Sternberg Says It With Sound
Thunderbolt (1929) Strikes On TCM
|Broadway Opening for Thunderbolt|
Bancroft gave persuasive voice to his musketeers of the pavement. Street slang of crook derivation lent him authority, as it would to same-year gang-denizens of Broadway and even role-model Lon Chaney in his Unholy Three talk debut. Bancroft had lucked into a boisterous laugh that punctuated much of dialogue he did. The gag followed him even from Paramount to Fox for Blood Money, a good one, in fact maybe his best, but “Bancroft Laughs” was by 1933 a stale joke, modern viewers responding to it more in terms of what’s got into this guy? Thunderbolt was challenge to see until TCM lately surprised viewership by leasing it from Universal for a Fay Wray night. I didn’t see it noted online, but for Sternberg completests, this was noteworthy event. Thunderbolt is a letdown where too much expectation meets limit of talkies in gestation and even great directors bent to service of new-installed microphones. We read of how best of them overcame odds --- William Wellman, also at Paramount, moving recorder booms a first time for Chinatown Nights (but was he pioneering? Some say no).
Thunderbolt is recognizably Sternberg, his signature dim only where talk eats entirety of reels. We balk at sterility of that, and a second Thunderbolt half confined with Bancroft on death row, but here’s where ’29 reviewers clapped loudest with praise for “realism” of men facing last miles (“… great and looks authentic,” said Variety). Novelty of the condemned facing grim green door was enough to full-engage a public already taken by tabloid-hyped executions (notably femme food for frying, Ruth Snyder). Tabs even raced each other to a first foto of Ruth, or anyone, at moment of death as juice was applied. Thunderbolt enjoyed boxoffice benefit of going inside where final curtains fell. We say so what to that now, but for ’29 and talk still fresh, this was drama at high pitch. Thirties engagement with hot seats would electrify final act for several a show: Manhattan Melodrama, Angels With Dirty Faces --- The Walking Dead made execution the appetizer where Boris Karloff gets shock treatment for Act One, with resurrection for an encore.