I don't have all the words right now but this film is a work of art.
The best films of this genre always show a path and provide a takeaway for being a better person.
All of these films share one commonality, that being a kind of emotional center that humanizes a cast of monsters.
Director Bryan Foy, of the famous family, directed this, supposedly the first all-talking feature film."All talking," although there were inter-titles used by way of narration and introductions, and very non-intrusively.Foy went on to be the head of the Warner Brothers B picture unit and made some very good movies."Lights of New York" is by no means a perfect movie, especially to viewers more used to camera mobility and varied angles. But for its time and as a pioneer in sound production, it is remarkable.The actors were understated, a style that was not exactly in vogue until later. In fact, Jimmy Cagney mentions in his autobiography how he and some of the others of the Warner stock company were praised for that very characteristic.Since even Warners, the sound pioneer, was still learning how to use microphones and how to avoid sounds from everything but the actors, Foy deserves all the plaudits he can get for this effort.The story is about small-towners conned by slicksters from New York and tricked into involvement with bootleggers -- who are also killers. (Alcohol prohibition caused crime, a well-known phenomenon -- well-known today. Yet that lesson has not yet been applied to drug prohibition, despite the fact that this country has the highest incarceration rate and numbers in the world, mostly because of drug laws. We need someone to sing "When Will They Ever Learn?")Helene Costello plays the girl who left the small town earlier to get into show biz, and she was a truly lovely young woman. Apparently she had personal problems that seemed to contribute to her not making more movies, and I think that a loss for us, as well as for her.Most of the rest of the cast, with the particular exception of Eugene Palette and the slight exception of Wheeler Oakman, never achieved much by way of fame, but all were acceptable or better in this pioneering movie.Leonard Maltin, who knows a little about movies, rates it 2.5 out of four stars, which proves he's pretty smart because he almost agrees with me."Lights of New York" might be historically interesting more than purely entertaining, but it is that and I hope movie lovers will get a chance to see it. I believe it is on DVD.
Lights of New York was the first all-talking feature film. There had been, of course, The Jazz Singer, released in Oct. 1927 as the first feature film incorporating synchronized dialog. However, this film released in July 1928 is virtually unremembered for its place in film history. It had started out as a short, but gradually more was tacked on until - clocking in at 58 minutes - it accidentally became the first all-talking feature film. It opened to a grind house run and to Warner Bros. surprise, made over a million dollars. That was good money back in 1928.The plot is quite simple. Two country barbers naively buy into a barber shop on Broadway that fronts as a speak-easy for "The Hawk", a gangster. When they learn the truth they can't afford to get out, because the younger barber, Eddie, has all of his mother's money tied up in the place. Kitty is the younger barber's girlfriend, and gangster Hawk (Wheeler Oakman) has an eye for turning in his older girlfriend (Gladys Brockwell) for a newer model - chorus girl Kitty(Helene Costello). A cop is killed while trying to stop the Hawk's men from unloading a shipment of bootleg liquor, and the Hawk sees it as an opportunity to frame Eddie, thus getting Kitty for himself.This early talkie is loads of fun for the enthusiast of these pioneering works. Sure, the plot is elementary and the dialog stilted, but there is something you don't see much of in early talkies - background musical scoring. Vitaphone had originally been used for this very purpose, and here they are still using it for musical accompaniment along with the dialog. And there are singing and dancing numbers! The scenes in Hawk's nightclub are used as an opportunity to show off what films could never do before - musical numbers. There is even a wild-eyed emcee with some heavy makeup left over from the silent era that is a hoot to watch.Vitaphone could not go outdoors at this point due to the static camera booths, so the scene in the park between the two lovers Eddie and Kitty is simulated - and cheaply. The greenery looks like something out of an Ed Wood movie or perhaps a high school production of "Our Town". Gladys Brockwell, as the Hawk's castoff girlfriend, delivers her lines with punch. She's a real trooper considering what lines she has to deliver. To the Hawk - "So you think you can have any chicken you want and throw me back in the deck!". Huh? mixed metaphors anyone? And then there are her final lines "I've lived, and I've loved, and I've lost!" Did someone get paid to write this dialog? Brockwell was making a good success of her talkie career after scoring some triumphs in silent films (the evil sister in "Seventh Heaven"), when a fatal car accident cut her career short.Then there is Eugene Palette - the older of the two barbers in our story. His frog voice, natural delivery of lines, and cuddly appearance gave him a long career as a character actor usually appearing as a put-upon family man/businessman with a gruff exterior and heart of gold. In fact, Mr. Palette is the only member of this cast who still has a notable career in films just three years after this movie is released.Finally there is the question of "where is that microphone hidden?" Microphones were still stationary at this point, and it's fun to figure out where they've hidden it. There is one famous scene, though, where everybody can pretty much figure it out. Hawk is in his office talking to his two henchman - who seem to comprehend as slowly as they talk - about "taking Eddie for a ride". If you watch this scene you'd swear the phone on the desk is a character in this film. It's front and center during the whole conversation. The microphone is likely planted in the phone.There is something heroic about these pioneers flying blind in the face of the new technology of sound. You have silent actors who are accustomed to using pantomime for expression, vaudevillians who know how to play to a live audience but don't know how to make the same impression on a Vitaphone camera booth, and you have dialog writers either trying to write conversation as compactly as they did title cards or filling up films with endless chatter. Check this one out. It is not boring, moves fast, and is loads of fun if you know what to look for. And no, I don't expect this one to ever be out on Blu-Ray, but I hope that the folks at Warner Brothers add it to the Warner Archive soon so everyone can see it.
LIGHTS OF NEW YORK was the first "all-taking" feature film, coming in at a brisk 57 minutes and directed by Bryan Foy (of the famous vaudeville family).The story has two dopey barbers (Cullen Landis, Eugene Palette) yearning for a chance at "big city life" and getting involved with gangsters and bootleg booze. One of the guys gets framed for the murder of a cop but is saved at the last minute by a gun moll (Gladys Brockwell).Much of the story takes place in a night club called The Night Hawk, which is run by a crook named Hawk (Wheeler Oakman) who has his eye on a pretty chorine (Helene Costello) who is the girl friend of Landis. Costello gets to do a brief dance, and we hear Harry Downing (made up to resemble Ted Lewis) sing "At Dawning) in his best Al Jolson style.The acting ranges from good (Palette and Brockwell) to awful (Oakman). A couple of the actors muff their lines but then keep right on with the scene. As noted elsewhere this was intended to be a short 2-reeler and was made on a shoestring budget. Yet the sound quality is surprisingly good, the voices all register clearly, and there is a neat cinematic touch in the silhouette death.The film was a box-office smash even though it was shown as a silent film where theaters were not wired for the new sound technology. No one expected this little film to gross an amazing $1.3 million. It briefly made stars of Costello and Landis and certainly launched Palette on his long career as a star character actor.Co-stars include Mary Carr as the mother, Robert Elliott as the detective, Eddie Kane as the street cop, and Tom Dugan as a thug.
Fascinating and amusingly bad, Lights of New York is the first all talkie feature and one that almost never saw the light of day.
Two naive barbers (Eddie and Gene) from out of town get involved with bootleggers and end up fronting a speak. When a cop is shot by one of the bootleggers the police start to close in, and the Hawk (who shot the officer) decides to pin the murder on Eddie instructing his henchman to "take him for a ride". But it's the Hawk himself who takes the bullet in a twist that will surprise few.Shot in one week at a cost of $23,000, "Lights" was originally meant as a two reeler but Foy took advantage of Jack Warner's absence to extend it to six. When Warner discovered this he ordered Foy to cut it back to the original short. Only when an independent exhibitor offered $25k for the film, did Warners actually look at the film, which went on to make a staggering $1.3 million.Seen now this is an extremely hokey piece, with acting that ranges from the passable (Eugene Pallette) to trance like (Eddie's Granny in a particularly risible scene) and much of the playing is at the level of vaudeville. Since it's an early talkie (4 part-talkies preceded it) that's about all the characters do, and very slowly at that. The script feels improvised, visual style is non existent (apart from the shooting scene done in silhouette) and scenes grind on interminably. Title cards are intercut which redundantly announce characters and locales.Despite all this "Lights" is a compelling experience, as we watch actors and crew struggling with the alien technology, and changing cinema for ever.Catch it if you can