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Part-talkie: Wikis


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A part-talkie film is a film which was made during the early sound era (anywhere from 1927 to 1936), and is partly a silent film and partly a talkie. The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, was the first part-talkie film. It had no more than about fifteen minutes' worth of dialogue and songs, interspersed throughout the film, while the rest of it had no audio. Early sound films were sometimes made this way because silent ones were gradually being phased out, and producers felt that sequences with sound would improve a silent movie's chances at the box office. For example, Douglas Fairbanks' last swashbuckler, The Iron Mask (1929) (based on Dumas's L'homme au masque de fer), was filmed with a sound prologue, in which Fairbanks' speaking voice was heard onscreen for the first time, but the rest of the film was silent.

The first film version of Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey, also released in 1929, had a few minutes of sound tacked onto what was basically a silent picture. Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, made in 1936, is also a part-talkie, since the only voices heard in the film are that of the factory foreman, and that of Chaplin when he sings a gibberish song in a nightclub sequence. The rest of the film is silent, except for the orchestral music on the soundtrack accompanying the action.

Some films, however, were hurt rather than helped by this technique. In 1930 the classic Lon Chaney, Sr. silent, The Phantom of the Opera, was reissued with a few sound sequences, and was not considered better than the silent version, although this reissue did make an additional million dollars. The 1925 film is now always shown silent, in which form it remains one of the great classics of the screen.

And in 1928, Universal Pictures began filming Edna Ferber's novel Show Boat as a silent film, but influenced by the success of the smash hit Broadway musical version, they halted the filming midway through production, added two sound sequences to the film, and made a sound prologue featuring three of the stage musical's actors singing five songs from the show. (The prologue was intended to be shown just before the actual film at every theatre wired for sound.) The film, prologue and all, was finally released in 1929. It was not a success. (The stage musical Show Boat was filmed in 1936 and 1951 with much better results, both critically and at the box office.)

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