Cinema 1927: What You Need to Know–Significant Events–‘The Jazz Singer’; Academy; Hitchcock’s ‘The Lodger’

CINEMA 1927:

Event of Significance 1927

Fox released They’re Coming to Get Me (1927), five-minute black and white short that was the first ‘talkie’ using the Movietone system.

The first feature released using the Fox Movietone system was Sunrise, directed by F. W. Murnau, the first professionally-produced film with an actual soundtrack.

The end of the silent era of films came when Warner Brothers produced and debuted The Jazz Singer (1927), the first widely-screened feature talkie (musical) or movie with recorded dialogue.

Popular vaudevillian Al Jolson starred as the title character – who provided audio (with a sound-on-disc technology using the Vitaphone system) which consisted of a few songs by Jolson and a few lines of synchronized dialogue. In his nightclub act in the film, Jolson presented the movie’s first spoken ad-libbed words: “Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.” The film had about 350 spontaneously ad-libbed words.

Fox’s Movietone newsreel, the first sound news film, was produced. The first recording of a news event was the takeoff of Charles Lindbergh’s plane from New York, on May 20, 1927 on his historic flight across the Atlantic to Paris, the inspiration to create Movietone News.

Comedian Buster Keaton (known as “The Great Stone Face” who equally rivaled silent comic director/star Charlie Chaplin), made many short films and twelve feature films, including his timeless masterpiece The General (1927). It is regarded as one of the greatest of all silent comedies (and Keaton’s own favorite) -and undoubtedly the best train film ever made. The chase comedy based on a true Civil War incident received both poor reviews by critics (it was considered tedious and disappointing) and weak box-office results (about a half million dollars) when initially released in the late 1920s, and it led to Keaton’s loss of independence as a film-maker and a restrictive deal with MGM. It would take many decades for the film to be hailed as one of the best ever made. His distinctive films were noted for their trademark wit, satire, acrobatic agility and stunt-work, and fantasy.

Other well-known works included Our Hospitality (1923), The Navigator (1924), Sherlock Jr. (1924), and Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928).


Director Abel Gance’s epic silent film Napoleon (1927, Fr.) premiered in Paris, France. It pioneered with its experimental wide-screen and multi-screen effects. It also exhibited rapid-fire editing (influenced by Eisenstein’s Potemkin (1925)), free-wheeling camera movement (influenced by Murnau), and a unique multi-projector system. The final sequence was to be screened via triple projection as a triptych. It was the precursor to the wide-screen Cinerama process that debuted in 1952.

Director Fritz Lang’s classic dystopian vision of the future, the expressionistic Metropolis (1927, Germany) set in the year of 2000, exploited massive sets and lavish set design, clever special effects, stylistic shadowing, oblique camera angles and labryinths, and physical effects like realistic miniatures (one of their first uses) and hydraulically-produced flooding.

It was considered a box-office flop at the time and its German producer, the UFA (Universumfilm Aktiengesellschaft) had to be bailed out by U.S. interests. Brigitte Helm served as the film’s real Maria (an oppressed working girl) and as the evil robotic doppelganger of herself, cinema’s first android or robot.


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) was founded, with 36 members (composed of actors, directors, writers, technicians, and producers). The organization’s first president was Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and its first awards ceremony was held in 1929, to honor films of 1927 and 1928.

The prison comedy silent film The Second Hundred Years (1927) marked the official debut of “Stan” Laurel and “Ollie” Hardy as a comedy duo, although they had previously worked together for about 10 years. It was the first of Hal Roach’s comedy series that paired and featured the two as a screen team.

British director Hitchcock released his third film, the suspense film The Lodger (1927) (aka The Lodger: A Story of The London Fog), a tale about an “Avenger” based upon the Jack the Ripper serial killings. Hitchcock’s first credited and completed feature film The Pleasure Garden (1925, UK) was released in the US in 1926, but delayed for release in the UK until 1927 after The Lodger’s success. The film was notable as being Hitchcock’s first suspense film, his earliest film that survived in its entirety, and the first with a trademark cameo appearance.

The Hays Office issued Production Code Memorandum, “Don’ts and Be Carefuls,” a code of decency telling the studios eleven taboos or things to avoid in the “Don’ts” section (and twenty-six items in the “Be Carefuls” section), including profanity, ‘licentious or suggestive nudity,’ illegal traffic in drugs, inference of sex perversion, white slavery, miscegenation, sex hygiene and venereal diseases, actual childbirth, children’s sex organs, ridicule of clergy, and willful offense to any nation, race or creed.

