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Film Appreciation Episode 3: The Talkies Era and the Universal Monster.

Alright I know it’s been a while but “Film Appreciation” is back with another episode and this time we’re looking at the transition to sound and the universal monster, which roughly began in the late 20’s and early 30’s. Don’t get me wrong sound was around at the time but no one was really doing it until 1927 when The Jazz Singer was the first film to be presented as a “talkie”, meaning The Jazz Singer has the privilege of being the first film to fully utilize synchronized dialogue.

This was the crucial era that saw Hollywood become the powerhouse that it is, because of their early 30’s talkie films that were global successes and propelled Hollywood to the top position. Talkies were met with skepticism in the European markets, where filmmakers and critics thought that they were a bad idea and that dialogue would essentially take away the true essence of the film as the audience would just focus on the dialogue.

Jack Warner was also skeptical of the talkie but he was proven wrong when Warner Bros. benefited from the talkies films which established the company’s power in Hollywood. It should be noted that this “talkies” era saw the creation of a new genre, the musical.
This era was very important to filmmaking and storytelling as a whole as new techniques were introduced and many legendary artists had their come up during this period. It’s also very important to note that in 1935 Becky Sharp was the first feature film to be in colour. Colour like sound made producers and critics very weary as they saw it as a gimmick that the audience would see right through but they were proven wrong.

During the 30’s America and the world as a whole went through the Great Depression and World War 2, and it’s during this time that audiences wanted more escapism. The musical was very important and popular during this time because the musical provided happy endings, something the audience were missing in their everyday lives.
However the musical wasn’t the only genre to be popular during the 30’s, gangster films and comedy films were also big business but those will be dealt with later, I want to get into the horror genre and Universal Pictures dominance in this field.

“Horror Movie” was term that started being used around 1931 when Universal Pictures started releasing now classic horror monster films like Karl Freund & Tod Browning’s Dracula and Frankenstein from James Whale. The Universal Monster horror films set the standard and those standards are still being followed even to this day. When I say Universal Monster I’m talking about your Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummy and even The Invisible Man. It’s because of these guys that some of your favourite on-screen monsters exists.
At the time Universal was a minor studio along with Columbia and United Artists and they were competing with the big five aka MGM, 20th Century-Fox, Warner Bros., RKO and Paramount. So in order for Universal to thrive they decided to develop its own market aka the horror market.

Universal CEO at the time Carl Laemmle, Jr enlisted directors like Karl Freund, Tod Browning, James Whale and Edgar G. Ulmer and actors like horror legend Boris Karloff and Claude Rains and it’s with these creative minds that Universal Pictures decided how the horror film should look and feel.

Check out Film Appreciation Episode 4: The Universal Monster… to get a bit more in-depth about the horror era of the 30’s and some elements that made The Universal Monster a fan favourite.

Film movies articles Op-ed Film appreciation series

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