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

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

Weary River
Weary River Poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

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


Photo: Frank Lloyd

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 he is ultimately saved by a woman’s love and a friendly warden.

While the 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.



Weary River



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, and he goes on to become a radio star and marry Alice.

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


Richard Barthelmess as Jerry Larrabee
Betty Compson as Alice Gray
William Holden as Warden
Louis Natheaux as Spadoni
George Stone as Blackie
Raymond Turner as Elevator Boy
Gladden James as Manager
Johnny Murray as Jerry Larrabee’s singing voice (uncredited)


Directed by Frank Lloyd
Produced by Richard A. Rowland
Written by Paul Perez (titles); Thomas J. Geraghty (dialogue – uncredited)
Screenplay by Bradley King (screen version); Story by Courtney Riley Cooper
Cinematography Ernie Haller
Alvin Knechtel (special photography)
Edited by Edward Schroeder, James Gibbon

Production company: First National Pictures

Distributed by First National Pictures

Release date: February 10, 1929 (US)

Running time: 86 minutes (8 reels)


 TCM showed the movie on May 1, 2021