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The golden age
The golden age of the cinema began with the talkies - when the actors on film were able to talk for the first time. In 1927, at New York’s Warner Theatre, Al Jolson, the Russian-born Hollywood actor and singer, spoke, and sang six songs in the Warner Brothers film, The Jazz Singer. The first words that he spoke in the film were: ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet!’ The audiences loved him.
At first there were many problems with talking pictures. Microphones picked up the noises in the studio, directors had to stop shouting orders to the actors, and the actors had to learn all their words.
Some stars of the silent screen could not make the change to ‘talkies’; audiences laughed at their funny voices. But the deep, mysterious voice of silent star Greta Garbo was a great success when she appeared in Anna Christie. The film magazines said: ‘Garbo talks!’ (She also made it fashionable for women of the time to wear berets!) Garbo’s career ended in 1942 when she left Hollywood, saying that she would never act again.
By 1930, all films were ‘talkies’, and many actors and directors moved from the theatre into the cinema. Actors like Edward G. Robinson, Spencer Tracey, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable and Bette Davis began to appear on the screen.
Musical films began to be popular in the 1930s. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers starred in Flying Down to Rio (1933). This was the first of nine films which they made together.
And then there were the fast-moving crime films of James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson. One of the best was The Roaring Twenties.
The 1930s also introduced ‘singing cowboys’ like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. But it was the film Stagecoach, directed by John Ford in 1939, which made a star of one of Hollywood’s most famous cowboys - John Wayne.
The year 1939 was when audiences first saw what is now sometimes described as the greatest film ever made: Gone With The Wind, starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. The book appeared in 1936 and sold a million in the first six months. The film has earned more than $300 million, and won eight Oscars (with the first one ever given to a black actress, Hattie McDaniel, who played the part of ‘Mammy’).
Alfred Hitchcock made the first British talking picture in 1929. It was called Blackmail, and was first written as a silent film. Hitchcock quickly added words and sound when he saw how popular talking pictures were becoming.
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