually, according to Wikipedia, "Murray alleged that Tiffany Pictures' crew had damaged her career by way of their technical incompetence displayed throughout the film. Because of this, she attempted to sue the company for $1,750,000, but was unsuccessful." :shock: Wow. I didn't think it was quite that bad, though I'd be interested in an opinion on that, as well.

I enjoyed hearing George Barraud's elegant RP diction. And having admired the acting of Jason Robards, Jr., it was interesting to see his father, Jason Robards, Sr. as Jim. Speaking of Jim,
► Show Spoiler


All of the prints are quite noisy, but below is one I found that is a little better than the one I watched; I really had to strain to make out some of the dialogue in that one. (By the way, I wonder where this noise comes from and how much of it, if any, might have been in the original print.)

Another little note: they got very enthusiastic with the circular "cigarette burns" to indicate the reel changes. They really wanted to make sure the projectionist was prepared. :)

https://youtu.be/y6TlmQaeo9M

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