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1920s Movies & Theater


General Sites
Warner Brothers In The Pre-Code Era
Road Shows
What Happens To Your Movie Money?
Horror Photos From The Movies
Walt Disney Company
Bijou Follies

My YouTube Playlist

1920s Movies

Star Filmographies
Mary Pickford
Buster Keaton
"Fatty" Arbuckle
Rudolph Valentino
Clara Bow
Gloria Swanson
Lon Chaney
Douglas Fairbanks Sr.
Charlie Chaplin


Shorts & Newsreels

Silent newsreels were first shown in theaters in 1909. The first newsreel with sound was produced by Fox Movietone News in 1927, and featured scenes of Charles Lindbergh taking off and returning from his famous transatlantic airplane flight.

Fox Movietone News
Pathe Weekly
Hearst Metrotone News
Paramount News
Fox News


After working with other animators, Walt Disney formed his own company in 1923. He introduced the character of Mortimer Mouse in a series of 1927 silent cartoon shorts. For Mortimer's first sound short in 1928, Walt's wife suggested a name change, and Mortimer became Mickey Mouse.

Mortimer Mouse--Mickey Mouse
Silly Symphonies
Felix The Cat
Steamboat Willie
The Alice Comedies


Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy first worked together in 1918, when they shared a scene in the film Lucky Dog. In 1927, they also appeared together in a few Hal Roach films. They officially became a team later that year, in the silent short Putting Pants On Phillip. During 1928 and 1929, they made 24 comedy shorts together.

From 1922 to 1928, Buckwheat and the gang were known as Hal Roach's Rascals. In 1928, they became Our Gang. Over the years, 176 children performed in these comedy shorts.

Hal Roach's Rascals--Our Gang
Laurel & Hardy
Hal Roach Comedy Shorts
Vitaphone Kiddies
Harry Langdon
Charley Chase
Thelma Todd
Vitaphone Shorts
Dogville Comedies


Silent Films

Although sound movies did exist in the 1920s, most films were silent....that is, they did not have an accompanying soundtrack.

dialogue & sound effects
Those early films may have lacked a soundtrack, but they were actually far from silent! Many movies were accompanied by sound effects and actors who stood on the stage and spoke the dialogue that was being mimed on the screen.

movie music
Every movie theater provided some sort of musical accompaniment, whether it was a phonograph, mechanical music machine, piano, theater organ, vocalist or full orchestra. Sometimes the musicians were free to choose their own music, and sometimes the films came with sheet music and directions for when it should be played.

In the early days of the cinema, music was used solely to comment on the action. Fast-paced chase music and sinister piano music are two examples of this. In the 1920s, movies were becoming more sophisticated, and background music was taking on a new importance. It was being used to create a mood or heighten an emotion, and for this, classical music was the best choice. Music lovers complained that this practice was ruining good music. Someone even suggested that they form a society for the prevention of cruelty to symphonies!

----- film speed
There was no standard silent film speed. The best speed at which to show a silent movie is the speed at which it was filmed. In the silent era, movie cameras were hand-cranked, and the speed of filming varied from movie to movie, sometimes even from scene to scene! Films arrived at the theater with cue sheets specifying the speed at which the projectionist should show it.

Silent Films: What Was The Right Speed?
Welcome To Silent Movies
Glen Pringle's Silent Movie Site

do we really need sound?
Most people were perfectly happy watching silent films. For them, the art form had reached its pinnacle, and there was no need to clutter it up with soundtracks. It was certainly easier to produce silent films. Without the heavy and cumbersome sound equipment, film crews could travel anywhere. With silent movies, there was no language barrier. Everyone could enjoy them. It's easy to see why "soundies" had only limited appeal at this point.


All Talking!
All Singing!
All Dancing!

Over the years, we have been led to believe that the transition from silent films to talkies happened overnight. Nothing could be further from the truth!

early sync-sound
The first moving pictures were produced in 1889. From the very beginning, film pioneers experimented with ways to combine moving pictures and recorded sound. Between 1894 and 1925, they came up with a variety of gadgets that synchronized movies with cylinder and disc sound recordings. Each system had its brief period of popularity, but the results were mediocre at best. Without modern electrical recording and amplification methods, these systems weren't really practical for large theaters, and the processes were abandoned.

Vitaphone: sound on disc
In 1925, the development of electronic recording made improved disc soundtracks possible. The most successful sound-on-disc process was Vitaphone, which was used between 1926 and 1936. Vitaphone discs were 16 inches wide and used a slower recording speed of 33 1/3 RPM. This allowed them to be synchronized with an 11-minute reel of film.

