Soon every studio wanted to explore the new technique and of course also make a profit on the talkie fad. However, technical limitations prevented most studios from making all talking pictures at once. There was almost no sound stages built yet because most studios still didn't take sound in motion pictures very seriously so the shortage of equipment was very comon as well. The major studios thought that including talking sequences in their movies would do fine for the time being. Sound was clearly a fad after all and would soon fade away, or so they hoped.
At this point, early in 1928 no one knew that talking pictures were here to stay. During a very brief period of about 18 months from mid 1928 to the end of 1929 quite a few part-taklies saw the flickering light of the projector. Most of them are forgotten or incomplete today.
Let's have a look at the part-talkie as a genre. As such it can be divided in three distinct types. The first type is a film that was meant to be a part-talkie from the start. Essentially it's a silent picture which has been graced with certain scenes with synchronized sound, often songs. I don't count the silent movies with a recorded score as part-talkies as there are no talking in those. Sometimes, as in the case of The Jazz Singer, they actually contain very little sound. The Jazz Singer only have about 15% of its running time in synchronized sound. With The Singing Fool it's the inverse as it contains very few silent scenes, about 70% are sound scenes. They are still both good examples of this first type.
Warner's head sound engineer George Groves recording
Fanny Brice in the part-talkie musical 'My Man' (1928)
The second type is a silent film with an added, often lengthy talking prologue where the actors present the movie or as in the case of the British film Piccadilly in 1929, one of the key players recollects the story and what the audience is about to see. The film itself becomes a giant flashback. The talking introduction served as a nice addition to the plot and it worked rather well. It could also be omitted quite easily without affecting the movie. Douglas Fairbanks made a talking prologue for The Iron Mask, which also included a prologue to the second act of the film.
The third type is a silent movie where talking sequences have been spliced in here and there, seemingly out of context because the picture itself were shot as 100% silent. Sometimes the talking sequences were added months after the completion of the silent picture. I think this hybrid usually stands as the example for how bad these films could turn out. They are often labeled as "grotesque curios" and mostly very rightly so. This kind of movie was never meant to be talking in the first place but it was made talking because of the ongoing talkie craze. Usually the talking sequences doesn't move the plot forward at all but halts the flow of the picture almost completely. In many cases the talking sequences were shot without the lead players and contained very banale dialogue, or simply a song with no connection to the movie what so ever.
Noah's Ark, one of Warner's bigger productions towards the end of 1928 was turned into a part talkie well after its initial premiere. For it's rerelease in the 1950's the talking sequences were considered so odd that they were cut from the film. In the recent print that airs on TCM from time to time most of the talking sequences has been restored. The brilliant MGM comedy A Lady Of Chance starring Norma Shearer had talking sequences added but according to my information Norma didn't get to talk. A Lady Of Chance only exists as silent today.
Another quite bizarre movie that was in production for so long it had to be made in to at least a part-talkie was The Mysterious Island (1929). Production started in 1926 and it was intended to be MGM’s high-budget answer to First National’s hit The Lost World (1925) and UFA’s Metropolis (1927). It was originally budgeted at a million dollars, shot in two-strip Technicolor and was to feature extended sequences of cutting-edge undersea cinematography. But the production was seemingly cursed — churning through countless rewrites that led it ever further from its source material, originally Jules Vernes books. It came to have three very different directors, one of then the Danish rather excentric Benjamin Christensen. The production suffered from very difficult weather conditions that thoroughly destroyed the expensive underwater sets on location in the Bahamas. As it limped to completion, the advent of sound changed everything and necessitated a cast change and still more rewrites and reshooting. Talking scenes were added, other scenes lifted. It was a complete mess.
When it finally premiered as a part-talkie in October 1929 it was way behind its time technically, a reported $3 million over budget, just a few weeks before the stock market crash that precipitated the Great Depression. The worst timing possible. Despite positive reviews in the popular and industry press, The Mysterious Island bombed at the box office and earned back only a tiny fraction of its production costs. Believe it or not, it didn't turn out a total failure artistically. In many ways it's a fascinating film. Too bad no color prints survive.
Jane Daly is getting some help putting on her swimming suit
when filming The Mysterious Island sometimes 1928.
The part-talkie was an overgoing fad that soon was replaced by all talking pictures. There is however an example of a silent picture that was turned into a full talkie, The Canary Murder Case from 1929 starring Wiliam Powell and Louise Brooks. Most of the film was re-shot for sound but Louise Brooks was filming Pandora's Box in Germany when reshooting took place. She refused to return to Hollywood for re-takes and dubbing. She couldn't be replaced so the people at Paramount had to be very creative when they had Brooks silent scenes dubbed by Margaret Livingston. The editing is not the best but it works. Paramount spread the rumor that Louise Brooks didn't have a voice and with that her career in pictures was over.
The last movie that can be considered a part talkie was Chaplin's Modern Times from 1936. It contains some talking scenes, none by Chaplin but he get to sing his famous gibberish song "Je Cherche après Tétine" in synchronized sound.