Category Archives: 1928

The Jazz Singer, The Real 1st Best Picture

 

The first Academy Awards Ceremony on Thursday May 16, 1929, lasted only 15 minutes and honored only silent films. It was the last Academy Awards to do so as the invent of the talkies had just hit in a very big way. The big subject of the night was talking pictures. This was the last ceremony to include silent films exclusively.

The talking picture development, begun with the Jazz Singer’s famous line “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet”, was about to revolutionize the industry, which had been in decline. The Jazz Singer, released during the award season (made in 1927, released in 1928), had not been allowed to compete for best picture because the Academy decided it was unfair to let movies with sound compete with silent films. It was a travesty, as it probably would have swept the awards that year.

When a film comes around that is this revolutionary, it should be allowed to compete, not be excluded, just because it was so far ahead of it’s time.

That first best picture winner went to Wings, a tale of World War One pilots directed by William Wellman, which at $2million was the most expensive movie of its time. A great film in it’s own right, with some of the best aerial photography ever filmed. We talk about it at length in our blog post, called Dick Grace and Wings.

Also, just a side note, much of the chatter at the ceremony also included how Buster Keaton’s now classic silent film The General had been snubbed.

The original Jazz Singer was a Broadway hit, which opened at the Fulton Theater on Sunday, September 14th, 1925 and ran for 303 performances. The play starred George Jessel (who was asked to star in the movie, but declined!). Also in the cast were Phoebe Foster as Mary Dale, Arthur Stuart Hull as Harry Lee, Sam Jaffe as Yudelson and Howard Lang as The Cantor.

Al Jolson, the star of The Jazz Singer, was directed by Alan Crosland.

The Front Page

 

This incredible Broadway play was made into several equally good movies over the years, my favorite being a gender-switch for the main character.  It was written in 1928 by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.  The first movie to be made was the faithful “The Front Page” (1931) directed by Lewis Milestone and features Pat O’Brien and Adolphe Menjou. It’s very much the play, with a lot of great dialogue and great character actors. It went on to 3 Academy Award nominations.The-Front-Page-1931

My favorite one was next and it features one of the most ingenious casting choices of all time when Howard Hawks decided to change the role of Hildebrand Johnson into Hildegard Johnson and cast Rosalind Russell. It was a brilliant move to have the two main characters divorced and sparing. Cary Grant plays the Walter Burns role perfectly and it is my FAVORITE of all of Cary Grant’s performances, in a plethora (Jefe, what is a plethora?) of perfect performances. They also switched the title to “His Girl Friday” (1940).Russell-Rosalind-His-Girl-Friday

I should mention that Howard Hawks very much wanted to keep the dialogue like it was in the play where it was fast paced and had a lot of the characters talking over each other.  Because of this, Hawks wanted each actor to come up with improvised bits and action for each of their characters.  Rosalind Russell, not to be outdone, hired an advertising writer that worked with her brother-in-law to make sure that her “improvisations” were especially witty and Hawks never caught on, but Cary Grant did and every morning would ask her, “What have you got today?”.  She was also perfectly cast and has fantastic chemistry with Grant and her fiancee in the film, Ralph Bellamy.His_Girl_Friday

The next version of “The Front Page” (1974) was directed by Billy Wilder and featured the male roles intact again with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon paired up. The pairing was so successful that they would go on to do a total of 10 movies together (although they do not have any scenes together in JFK) and were very good friends off camera as well. Jack Lemmon also directed only 1 movie his entire career, and he made sure the star was none other than Walter Matthau.  It was “Kotch“. Lemmon would go on to say about Matthau, “Walter is a helluva actor. The best I’ve ever worked with.”.

Matthau-Lemmon- Front Page

The last one really worth mentioning and that seems to have been really forgotten over time is the fabulous, “Switching Channels” directed by Ted Kotcheff and it switches the gender roles again with Kathleen Turner playing the Rosalind Russell role.  Burt Reynolds plays the Cary Grant role and Christopher Reeve plays the Ralph Bellamy role.  This time the setting has been changed as well to be in the world of broadcast news and so a lot of the newspaper men chatter has been completely cut from this version. It really focuses in on the relationships and works well, I think. All the actors are fantastic in their roles.switchingchannels

Now all of the other previous versions were pretty big hits, except this one and it’s a real shame as this is highly under-rated, in my opinion.  The failure may have been due to the release of the very popular and critically praised Broadcast News months before. People thought it was too much of the same thing. Burt Reynolds grabbed this film because Cary Grant was a big inspiration to him for years and this finally gave him an opportunity to play a role of his. I think you can really tell in this film that he studied Cary’s performance as it reflects his own.  Burt Reynolds and Cary Grant are two actors that I can honestly say, could do any genres as they were equally good at comedy, action, romance and drama over their careers.

