The silver screen, a golden past: “Garbo talks, Gilbert doesn’t”, Part 2 – The advent of sound cinema

Greta Garbo + John Gilbert in "A Woman of Affairs", 1929
Greta Garbo & John Gilbert in “A Woman of Affairs”, 1929 (

A new branch of cinema art was born when sound was introduced, but at first it was reserved only for music and singing, as in the 1927 Al Jolson classic “The Jazz Singer”. Sound was considered vulgar at first and dismissed as having no future. Even Charlie Chaplin waited until 1936 to introduce sound in his masterpiece “Modern Times”. But it was a revolution that would change the industry forever, boosting the careers of performers like Greta Garbo, destroying the careers of others, like her great love John Gilbert and the many local musicians who provided silent films with live accompaniment.

It was a costly technique, especially when multi-lingual versions had to be made. There were even German and French versions of Laurel and Hardy movies. In the end this forced movie moguls to think creatively of how to cover the expenses and make profits, which later went into other major cinema innovations like technicolour (“The Wizard of Oz”), the star system and the new technology of dollies from Germany. France, Italy and Japan also emerged as major film cultures during this boom time for cinema. In the United States, the Depression later brought stricter morals, even puritanical rules, but Hollywood being Hollywood, there were always tantalizing ways to get around that.

Producer: Dheera Sujan

Broadcast: January 13, 1994