Mussolini Sends to America a Happy Message, Full of Friendly Feelings, in English (1927)

Strange as it sounds, Ben­i­to Mus­soli­ni played a his­toric role in the intro­duc­tion of talk­ing motion pic­tures.

Through­out the ear­ly 1920s, var­i­ous sound tech­nolo­gies for cin­e­ma were test­ed and exhib­it­ed pub­licly. By 1927 two rival com­pa­nies were on the home stretch in the race to intro­duce a viable syn­chro­nized sound sys­tem for wide­spread com­mer­cial use in the­aters. Warn­er Bros. had invest­ed heav­i­ly in a record­ing-on-disc method trade-named “Vita­phone,” and would unveil the first fea­ture film with record­ed dia­logue sequences, The Jazz Singer, on Octo­ber  6, 1927. Mean­while the Fox Film Cor­po­ra­tion was devel­op­ing a sound-on-film tech­nol­o­gy, called “Movi­etone,” that would lat­er become the indus­try stan­dard.  With Movi­etone the audio was record­ed as a vari­able-den­si­ty opti­cal track on the film, along­side the visu­al image, instead of on a sep­a­rate gramo­phone record.

To beat Warn­er Bros. to the punch, Fox pre­miered its Movi­etone fea­ture Sun­rise, by the Ger­man expres­sion­ist film­mak­er F.W. Mur­nau, at Times Square in New York on Sep­tem­ber 23, 1927, two weeks ahead of The Jazz Singer. Mur­nau’s film had syn­chro­nized music and sound effects, but no dia­logue. The heav­i­ly pub­li­cized event includ­ed the screen­ing of a pair of Movi­etone news­reels: one of the Vat­i­can choir, the oth­er of Mus­soli­ni. “See and Hear ‘The Man of the Hour’ His Excel­len­cy Ben­i­to Mus­soli­ni, Pre­mier of Italy,” said a Fox adver­tise­ment. “He speaks to you and lives before your eyes on the Movi­etone!” The ground-break­ing news­reel was a pub­lic­i­ty coup for both the movie com­pa­ny and the dic­ta­tor. Film his­to­ri­an Don­ald Crafton pro­vides some back­ground in his book The Talkies: Amer­i­can Cin­e­ma’s Tran­si­tion to Sound, 1926–1931:

On 20 April 1927, Charles Pet­ti­john, gen­er­al coun­sel for the Hays Office and head of the Film Boards of Trade, was meet­ing with Ben­i­to Mus­soli­ni. He sug­gest­ed that the dic­ta­tor sit for a film­ing, and Mus­soli­ni, a long­time film buff, read­i­ly agreed. Il Duce liked the result so much that he ‘is hav­ing a talk­ing film pre­pared that will show his dai­ly activ­i­ties.’ Mus­soli­ni report­ed­ly said, ‘Let me speak through [the news­reel] in twen­ty cities in Italy once a week and I need no oth­er pow­er.’ This film would enable him to appear in pub­lic with no threat of assas­si­na­tion.

The orig­i­nal ver­sion of the “Mus­soli­ni Movi­etone” includ­ed footage of Fas­cist reg­i­ments drilling, and a grand intro­duc­tion of the dic­ta­tor by the Amer­i­can ambas­sador to Italy, Hen­ry P. Fletch­er. “I am very glad,” Mus­soli­ni says in the news­reel, “to be able to express my friend­ly feel­ings towards the Amer­i­can nation, friend­ship with which Italy looks at the mil­lions of cit­i­zens, who from Alas­ka to Flori­da, from the Pacif­ic to the Atlantic, live in the Unit­ed States, which lay deeply root­ed in our hearts.” Four­teen years lat­er Italy and the Unit­ed States were at war, and less than four years after that, on April 28, 1945, Mus­soli­ni was killed by his own peo­ple. They made a news­reel about that, too.

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  • Thorn says:

    So, in oth­er words “My Ital­ian Amer­i­can Brethren, shoot EVERYONE ELSE NOW!”

  • Art Shifrin says:

    The above tech­ni­cal / his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences are inept­ly cit­ed . The Fox debut of the impor­tant film “Sun­rise” occurred more than ONE YEAR AFTER Warn­ers com­mer­cial­ly pre­miered Vita­phone in what is now the Ed Sul­li­van The­ater (in Man­hat­tan) in August 1926. Com­pa­ra­ble to “Sun­rise”, the fea­ture film “Don Juan” con­tained a com­plete­ly syn­chro­nized sound­track that lacked dia­log, but had a full (large) orches­tral score and sound effects. In the con­text of far more seri­ous future devel­op­ments, the pro­gram includ­ed com­plete­ly syn­chro­nized (sound record­ed while the film was shot) short sub­jects of pop­u­lar and clas­si­cal musi­cal artists. Will Hays was also fea­tured in one of the shorts, talk­ing about the poten­tial
    sig­nif­i­cance of Vita­phone (not devel­oped by Warn­ers, but sim­ply licensed from the West­ern
    Elec­tric Divi­sion of AT&T).

    Sim­i­lar­ly, Fox did not devel­op “Movi­etone”
    It sim­ply pur­chased the sound-on film patents
    of Theodore Case and Earl Spon­able.

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