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1930's female accent in film


FloydDBarber
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I am watching the film "Oil For the Lamps of China" and the lead female actress, Josephine Hutchinson, has this artificial sounding British accent.

When I looked her up, she was actually born in Seattle in 1903.

 

I have noticed that many women in the 1930's had this sort of British sounding accent and the male actors rarely had it. Certainly not Pat O'Brien, Spencer Tracy or James Cagney.

 

Could this have been the accent that actresses adopted for the stage that carried over to film? Could it have been that this film in particular, from 1935, was an early talkie and voice had not been fully developed for film?

 

It really confuses me, because few actresses of today have this accent unless they are trained stage actresses, like Julie Harris. I would say that Jane Wyatt also had the accent but she was from an upper class family.

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In spite of the actors you mention, there were several male actors who spoke with that "British" inflection. Fred may have hit it on the head. I could equally counter with JOAN BLONDELL, JEAN HARLOW and MARJORIE MAIN not speaking that way either.

 

Sepiatone

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Well Joan Fontaine isn't a good example since she was born to British parents. She likely picked up some accent based on how her parents talked.

 

Also both Joan and Olivia went to diction school. While this was in America (CA), often these type of schools teach 'old English' type of speech. (well except in the 80s where they taught valley girl speak!).

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It seems to me that actors in some 1940s British films have more of a strong British accent that I have trouble understanding, yet I've heard some of the same British actors in films that were clearly designed for both British and American audiences, who are speaking clearly and with more of a mid-Atlantic accent, so us Americans can understand them.

 

I'd like to get opinions about these two movies. See if anyone notices any difference. The accents in the first one, The Divorce of Lady X, seem much more British to me than the same actors speaking in the 2nd film, which is Wuthering Heights:

 

I think this one was designed mainly for a British audience:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwfNCx7pF8E

 

While I think this one was designed for both an American and British audience:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igaRpWIoFaw

 

Is this my imagination or do you think The Divorce of Lady X might have been designed mainly for a British audience?

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James is correct. From Wikipedia: "Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland, known professionally as Joan Fontaine, is an Anglo-American actress. Born in Japan to British parents, de Havilland and her older sister Olivia de Havilland moved to California in 1919."

 

Edited by: FloydDBarber on Nov 8, 2013 2:22 PM

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I assume that British actors that moved to the states took classes to mellow out their accent so that American audiences could better understand what they were saying.

 

While there was only a one year difference between the two films that type of training (or just living in CA instead of being around mostly British people), can make a difference.

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>I find that British actors are generally most difficult to understand in British films with all-British casts.

 

Yes, me too. What is the worst is when there are five or six of them talking rapidly in a group. I just can't follow what they are saying.

 

But I've noticed that some of the same actors can be understood in some British films if they know the film will be distributed in the US. So, the same actors can do the two different accents. Apparently they can understand each other when they talk fast and in the most local London English. But I can't.

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I can understand every British Isles actor in films or on tv.

 

But I do listen intently to dialogue and am not hard of hearing.

 

Why I can hear an ant walk across a newspaper in the room next to me.

 

But one has to listen to inflections, particularly if one is watching something with some major dialects being bandied about like in that PBS show, "All Creatures Great and Small".

 

Frankly, I find it less difficult to understand any British actors than some American ones who are illiterate and mumble and speak in guttural tones and sound like dogs in heat.

 

And no, I'm not talking about darling Marlon, who only spoke like that when it fit the part, but more recent people on film.

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>It makes me wonder, though: what do Americans sound like to the English?

 

I've never heard any of them say they can't understand us or our sound films (except, of course, for obscure slang expressions).

 

There are some British films I just can't watch because I can't understand them, especially when they are talking fast. It sould like no language I've ever heard.

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Many upper-class Americans from the mid-Atlantic states through New England retained traces of an upper-class English accent from colonial days. Katharine Hepburn had it. New Jersey had a governor in the 1980's, Tom Kean, who had it. FDR had an accent like that (although his ancestry was mostly upper-class Dutch).

 

I have to think that Hollywood preferred English actors with light accents, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Montgomery, and Walter Pidgeon.

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Many upper-class Americans from the mid-Atlantic states through New England retained traces of an upper-class English accent from colonial days. Katharine Hepburn had it. New Jersey had a governor in the 1980's, Tom Kean, who had it. FDR had an accent like that (although his ancestry was mostly upper-class Dutch).

 

Actually, there's a different theory on that. The English accent as we know it (with the non-rhotic "R" as in "cah" instead of "car,") did not develop until after the Revolutionary War. At the time the British colonized North America, their accent was closer to that still heard in the New Jersey and Philadephia areas.

 

It wasn't until after the war that non-rhotic speech spread among the English. As a result, Americans in port cities that still had close trading ties with the British (Boston, Richmond, Charleston, Savannah,) adopted non-rhotic speech. When industrialization shifted power away from the port cities, non-rhotic speech in the US fell out of favor.

 

So actually, the General American accent is closer to the pre-19th century British accent than the way the English speak today. So all of those historical films where actors speak in clipped Received Pronunciation are inaccurate!

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faceinthecrowd wrote:

>There are many British-made films where I keep the English subtitles on.

>It reminds me of the saying, "If they were any more English I wouldn't be >able to understand them at all."

>It makes me wonder, though: what do Americans sound like to the >English?

 

That is not a bad idea, especially if the accents are regional, like Liverpudlian (is that the right word?) Scottish or Irish. I remember it was about 20 minutes into The Full Monty and even longer into Waking Ned Devine before I could stop concentrating and start enjoying the movie.

 

As to your last question, probably laaaackk thii-iiiisss, yaaa'aaalll. LOL

 

Edited by: traceyk65 on Nov 10, 2013 4:14 PM (Ugh. When are we going to get the "quote original" button back???)

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