Grauman’s Chinese Theater opened in Hollywood, California (on Hollywood Boulevard), with the premiere of Cecil B. DeMille’s King of Kings (1927). It soon became famed for hand and footprints of various film stars and celebrities. The first stars to leave their imprints in the concrete were: Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (April 30), Norma Talmadge (May 18), Norma Shearer (August 1), Harold Lloyd (November 21), and William S. Hart (November 28).

MGM’s mystery-horror film London After Midnight (1927), a “lost film,” was director Tod Browning’s first Hollywood vampire film, with star Lon Chaney (“the man of a thousand faces”) in the role of Professor Edward C. Burke of Scotland Yard – a sunken and dark-eyed vampirish character. (The film existed until 1967, but then was destroyed in a massive MGM vault fire) The silent film was one of the first horror films directed by Tod Browning, four years before his vampire classic Dracula (1931), starring Bela Lugosi. It was notable for being one of Chaney’s last features before his death in 1930. Chaney and Browning had collaborated on ten feature films over a decade. Chaney became the first American horror-film star and Hollywood’s first great character actor.

London After Midnight made an estimated $721,000 from a production budget of $152,000, the highest-grossing film from Browning and Chaney. Chaney died early at the age of 47 of throat cancer; he would have been Tod Browning’s first choice to play the lead in his 1931 Dracula, replacing Bela Lugosi.

In the early 2000s, on the 75th anniversary of the film, an attempt at a restoration of the film (from 200 stills and the film’s script), with a duration of 45 minutes, was aired on the Turner Classic Movie channel.

In 1927, the average cost of movie ticket was 25 cents.

All-American half-back football star Johnny Mack Brown, a future star of B-westerns for over two decades, signed a contract with MGM, thus becoming the first sports star to sustain a career in pictures.

Director Victor Fleming’s The Way of All Flesh (1927) starred Best Actor-winning Emil Jannings (a German actor) as an early 1900s Milwaukee bank clerk named August Shilling. After the happily-married family man was robbed during a Chicago bank business trip, when he was seduced by a flirtatious blonde (Phyllis Haver) and her hired goon, he was left for dead. The mangled corpse of the crooked saloon owner, her accomplice who was hit by a train, was mis-identified as Schilling, and he was regarded as a dead hero who perished while defending himself. For years, the shamed, memory-suffering Schiller, now a ruined, aging and homeless derelict, was doomed to hide out from his family for 20 years.

Emil Jannings

During the first Academy Awards ceremony, Jannings was awarded the first Best Actor Award, for a film that was the only winning film in Academy history to be missing or lost. Jannings also won Best Actor for a second film: The Last Command (1928). The two films were his first two American performances. He received his Best Actor award early – due to the fact that he was going home to Europe before the ceremony – making him the first no-show winner. However, it didn’t matter, as the category’s winners had been announced three months before the ceremony took place.

Paramount’s film It (1927) opened, with an early appearance by Gary Cooper and starlet Clara Bow as resourceful lingerie department store salesgirl Betty Lou Spence who fell for her boss (Cyrus Waltham Jr.). She soon became known as the “It Girl.” “IT” meant unashamed sex appeal, hedonism and liberation. Bow, a saucy working class girl from Brooklyn, who had struck it big as a silent film actress, had already been dubbed “The Brooklyn Bonfire” and “The Hottest Jazz Baby in Films.” One of her most memorable lines in the film was: “So you’re one of those Minute Men, the minute you meet a girl you think you can kiss her!” The film was also noted as having the earliest known use of a zoom lens in a US feature film, in its opening shot.

Leo the Lion, the famed African lion mascot of Hollywood’s MGM studio, was flown as a transcontinental publicity stunt non-stop from Southern California (near San Diego) to New York, in a plane similar to Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis which had made its historic flight across the Atlantic a few months earlier. The plane crashed in Arizona near the town of Gisela, in a Tonto National Forest canyon. Six days after the crash, when the pilot went for help, the still-caged Leo was rescued from the plane’s wreckage, alive and well, but hungry and thirsty. The mascot was shipped back to Los Angeles by truck.

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