Vitaphone talkies
For the first few years, Warner Brothers, First National and Hal Roach Studios used the Vitaphone process for all of their "talkies." Nearly 2,000 Vitaphone shorts were released between 1926 and 1929.

In 1926, Don Juan was the first full-length film to use Vitaphone for background music and sound effects. In 1927, Warner Brothers released The Jazz Singer, which featured a small amount of dialogue on the Vitaphone soundtrack in addition to the musical accompaniment.

----- 70 Years Of Synch-Sound
"Don Juan" and "The Jazz Singer"
The Vitaphone Process
Motion Picture Sound 1910-1929
Video Clip: Finding His Voice~Movies That Talk
Early Sound Films

"You ain't heard nothing yet!"
They say timing is everything. The Jazz Singer was just what the movie-going public was ready for, and the movie was a sensation!

sound on film
The sound-on-film process transforms sound waves into light rays, which are filmed on the edge of the picture. Several films were made with this process during the early 1910s, but work was halted during World War I. Lee De Forest's Phonofilm process was used for a few films beginning in 1923, but it was not very successful. In 1927, a new version of the process was introduced and was named Movietone. The first public demonstration of this technology was in a 1927 Fox Movietone Newsreel. RCA's Photophone process was introduced in 1928.

Although the Vitaphone process produced better sound, the sound-on-film process eliminated the possibility of the audio becoming out of sync with the action, which ultimately made it the better system.

no turning back
At first, the movie studios were somewhat reluctant to embrace sound movies. They had a huge investment in their silent stars, and installing sound equipment was expensive. Movie profits fell during 1927 and 1928, and the public was clamoring for more talking pictures. These two factors persuaded moviemakers to reconsider, and studios and theaters began the conversion to sound.

the transition period
Between 1926 and 1936, both the Vitaphone and sound-on-film processes were used by studios. By 1930, it was obvious that the sound-on-film system was the better choice, but discs lingered on because some movie theaters were still only equipped to show sound-on-disc movies.

the big microphone test
In the late 1920s, most people heard their favorite movie stars "talk" for the first time. Sadly, many movie careers were ruined when an actor's voice didn't match his or her onscreen persona. Talkies destroyed the careers of Vilma Banky, Pola Negri, Clara Bow and John Gilbert, and boosted the careers of Greta Garbo and Mickey Mouse. Laurel & Hardy were the only comedians to make the transition to talkies without difficulty, because they were just as funny verbally as they were visually.


From the very beginning, movie companies tried many different ways to add color to their films.

Their efforts fell into two categories:
1) colorizing: using hand-tinting, color washes and toning to add color after the film is developed.
2) true color photography using the two-strip method.

In the 1920s, many silent films were treated with color washes, which immersed the entire picture in a particular color to simulate a mood or time of day. Dark blue tints were used for night scenes and yellow tints were used for sunny daylight scenes. When used properly, this technique could be very effective.

Toning was also used in the 1920s. This process added a second or third color to films that had already been washed in a primary color.

true color photography
The first experiments with true color photography were conducted around 1900. During the 1900s and 1910s, a variety of primitive two-strip methods were developed that did a fairly good job of reproducing natural color.

The Technicolor Corporation was founded in 1915 and introduced their first two-strip color system in 1917. This was followed by two improved versions in 1923 and 1928. The Prizmacolor, Natural Color and Multicolor systems were also used in the 1920s.

Unlike modern three-strip color systems, these two-strip systems did not reproduce the full range of colors. They had an especially difficult time registering blue tints.

In the late 1920s, the development of color photography was put on hold for a few years. Technicians were focusing on adding sound, and color interfered with the clarity of the new sound-on-film recording method. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, all color films used the two-strip processes already in existence.

how the two-strip color system works
Two negatives are combined into a single strip. One is sensitive to the blue-green spectrum, the other is sensitive to the red-orange spectrum. The image is filmed with a special camera equipped with filters to break up the hues. When the film is projected, light shines through the two strips, the spectrums are combined, and a color picture is produced. The two-strip process over-emphasized the green and orange hues, which resulted in a picture with a pink, brown or green tinge.

Enough Already!

After 1927, the popularity of talkies resulted in a huge increase in the number of musicals being released. Take a look at the list 1928 and 1929, quite a few movies had the words singing, dancing or Broadway in the title. Before too long, the public got tired of musicals and they fell out of favor until the mid 1930s.

