20th/FOX honcho Darryl Zanuck invested more than the usual effort on this luxe TechniColor production about some fictional Hollywood pioneers. The old studio buildings are lovingly brought to life; a scene from Warners' Talkie breakthru, THE JAZZ SINGER/’27, is recreated with uncanny accuracy; a faux Mack Sennett one-reel comedy successfully mimics the old style, and even gets a few laughs. Well, why not? Zanuck got his start @ Warners in the silent days and worked his way thru the Talkie revolution*; he hired the 1939 Al Jolson to recreate the Al Jolson of 1927; and that film-within-a-film comedy short was directed not by the film’s megger Irving Cummings, but by silent-comedy short specialist Mal St. Clair. What Zanuck didn’t do was take the trouble to work up a framing story that wasn’t a hackneyed blob of soft-soap & hooey. Don Ameche makes a most unconvincing artistic film director and Alice Faye, without a song to sing, is more good sport than slapstick comedienne. Thankfully, the first half of the film features Buster Keaton in his best outing after years of Hollywood purgatory. A lot of misinformation on the silent era (and on Keaton) can be traced to this film, but it certainly helped the great man gain career traction & visibility. And check the outtakes on this DVD to see Buster break out in a big toothy grin when a stunt goes awry.
*Hollywood lore says that Zanuck was the man who fired Rin-Tin-Tin when The Talkies began because, ' . . . as you know, the dog doesn't talk.'
READ ALL ABOUT IT: Scott Eyman's THE SPEED OF SOUND: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution gets just about everything right that so many film histories get wrong. (Though, oddly, it skips over Alice Guy-Blache's early sound shorts made in France two decades before 'The Talkies.')