The Hollywood Revue of 1929

Before I saw The Hollywood Revue of 1929, I think the words I’d heard most often used to describe it were “historical curiosity.”  I’d also heard those words used to describe movies like The Broadway Melody, but they didn’t deter me from watching it and actually kind of liking it.  But after actually seeing The Hollywood Revue of 1929, I can safely say that it is, indeed, a historical curiosity.  All it is is a series of musical numbers and skits put on by MGM to show off their stable of stars and their shiny, new talkie technology.  For me, it was worth checking out just because I did have an interest in seeing things like Joan Crawford’s dance number and Norma Shearer and John Gilbert doing Romeo and Juliet.  There’s a certain charm to a lot of early talkies that’s kind of endearing to me and I got a kick out of some of the skits, but it’s really not anything spectacular.  It’s very dated, there’s no plot, and because it is a very early talkie, the sound quality is rather shaky.  Unless you’ve got a serious interest in film history or at least in one of the stars in this movie, I imagine it’d be pretty torturous to sit through.  But if you’d like to at least get a taste of it, there are plenty of clips on YouTube:

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4 comments

  1. I agree about the historical curiosity as well. I enjoyed the movie not because it had great songs or a great plot (no plot and pretty horrible songs), but I loved to see everyone early on in their career and see how Hollywood was dealing with the dawn of sound.

    I think the most curious scene is the “Lon Chaney is Going to Get You” song. I often wondered how he felt about that haha

    1. Haha, gotta love “Lon Chaney is Going to Get You!” Such an odd number, but yet I had that song stuck in my head for the rest of the day after watching that movie.

  2. I must agree, Hollywood Revue of 1929 is film anthropology 101! It does rather make you feel like you’re in the audience at a high school talent show! Some of it is just plain awful, but I absolutely love the *fact* of it: I think it so completely captures an industry in flux. I can just see the producers chewing on their cigars, scratching their heads, trying to figure out what the hell to DO with sound. Gotta say, with The Hollywood Revue of 1929, they pretty much threw everything at it but the kitchen sink.

    (Out of curiosity, do you happen to know whether or not the Shearer/Gilbert balcony scene is also the first time Shakespeare dialogue is recorded on film? I wonder…)

    1. Haha, it really is like watching a high school talent show! Some interesting moments, some pretty bad moments, but it’s generally awkward and in the end, you just clap politely for their efforts. And I agree, the fact that it exists at all is pretty fascinating. For all its faults, it’s very rare to have so many stars together in one movie like that. Especially when about half those stars were on their way up while the other half were on their way out the door.

      Good question about whether or not this was the first recorded Shakespeare dialogue on film! I never thought of that before. I did a little Googling and it seems like 1929’s The Taming of the Shrew with Mary Pickford and Doug Fairbanks is accepted as the first Shakespeare talkie. But none of the sites I looked at made any reference at all to The Hollywood Revue of 1929, which was released just a few months before The Taming of the Shrew was. So it very well could be the first film to feature recorded Shakespearian dialogue.

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