LINKS:

THE FRONT PAGE (1931) CLIPS

THE FRONT PAGE (1974) TRAILER

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) TRAILER

Best Stunts of the Year List 1920-1929

 

Here is the list for the Best Movie Stunts for the Decade 1920-1929 as listed in the book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

1920:  The Mark of Zorro

First time on the list for Zorro (not the last), and for Douglas Fairbanks.  The Mark of Zorro represents the first in a line of Adventure films and Douglas Fairbanks was technically the first swashbuckler, an adventure actor that does a lot of the stunts himself.  He was an incredible athlete, by all accounts, and this film showcases that ability very nicely.zorro 2

1921:  Never Weaken

Harvey Parry admitted on his death bed that he doubled Harold Lloyd on some of the stunts in this movie.  This comedy movie would make way for all the dangerous slapstick comedies to come by Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton.never tumblr_njqmx6K3Gr1rdfgw4o1_500

1922:  Robin Hood

Great example of Douglas Fairbanks at the top of his game, but in this case he’s helped out by his stunt double, Charles Lewis in several stunts.  This is also the first time Robin Hood makes the list (also, not the last) and it’s interesting to me that several movies hit the list multiple times.  You’d expect that with movie series like James Bond, being highly stunt driven, but still seems like a surprise when it’s just different versions of the same movie, like Robin Hood and Zorro.robin-hood

1923:  Safety Last!

The second half of this film, where he is climbing up each floor of a building is sheer brilliance.  It’s nerve-wracking!  The final few moments hanging from the clock is as iconic a film moment as you get.  It’s a single-solitary slice of film that represents everything that being a stunt performer is all about.  This would be the poster boy for the stunt movement.  In fact, this should be the award they give out at the Academy Awards for Stunts, a Golden Statue of Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock tower.safety last

1924:  Sherlock, Jr.

This is the period where Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton keep out-doing each other every film.  But, I will add, that this particular film is just about my favorite stunt film of all time.  It would definitely be in the top ten for best stunts of all time, it’s that great.  Buster Keaton not only blows your mind with the stunts in this film, but it’s also an incredible film cinematically and some of the techniques he develops with this film are revolutionary.sherlock buster

1925:  The Prince of Pep

This was where Richard Talmadge was trying to be an actor, but he soon found out that his talents lay with Stunt work.  He goes on to be a fantastic Stunt Man and Stunt Coordinator in the years to come. In this one, he has a nifty gag where he jumps from the rooftop of one building through the window of the next building.  He makes it look easy.pep2

1926:  The Devil Horse

Yakima Canutt is generally thought of as the grand-daddy of all stuntmen…not that he actually gave birth to all of them, just that he was a big reason why stunt work has legitimized as much as it is right now. He developed techniques for safety and paved the way for most of the stunt men to work behind the camera as an action director or second unit director and as a stunt coordinator.  In this film he shows his early chops as a rodeo star as he rides the devil horse, Rex.yakima captured

1927:  Wings

This film won the first Academy Award for Best Picture, but thanks to Dick Grace, has some great flying stunts in it as well.  No-one crashed a plane on cue better than he did.

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1928:  Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Another great film from Buster Keaton.  This one is another one of those iconic images that help to propel the whole stunt world forward, an amazing stunt, where Buster just stands in one spot as the whole front of the building falls around him.  Could have easily killed him if he was just a little bit off his mark.  Great stunt.Steamboat bill Jr

1929:  Tarzan the Tiger

Every wonder where Tarzan got his signature yell and signature swing from tree to tree from?  Yep, from this movie.  They used it in every Tarzan movie after that.  Frank Merrill was very athletic and did all his stunts in a skimpy loin-cloth.tarzan07

For more information about these stunt performers and these movies, including a lot of great trivia, please look for their chapters in the new movie stunt book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Buster Keaton and Steamboat Bill Jr.

 

It’s an iconic image, a cyclone ravages a small town and blows the front of the building down.  As it falls, a man (Buster Keaton) walking away from the building miraculously survives as he stands on a spot where an open window just happens to be, as the building falls around him.  It’s a stunt where just the slightest miscalculation would have killed him.  The stunt was performed with an actual full-weight wall. Half the crew walked off the set rather than participate in a stunt that would have killed Keaton if he had been slightly off position.Steamboat bill JrSteamboat bill jr 2

Legendary Hong Kong film star Jackie Chan has often cited Keaton’s acrobatics—and this stunt in particular—as one of his primary influences. He tips his hat to Keaton in Project A2 by having a falling building front. This movie was also used as a model for Steamboat Willie, Mickey Mouse’s first cartoon with sound. It’s interesting to note, Buster Keaton’s sister Louise doubled for Marion Byron during the cyclone scene.Steamboat Bill Jr stunts

Steamboat Bill Jr. was directed by Charles Reisner for Buster Keaton Productions.

Things to look up (go to IMDB):

  • Buster Keaton
  • Charles Reisner
  • Steamboat Bill Jr.
  • United Artists
  • Louise Keaton

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM