This is the eighth in a series of examinations of legends from movies and the people who make them and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the previous seven.
MOVIE LEGEND: John Gilbert’s voice translated so poorly to “talkies” that his career was ruined.
STATUS: Apparently False
As established in a previous installment of Movie Legends Revealed, John Gilbert was one of the major male sex symbols of the silent movie era.
However, once films began having dialogue in them, Gilbert’s star waned, and by the time he died of a heart attack in 1936 (not even 40 years old) his time as a matinee idol was over.
For years, the story goes that in his first “talkie” (a film with spoken dialogue), His Glorious Night, in 1929, his light tenor voice made him sound like a squeaky kid, and not the red-blooded Lothario his fans all expected him to be.
It is certainly true that fans DID laugh at Gilbert’s performance in His Glorious Night (heck, it was even the headline in Variety!), and it may be true that they thought that his voice was squeaky or what have you.
However, what is also true is that Gilbert’s voice was NOT bad for sound films.
Heck, the very same year, he appeared in The Hollywood Revue of 1929 and did a skit with Norma Shearer.
His voice sounded fine in that film, and in all the other films he did before his death.
So it is much more likely that the problem was due to faulty recording than to Gilbert’s voice. That’s the exact theory that the recent film, The Dawn of Sound: How the Movies Learned to Talk, offered up, that using proper recording techniques, Gilbert’s voice would have sounded fine.
There are conspiracy theories that MGM head Louis B. Mayer and Gilbert hated each other, and that appears to be true, but I don’t really buy that Mayer would have intentionally screwed with Gilbert’s voice during His Glorious Night. At the same time, I don’t have a hard time believing that Mayer got a kick out of Gilbert’s dismay over the reaction to the film.
Really, as others have noted, it seems more likely that His Glorious Night was mocked because of the story, the directing and the dialogue than anything else. It was like an early SILENT film more than anything, and likely far too foolish for the movie audiences of the late 20s/early 30s.
I think it is far more likely that Gilbert’s star just faded naturally, as audiences DO tend to be a pretty fickle lot. And yes, I will not rule out that the sound of his voice in His Glorious Night might have moved things along a bit, but just remember – whatever his problems were, Gilbert’s speaking voice sounded fine on film (he DID do ten “talkies” and no one ever said a thing about the others – just His Glorious Night).
MOVIE LEGEND: Die Hard was a screen adaptation of the sequel of a book that also was adapted into a film.
Die Hard has had a very interesting history when it comes to the novels and screenplays that the film and its ensuing sequels have been based on.
Roderick Thorp’s 1966 novel The Detective ended up playing a significant part in film history, and not just for its later connection to the Die Hard series.
The book, which is about private detective Joe Leland being hired to investigate the death of a woman’s husband only to find that the man’s death tied into a murder that Leland investigated while on the police force, became a best-seller.
Robert Evans purchased the rights to the book, and he used that fact to parlay said rights into a role as a producer on the film adaptation.
The film starred Frank Sinatra (now as a police detective, and the plot was slightly different – but the main thing about the book that the film captured was the FEEL of the story – the book was noted for its darkly realistic take on detectives and police and the movie followed suit) and its success led to Evans’ highly successful career as a film producer.
Thirteen years after his first book starring Joe Leland, Thorp wrote a sequel, 1979′s Nothing Lasts Forever.
The tale was of a now older Leland visiting his adult daughter at her big fancy corporate office for the company Christmas party, hoping to reconcile. As the two are reconciled, however, German terrorists attack the building and Leland is forced to take them down one by one, helped by radio contact with an outside cop named Al Powell. In the end, his daughter, Stephanie Leland Gennaro is dragged to her death by the terrorist leader Anton Gruber, after he grasps to the gold watch Stephanie was given by her boss (we learn in the book that the company IS taking advantage of people and Stephanie is not exactly a great person, and she is killed by her greed, basically – symbolized by the watch).
About a decade later, the rights to the novel were purchased with the intent on making a sequel to the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Commando.
Those plans fell through, and instead, it was turned into the film, Die Hard, with the hero changing from Joe Leland to John McClane, and the daughter becoming the wife (and the movie having a happier ending).
Interestingly enough, the next THREE Die Hard films ALL were based on projects that were not intended to be Die Hard.
First, Walter Wager’s novel 58 Minutes became the Die Hard sequel, Die Hard 2…
Next, Jonathan Hensleigh’s screenplay, tentatively titled Simon Says, became Die Hard With a Vengeance…
And even THEN, it was first considered for Lethal Weapon 4!!!
Finally, David Marconi’s screenplay, WW3.com, was turned into Live Free or Die Hard!!
I once saw a special on the Fox Movie Channel, where the President of Fox posited that this shows how great a character John McClane is, that he can be dropped into stories that were not about him and still make them work.
I am unsure if I subscribe to that train of thought.
MOVIE LEGEND: Oliver Reed appeared in scenes in Gladiator filmed after the actor died.
Born in 1938, Oliver Reed lived the life you would think only happened in movies, as a star who spent most of his years drinking, fighting and having an all-around good time.
Reed began acting in the late 1950s, and starred in a number of movies, perhaps most notably at the time in his uncle Carol Reed’s version of Oliver (as Bill Sikes).
The tough, strapping Reed was a lot like Sean Connery, so people have always wondered why Reed was never given a shot to replace Connery as James Bond.
Anyhow, in 1999, after four decades in the film business, Reed began filming Gladiator, as Proximo, the slave dealer who “owned” the titular character in the film.
Sadly, during a break in filming, Reed died of a heart attack at the age of 61. He had been heavily drinking the night before, as was his wont, totaling an $866 alcohol bill!!
With the tragic loss of Reed, Gladiator director Ridley Scott was at a bit of a loss. He still had scenes left in the film with Proximo in them!
So what they did was quite remarkable (and slightly creepy).
The special effects group for the film, The Mill, helped bring Reed back from the dead (of sorts)!
Scott filmed Proximo’s final scenes at night and behind the bars of a gate (as Russell Crowe’s lead character comes to Proximo for help, only for Proximo to be killed by Roman soldiers) with a body double acting out the scenes.
Then, the Mill used computer graphics to add Oliver Reed’s face to the body double in the scenes where his face is visible (and again, remember, it’s dark and there are bars between the viewer and his face).
Reed’s face appears on about 2 minutes of film, and the cost was $3.2 million to achieve the effect!
Wow, talk about devotion!
It’s amazing that films can achieve such feats, but that being said, if you watch the scene looking for it, it is pretty visible (a la some of the Green Screen effects in older films).
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org