6.8/10
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11 user 3 critic

Weary River (1929)

Passed | | Drama, Romance | 10 February 1929 (USA)
A gangster is put in prison, but finds salvation through music while serving his time. Again on the outside, he finds success elusive and temptations abound.

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Writers:

(story) (as Courtney Riley Cooper), (screen version) | 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. See more awards »
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Jerry Larrabee
...
Alice Gray
William Holden ...
Prison Warden
Louis Natheaux ...
Spadoni
...
Blackie (as George Stone)
Ray Turner ...
Elevator Boy (as Raymond Turner)
Gladden James ...
Jerry's Manager
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Storyline

Jerry Larabee (Richard Barthelmess)is a gangster who can play piano and sing, mostly to entertain his girl Alice (Betty Compson), who is quite visibly thrilled by his crooning. But as the result of a gangland shootout he had with rival mobster Spadoni (Louis Natheaux), Larabee must do a stretch in prison. The kindly warden (William Holden) sees a potential for redemption in him, and talks Mary into giving him up, so he will break all contact with his previous life. Through his musical talents, Jerry is soon doing radio broadcasts with the prison orchestra, and one of his own compositions, "Weary River" is a smash hit with listeners. In no time, he's released, with a concert tour lined up. unfortunately, hecklers cause the overly sensitive ex-gunman to lose his confidence and he's a flop. Down on his luck, he drifts back to his old gang buddies and Mary, who's never stopped loving him. After learning that his stint up the river was a frame-up by Spadoni, a showdown is arranged at their... Written by WesternOne

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Drama | Romance

Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

10 February 1929 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Bag Fængslets Port  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric System) (Western Electric Apparatus) (sound effects, music and talking sequences)

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In a separately filmed trailer, Vitaphone production reel #2909, Richard Barthelmess talks to the audience about the film. See more »

Soundtracks

Weary River
(1929)
Music by Louis Silvers
Lyrics by Grant Clarke
Sung by Richard Barthelmess (dubbed by Johnny Murray)
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User Reviews

 
A Real Achievement in Sound Recording
20 March 2014 | by (Guerneville, CA) – See all my reviews

The plot of Weary River is a peculiar amalgam of gangster movie, love story and musical centering around a sensitive hood played by Richard Barthelmess who, after being sent to jail for a crime he didn't commit, discovers his true passion for music and becomes a radio star (based on a true story, believe it or not!). As an entertainment, I give this film 7 out of 10 stars. It's dated but well-paced and amusing without being particularly outstanding.

This review is about Weary River's soundtrack, which is an astonishing achievement for its time but overlooked by film music historians... possibly because the recordings were only rediscovered and restored to the film in 1997.

Film music historians often talk about Max Steiner's 1933 score for King Kong and Franz Waxman's 1934 score for The Bride of Frankenstein as if Steiner and Waxman magically invented synchronized music for film out of thin air... which is preposterous. Due to the success of The Jazz Singer, early talkies were mostly musicals. But it's one thing to have people burst into song in the middle of a scene as if they were on the stage, as in Ernst Lubitsch's superior 1929 film "The Love Parade"... it's something else entirely when the music has to synchronize with action and dialogue over the course of multiple shots and scenes, as in Weary River.

You see, in early talkies, all the sound had to be recorded live simultaneously. If you were going to have music under dialogue, or sound effects, or dialogue looping, it all had to be recorded at the same time. They didn't have multi-track recording in 1929.

Weary River has musical underscoring in virtually every shot of the picture. If you wanted underscoring in 1929, you had to have the orchestra and conductor on the set with the actors. But Weary River has music that flows from silent sequences into talking sequences. To allow that to happen, the composer had to write music for the entire film after they had shot the silent sequences and edited them together but BEFORE they had shot the sound sequences. The composer/conductor (Louis Silvers, who certainly deserved the big screen credit he got for his work) would then have to record all the music for the edited silent sequences. Where the silent and sound sequences were to join together, the conductor would have to record the music to a metronome beat; this would allow the yet-to-be-recorded sound sequence to join seamlessly with the silent sequence musically.

At some point in this process, the composer and director would have to collaborate in order to pre-plan the shot list for the sound sequences... because Weary River has a very sophisticated editing scheme for the visuals. There are a lot of different kinds of shot sequences leading into spoken dialogue. You don't just go from a silent sequence with musical score into a static shot with dialogue on a soundstage. There are many cuts, pieces of business, scene changes, sound effects or synchronized spoken words, all of which had to flow seamlessly into a spoken dialogue exchange in the film with unbroken music playing under it. That means a lot of planning, charts, diagrams. There is nothing spontaneous about the synchronized sound and music of Weary River. It's a choreographed dance of visuals and effects and music and dialogue, all recorded live on a soundstage with actors on a set waiting for their cue. Did they have the conductor in a soundproofed booth with glass windows containing a metronome so that the click didn't get onto the sound track? Did they run edited film behind the orchestra with punches flashing the tempo while the actors waited on the nearby set for their cue to speak? There was clearly one sequence I saw where an actress had to sit with the orchestra and deliver her line in time to her own actions on a film playback which then flowed into a sequence shot live on a set with other actors. This is not a typical early talkie. The fluidity of the shots, and the way the music synchronizes with them and works with the dialogue to create an integrated whole, all recorded in one pass... mind boggling. Things flow together so seamlessly that you don't even realize what you're looking at.

Compare Weary River with a 1929 film like The Vagabond Lover; its shots and music integration are simplistic, static, nothing more than 2 or 3 cameras pointing at a band playing and singing. 1929's The Broadway Melody is exactly the same, primitive camera positions and static shots and nothing very complicated.

Weary River, on the other hand, is a much more sophisticated production... to achieve that fluidity, that seamless integration of music and sound and imagery, required some really extreme measures on the part of the production team given their technical limitations. I'm surprised it's not more highly regarded. In terms of technical achievement, Weary River rates 10 stars.

Unfortunately, the music is not as memorable as King Kong or Bride of Frankenstein. But Weary River makes sound film look like silent film WITH a synchronized musical score and dialogue, which is an amazing feat. Director Frank Lloyd won the Oscar for best director that year, and he deserved it. In 1929, the team at Warner's was the best in the business when in came to sound films, and Weary River is a technical tour de force. You won't see anything more fluid with background music until 1932's groundbreaking Love Me Tonight.


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