The Academy Awards couldn't have began at a more complicated time in film history.  Hollywood didn't seem to feel the impact of the economic depression that the rest of the world would suffer at the close of the 1920's, but many within the industry had their own troubles, as the advent of sound recording was changing the way we saw movies.

Sound actually became a part of motion picture industry in 1927, when The Jazz Singer featured a musical bit by its star, Al Jolson.  The breakthrough was remarkable and theatres were quick to install the equipment needed to run the feature.  Audiences were equally impressed, and the film was an instant hit.  

The film had such an impact that at the first years ceremony, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose to disqualify the film from contention for Best Picture, awarding it instead with a special statue for technical achievement.

Despite the success of The Jazz Singer, critics wrote talking pictures off as nothing more than a novelty, that wouldn't last more than a couple of years.  

Of course, the exact opposite occurred, and talking pictures became a phenomenon that was wildly popular with audiences, and that forced theatres all over the world to invest in sound equipment fast - or face bankruptcy.

For actors, it was an even bigger shake up.  Many of the popular stars of the day couldn't make the transition to talkes, often because their voices failed them. Stars like Emil Jannings, the first ever Best Actor winner, fell victim to the trend, as his thick German accent didn't play well to American audiences.  Mary Pickford was a huge star, playing child like characters in silent films, but her grown up voice quickly turned away her audience. 

Studio bosses reacted by calling on actors from Broadway, and by putting an all-out casting call to get new stars on their roster.  It was this kind of move that introduced the world to a host of new names, including Clark Gable, Katherine Hepburn, Charles Laughton and Bette Davis

In the meantime, several well known silent performers did manage to make the transition.  MGM even put together a vehicle to introduce their regular players to sound.  

The all-star movie, and Best Picture nominee, The Hollywood Revue of 1929 played like a flashy vaudeville show.  Conrad Nagel performed hosting duties, introducing a stable of familiar MGM contract players.  

The performers, who included Joan Crawford, Marion Davies, Laurel and Hardy, Jack Benny, Norma Shearer, Charles King and Bessie Love, performed their little hearts out, in what might have been considered a screen test.  MGM was obviously saying, "Look what we can do" and perhaps quelling any doubts about their stars' ability to speak.

It seems remarkable today that this film was actually nominated for Best Picture. Fans of classic movies might get a kick out of seeing some of these stars perform in small bit parts, but at the time, the fascination was in hearing these stars speak for the very first time.

The film has no real story line, and the only common thread throughout the picture is discussion and song about the talkies.  Bessie Love sings "Moving pictures aren't what they used to be. These crazy sound effects have made a wreck of me.  My vocalizing is rather of weak -, it seems to have a kind of squeak.  It needs adjusting - so to speak."

The Hollywood Revue of 1929 highlighted one of the key features that talking pictures had over silent films.  Not only could the talkies feature dramatic fare, but they could take entertainment a step further, bringing to the screen music and vaudeville.  While many of the stars featured were huge movie stars, others, like Jack Benny and Charles King, also had a following on the radio.  

The film actually created a trend in early talkies, with the vaudeville style being used again and again  while Hollywood experimented with sound.  Later, the same kind of spectacle would be translated onto television in the form of variety specials.



MGM shows the world what it can do! 
Joan Crawford was one of the up and coming starlets of 1929 who was able to survive the transition to talkies.
Sex symbol, Conrad Nagel hosted the parade of MGM stars who came out to sing, dance and act.
Heartthrob and crooner of the day, Charles King (also in The Broadway Meloldy) sings about Mother. 
Nagel shows his own vocal talents, singing to another Broadway Melody star, Anita Page.
Jack Benny, already a popular radio star, does his bit for talking pictures.  
The top star of the day, Broadway Melody star, Bessie Love, makes her entrance from within Jack Benny's pocket.
Highly regarded stage star Marie Dressler announces that she is 'the queen!'
Laurel and Hardy perform some magic - which naturally ends up with a pie in the face of Conrad Nagel.
Marion Davies demonstrates her tap dancing abilities.
To a bevy of chorus girls, Gus Edwards sings, "Lon Chaney is going to get you if you don't watch out!"
A typical overhead shot that would be common in many musicals.

Norma Shearer and John Gilbert perform the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, in an early attempt at color.


Later, they take direction from Lionel Barrymore. 

Three little girls are used throughout the film to introduce the acts.
The Brox Sisters perform Singing in the Rain.
Polly Moran blurts out a rousing rendition of 'Mammy', while Marie Dressler and Bessie Love look on.