Year 1929

On 24 October eighteen-year-old Jean Harlow signed a five-year, $100 per week contract with Howard Hughes. Total value in today’s money, $1,170,000. 

Notable Debuts

Ray Milland in Piccadilly, as an extra in a nightclub scene.

Born in Neath, Wales, near the hometowns of Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and Michael Sheen, Ray Milland’s movie career ran from 1929 to 1985. In 1945 he won an Academy Award and a Cannes Film Festival Award for his portrayal of an alcoholic writer in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend. Some sources state that Wilder based the alcoholic writer on Raymond Chandler after his experience working with him on the Double Indemnity screenplay.

Before embarking on his acting career, Ray Milland served in the Household Cavalry, became a proficient marksman, horseman and aeroplane pilot. At one point, he was Paramount Pictures’ highest-paid actor.

Ginger Rogers in A Day of a Man of Affairs

Ginger Rogers was born Virginia Katherine McMathHer parents divorced soon after her birth. When Ginger was nine years old, her mother married John Logan Rogers and Ginger took his surname, although she was never legally adopted.

One of Ginger Rogers’s young cousins had a hard time pronouncing the name “Virginia” and gave her the nickname “Ginger”.

In the 1930s, Ginger Rogers made nine films with Fred Astaire, movies that revolutionised the musical genre. She also starred in dramas and comedies in a career that ran to seventy-three films.

Fred MacMurray as an uncredited extra in Girls Gone Wild 

Released in 1929, pre-Code, Girls Gone Wild was a controversial melodrama that explored a disrespect for the law that would become a key theme in the 1930s.

Later in Fred MacMurray’s career, he played Walter Neff in Double Indemnity, a character so unlikeable that many leading actors of the era rejected the role. When approached to play Neff, initially, MacMurray had his doubts. In 1943 he was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, so he could be choosy about his parts, which mainly centred on happy-go-lucky nice guys.

Eventually, MacMurray agreed to play Neff, imbuing him with human, likeable qualities, so much so that the audience sides with him, even though he’s a double murderer. Later, MacMurray said, “I never dreamed it would be the best picture I ever made.” Then he reverted to type and made a small fortune playing nice guys.

Highest Grossing Movies

#3 Gold Diggers of Broadway 

A musical-comedy starring Winnie Lightner and Nick Lucas, Gold Diggers of Broadway became a box office sensation making Winnie Lightner a worldwide star and boosting guitarist-crooner Nick Lucas to further fame. Lucas sang two songs that became twentieth century standards: ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’ and ‘Painting the Clouds with Sunshine’.

After reading this, if your mind has the Tiny Tim version of ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’ on permanent loop, you have my sympathy.

#2 The Cock-Eyed World

A pre-Code musical-comedy talkie, The Cock-Eyed World was a sequel to the highly successful What Price Glory? (1926). Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe reprised their original roles, along with Lili Damita. Many movie theatres were not equipped for the new sensation, sound, so the studio also released a silent version of the film.

#1 The Broadway Melody

The Broadway Melody was the first sound film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. The movie was also notable in that it featured an early Technicolour sequence, which survives today only in black and white.

Experimentation was the name of the game, which meant set changes, long hours and re-shoots as the sound recordists tried to capture the sound. Indeed, Bessie Love’s brief ukulele-playing scene took over three hours to film.

The Broadway Melody made a profit of $1.6 million for MGM. Contemporary reviewers sang the movie’s praises. Motion Picture News said: “The direction is an amazing indication of what can be done in the new medium.”

Variety wrote: “It has…a basic story with some sense to it, action, excellent direction, laughs, a tear, a couple of great performances and plenty of sex.”

However, modern reviewers tend to highlight the poor directing and bad acting, which the original audiences tended to forgive because of the film’s novelty.

1920s – 1960s