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Much has been said about John Gilbert's career ending with the advent of talkies.  Some have said that his voice did not match the Great Lover image of his silent movies.  Others have claimed the reason is the rather primitive sound equipment of the day.  I recently watched "Downstairs", his first talkie that I have seen.  I personally did not understand what all the fuss was about.  I was not bothered at all by his voice.  Any thoughts by you movie experts out there?

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Yes, he's been fine in all of the talkies I have seen him do.

I really enjoyed his performance in FAST WORKERS (1933) and in QUEEN CHRISTINA (1933).

I think this career ended (correction: his career at MGM ended) because of studio politics-- he was on the outs with Louis Mayer. Mayer was looking for an excuse to get rid of him and exaggerated the problems about his voice supposedly not appealing to audiences of the sound era. A lot of rubbish quite frankly.

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6 hours ago, TopBilled said:

Yes, he's been fine in all of the talkies I have seen him do.

I really enjoyed his performance in FAST WORKERS (1933) and in QUEEN CHRISTINA (1933).

I think this career ended (correction: his career at MGM ended) because of studio politics-- he was on the outs with Louis Mayer. Mayer was looking for an excuse to get rid of him and exaggerated the problems about his voice supposedly not appealing to audiences of the sound era. A lot of rubbish quite frankly.

People who have actually seen HIS GLORIOUS NIGHT (1929) say there's nothing wrong with Gilbert's voice. All I ask the opportunity to watch this film and assess it myself. (TCM programmers, if you're lurking...?)

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I think John Gilbert would have had better roles at Paramount or Columbia (in the 1930's.)

In my opinion, Mayer was ungrateful toward Gilbert; Gilbert helped make MGM what it was in the second half of the 1920s. He also wanted to write and direct more films, but Mayer didn't want to help him flourish.

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1 hour ago, Polly of the Precodes said:

People who have actually seen HIS GLORIOUS NIGHT (1929) say there's nothing wrong with Gilbert's voice. All I ask the opportunity to watch this film and assess it myself. (TCM programmers, if you're lurking...?)

I am curious about this film as well.

20 minutes ago, sagebrush said:

I think John Gilbert would have had better roles at Paramount or Columbia (in the 1930's.)

In my opinion, Mayer was ungrateful toward Gilbert; Gilbert helped make MGM what it was in the second half of the 1920s. He also wanted to write and direct more films, but Mayer didn't want to help him flourish.

Incidentally, John Gilbert's last film-- THE CAPTAIN HATES THE SEA (1934)-- was produced at Columbia. He was fourth-billed.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Captain_Hates_the_Sea

I agree that he would have been better served at Paramount. But Mayer probably blackballed him.

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     I found nothing wrong with his voice. There have been many reasons stated thru the years for his downfall.  It sounds like he was bipolar with all his mood swings. I always thought that he would have made a great Nick Charles (no offense to William Powell). I could imagine him in sophisticated  comedy with a martini in hand. 

     I would also love to see "His Glorious Night" on TCM. It's been restored. 

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I have seen, I think every John Gilbert talking movie except for "His Glorious Night", which for some reason is rarely if ever shown on TCM.

 

There are extant reviews of "His Glorious Night" which actually do call out Gilbert's voice as being too high-pitched, but if you watch his films there's nothing wrong with his voice.  A long time ago I read a book called "The Speed of Sound" and someone said that Gilbert sounded a lot like Joseph Cotten, and that's a pretty good comparison, Cotten's register but with more of a middle American voice instead of Cotten's drawl.

 

I think it was a lot of factors.  Some of the more outlandish stories about him and Mayer are probably nonsense--c'mon, Mayer sabotaged the recording?--but it's indisputable that Mayer couldn't stand him.  His films were bad.  That may just have been bad luck but by all reports "His Glorious Night" was bad.  I've seen his second talking film "Devotion" and it was straight-up terrible.  "Way for a Sailor" is just mediocre and by then it was already starting to be too late.  Most of the rest of his MGM catalogue made before his contract expired is just mediocre, and essentially *minor*, like the studio had already thrown in the towel and was just sticking Gilbert in whatever scraps were lying around.

 

Of the Gilbert talkies the only one I'd really recommend is "Downstairs", which is terrific.  Famously Gilbert wrote the story himself and plays against type as an amoral cad of a chauffeur.  Seduces a heavyset maid and robs her of her savings.  It's a good movie.  "Queen Christina" is pretty good too but as everybody on this forum doubtlessly knows that was after he'd been let go by MGM and Greta Garbo insisted on her old boyfriend as her co-star.  "The Captain Hates the Sea" is OK and Gilbert is good in it but it's basically a poor man's "Grand Hotel".

 

Gilbert is always singled out as the tragic character because he drank himself to death, but the fact is that the transition to talkies wrecked a lot of careers.  How many A-listers kept going?  Garbo.  Ronald Colman.  If you want to be generous, Joan Crawford or Douglas Fairbanks Jr or Gary Cooper who hit the big time at the tail end of silents.  Not very much otherwise.  Recently I was reading an entry by the guy who writes the Immortal Ephemera blog and he compared Gilbert to Richard Barthelmess.  No one ever said Barthelmess had a high voice, and Barthelmess didn't have a studio boss that hated him.  Barthelmess also had a big hit right out of the gate with "The Dawn Patrol", which is said to be one of those scripts that Mayer stopped Gilbert from getting.  It seems he wasn't an alcoholic like Gilbert.  And yet still within a couple of years he was done as a leading man.

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4 hours ago, Vidor said:

I have seen, I think every John Gilbert movie except for "His Glorious Night", which for some reason is rarely if ever shown on TCM.

Rights issues. It's based on a play, the rights to which were sold on to Paramount to make A BREATH OF SCANDAL (1960). The Library of Congress has the only known surviving print, which has been preserved and has been loaned out for festival screenings. TCM would have to license the broadcast rights, which may take more effort and/or money than TCM programmers may want to spend.

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47 minutes ago, Polly of the Precodes said:

The Library of Congress has the only known surviving print, which has been preserved and has been loaned out for festival screenings. TCM would have to license the broadcast rights, which may take more effort and/or money than TCM programmers may want to spend.

Would TCM be able to rent it for one of their Classic Film Festivals?

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I think the problem with "His Glorious Night" from what little I have seen can probably be left at the feet of the director, Lionel Barrymore. He should have known that Gilbert would look ridiculous saying the lines he was given when wooing Catherine Dale Owen. What's worse she just stands there like she's completely bored. I just watched another Barrymore directed film - The Unholy Night. It's actually on youtube.  It is very unevenly directed. Actors will give long speeches while all the others just wait their turn to give long speeches. Then some actors will slide into silent era pantomime with exaggerated gestures. And it is really too bad, because it is a great little story. Not long afterwards,  Barrymore decided his talents were best used in front of the camera, and he stopped directing. 

Probably the best thing I saw Gilbert do in talking film was The Phantom of Paris. I think the lead role was going to Lon Chaney, but with his death it went to Gilbert. 

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Yup, part of the perfect storm that hit Gilbert in 1929-30 was that both of his first two talking movies were directed by Lionel Barrymore, who just wasn't cut out to be a director.  I've read some sources stating that Barrymore had a pretty serious morphine addiction at the time which wouldn't have helped.

 

"The Phantom of Paris" is pretty good.  That's the thing with the Gilbert talking films, after the first two that were genuinely bad (at least I'm assuming so with HGN), most of the rest weren't terrible.  They were just minor.  

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