Monday, June 3, 2013

The Voice of the City (1929)

The Voice of the City is a real oddity in the MGM library and not just because it's one of those examples of early sound film awkwardly negotiating the new technology. The Voice of the City was written and directed by Willard Mack, who also starred in it. This was a setup MGM heads Thalberg and Mayer rarely allowed. Mack is an interesting figure who was born in 1873, married fellow MGM actor Marjorie Rambeau in 1913, and died five years after this film was released. He also was an acting coach for then-chorus girl Barbara Stanwyck in the mid '20s, when she starred in his play, The Noose.

The Voice of the City is a crime drama with credible atmosphere and more humor (some unintentional) than was typical in films like this. Robert Ames, who also died a few years after this film was made, plays an escaped and innocent convict who attempts to hide out from the police long enough to leave town with his gal, Sylvia Field. John Miljan plays the oily crime boss who framed Ames. The cast is filled out with a drug-addicted friend, Clark Marshall, Duane Thompson as Ames' sister and Mack, the detective charged with hunting Ames down.

One would think The Voice of the City might be a waste of time. Some of the acting is sadly dated and many scenes are too stagy, with the barely moving actors surrounding the nearby microphone. As is also typical of the time, The Voice of the City has some amateurish editing, including a bizarre kiss that's looped three times!

Mack's film, however, holds up better than many later and more prestigious films for the sheer interest the characters and plot generates; you want to know what happens next. As  the film progresses, it also becomes less stagy and features an experimental interrogation scene that takes place in the dark.

The Voice of the City has been released on Warner Archives DVD-R.

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