Weary River (1929): Oscar Nominated Drama, Directed by Frank Lloyd, Starring Barthelmess and Betty Compson

This Oscar nominated romantic prison drama, directed by Frank Lloyd, stars Richard Barthelmess, Betty Compson, and William Holden.

Produced and distributed by First National Pictures, the film is part-talkie and part-silent hybrid, made at the transition from silent to sound movies.

The film received a Best Director nomination in for Lloyd, who was acknowledged in the same year for three films (he was also nominated for Drag), but won for The Divine Lady.

Based on a story by Courtney Riley Cooper, the film centers on a gangster who goes to prison and finds salvation through music while serving his time.

After his release, he falls back into his previous lifestyle but is ultimately saved by a woman’s love and a friendly warden.

While character sings and plays the piano in the film, Barthelmess himself did not sing or play the piano. Frank Churchill played the piano and Johnny Murray sang into a microphone, while the actor lip-synced.

Jerry Larrabee (Barthelmess) is framed by rival gangster Spadoni (Louis Natheaux) and sent to prison, where he is befriended by a kind and understanding warden (William Holden). Through the warden’s patient influence, Jerry becomes interested in music and forms a prison band, broadcasting over the radio. Jerry’s singing deeply moves his radio listeners and soon Jerry is given a pardon by the governor.

Jerry pursues a singing career in vaudeville, billed as the Master of Melody, but whispers of “Convict!” from the audience disturb his act.

Moving from job to job, Jerry is haunted by his past. With no hope of succeeding in music, Jerry returns to his gang and takes up with former sweetheart Alice Gray (Compson).

Just before his final confrontation with Spadoni, Alice calls the warden, who arrives in time to save Jerry, who goes on to become a radio star and marry Alice.