The Development Of Color Films


1920s Movies

One Week
Way Down East
The Mark Of Zorro
Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde
Why Change Your Wife?
Get Out And Get Under
The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari

The Kid
The Sheik
Orphans Of The Storm
Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse
The Three Musketeers
The Love Light
Peck's Bad Boy
The Boat

Nanook Of The North
Blood And Sand
Tess Of The Storm Country
My Wife's Relations
When Knighthood Was In Flower
Foolish Wives

Our Hospitality
Safety Last!
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame
The Balloonatic
It's A Gift
The White Sister
Anna Christie
The Ten Commandments
The Covered Wagon

Sherlock Jr.
The Navigator
He Who Gets Slapped
Peter Pan
Beau Brummel
Dorothy Vernon Of Haddon Hall
Monsieur Beaucaire

The Gold Rush
Battleship Potemkin
Phantom Of The Opera
Go West
The Wizard Of Oz
Little Annie Rooney
Riders Of The Purple Sage

The Black Pirate
Don Juan
Kid Boots
Beau Geste
The Torrent
What Price Glory
The Scarlet Letter
La Boheme
Flesh & The Devil

By Whose Hand?
The Jazz Singer
The General
Uncle Tom's Cabin
After Midnight
Seventh Heaven
The King Of Kings
London After Midnight

The Singing Fool
Our Dancing Daughters
My Man
Steamboat Bill Jr.
The Circus
Street Angel
Lights Of New York
Beggars Of Life
The Last Command

The Hollywood Revue Of 1929
The Virginian
The Cocoanuts
Bulldog Drummond
Gold Diggers Of Broadway
Honky Tonk
Broadway Scandals
The Love Parade
Mysterious Island
Black & Tan
Rio Rita
Broadway Melody......(1) (2)
Good News
Fox Movietone Follies


On Stage

stage tidbits
*Broadway's star never shined more brightly than it did during the late 1920s. During this time, the theater industry attained heights that have never been equaled. During the 1927-28 season alone, 268 different shows played in over 70 theaters.

* In the years following World War I, Broadway producers staged more dramas than usual. During the 1927-28 season, dramas outnumbered musicals, comedies and revues three to one.

* Florenz Ziegfeld began his show business career in the 1890s. He became a Broadway producer in the 1900s and staged his first Follies in 1907. At various times during the 1920s, the Ziegfeld Follies starred Fanny Brice, W.C. Fields, Will Rogers and Eddie Cantor.

Rosalie, starring Marilyn Miller

*Ziegfeld produced many other shows in addition to his popular Follies. They included Show Boat, Whoopee, Kid Boots, Rosalie, Show Girl, Sunny and Sally.

*Many of the shows that Ziegfeld produced during the 1920s were created to showcase the talents of his favorite Follies performers, especially Eddie Cantor and Marilyn Miller. Another Ziegfeld production, Show Girl, starred an up-and-coming Ruby Keeler and marked the Broadway debut of Jimmy Durante.

*After appearing in both the Ziegfeld Follies and George White's Scandals, W.C. Fields received his first star billing in the 1923 Broadway hit Poppy.

*Emperor Jones was the first play to feature a racially integrated cast and a black actor in the leading role.

*The all-black production Runnin' Wild introduced an exuberant and somewhat scandalous dance to America....the Charleston.

*In 1927, Show Boat launched a new era in musical theater. Unlike the frivolous, light-hearted musicals and revues of the past, this story about traveling show folk on the Mississippi River was the first real musical drama. It had a believable plot, well-defined characters and songs that contributed to the storyline.

-----popular stage productions

drama & comedy
Tess Of The D'Urbervilles
Anna Christie
Desire Under The Elms
Strange Interlude
Abie's Irish Rose
Emperor Jones
I'll Say She Is
The Cocoanuts
Animal Crackers
The Fallen Star

musicals & revues
Blossom Time
The Student Prince
Rose Marie
Show Boat
Show Girl
Kid Boots
The Vagabond King
George White's Scandals
The Band Wagon
The Song & Dance Man
Ziegfeld Follies
Good News
No No Nanette
Oh, Kay!
A Night In Spain
Good Boy
Hold Everything
Andre Charlot's Revue
Laff That Off
Artists & Models
Berlin's Music Box Revue
The Jazz Singer

all-black productions
Shuffle Along
Runnin' Wild
Hot Chocolates
Blackbirds Of 1928
The Plantation Revue

theater links
Stage Musicals Of The 20s
Internet Broadway Database
The Shows Of George M. Cohan

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