If you happened upon this blog and noticed my rather schizophrenic post wherein I noted my plans for the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (TCMFF) prior to the event, you would have seen that Frank Capra’s, 1929, The Donovan Affair was not my first choice in its time slot. Luckily, fate intervened and I changed my mind at the last moment, making that the best 2013 TCMFF decision I made.
I started my TCMFF Saturday with a celebration, Bugs Bunny’s 75th Birthday Bash, one that left me with a huge smile on my face. Although I was tempted to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s, The Lady Vanishes (1938), which was my intended choice, the Bugs Bunny high propelled me to take a chance on a film I’d never seen, Capra’s 1929 film. I’m thinking Bugs’ adventurous personality rubbed off, aided by my curiosity about the Capra film’s audio having been lost and the fact the dialogue and sound effects would be performed by live actors and musicians. So, into the Egyptian theater I went without a clue as to what I’d see. And what I saw and heard were wonderful.
The Donovan Affair was Columbia Pictures’ first “talkie,” billed as a “100% all dialogue picture” and was based on a 1926 Broadway hit by Pulitzer Prize-winning Owen Davis. The film’s screening at the TCMFF was the first time the film
was seen in Los Angeles in over eighty years. The presentation was produced by Bruce Goldstein, director of repertory programming at New York’s Film Forum, who also performed as a voice-actor at the special presentation, along with several other actors and musicians to recreate the lost soundtrack – dialogue and sound effects. TCM called this a “unique way of ‘restoring’ an early talkie,” and indeed it resulted in a very special afternoon at the movies.
As noted in the TCMFF programming handbook, “Goldstein searched the nation for a script of the film, finally finding about 60 percent of the lines in the records of the New York State Board of Film Censors. Working with actors capable of capturing the rhythms of 1020s stage stars, he reconstructed the rest of the dialogue through careful study of the film’s stars’ lip movements.”
The Donovan Affair is a humorous murder mystery that centers on a murder committed during a swank dinner party while the lights are out. The film is shot in a manner typical of many early talking films – as if on a stage wherein much of the action takes place in a room or two. But Capra still manages to capture unique characterizations and makes the film entertaining and lively – once the murder happens, there’s never a dull moment. I laughed quite a bit, I must say, as I watched the rather bumbling Inspector Killian, played by Jack Holt, (who reminded me of Don Adams’, Maxwell Smart of the 1960s TV series, Get Smart or a certain Inspector Clouseau) fumble his way through trying to solve the murder(s). Particularly humorous were the actors interjecting sounds and commentaries of characters that were off-screen, reacting to something said in the central action on-screen – grunts, hmm-mmms, and the like. All cleverly done with great timing, enriching the experience. Worth noting also is that the syncing of the live voices with the visuals was perfect, noticeable because the print of the film was great. Take a look at the film’s full cast and crew here.
As I watched the film and listened to all the sound effects, which included thunder and the dramatic music that accompanied it I was also reminded of old-time radio shows, of which I’m a big fan. It had that “feel” to it in many ways. Two of my favorite classic mediums combined – pretty much a can’t miss. The best of both worlds.
Anyway, I was so taken by this production that on the last night of the TCMFF I saw Michael Badalucco, one of the voice actors at The Donovan Affair presentation as he stepped into Grauman’s Chinese Theater for the screening of Buster Keaton’s, The General. I thought It would be nice to congratulate him and express my admiration of what I had seen the previous day. As I shook Mr. Badalucco’s hand, he quickly guided me toward the man next to him, producer Bruce Goldstein and said, “you have to thank him for that.” So I did. Then, as I was congratulating Mr. Goldstein on the wonderful performance he said, “Oh no, thank TCM for that.” And so I am now – by way of this post – extending a heartfelt THANK YOU to Turner Classic Movies. The network’s reverence for film never ceases to amaze me. Among all the wonderful screenings I saw, the performance of The Donovan Affair shined brightest. It was wonderful stuff and a film experience I will never forget – made possible by my home for the classics.
From the special screening of The Donovan Affair as performed at the TCMFF on Saturday, April 27, 2013:
A full recap of my TCMFF experience is forthcoming, quite late by blogging standards but I’ve been busy taking in the sights and sounds of Los Angeles. Sights and sounds, I might add, that include much more of classic Hollywood and movie fare by way of museums and tours. Truly, the stuff that dreams are made of.