World’s first full-length talkie is 81 today

You know what the world’s first full length talking movie was, don’t you. Well, no, you don’t. While Al Jolson has gone down in history as starring in the first talkie, the first movie with a full length soundtrack was The Lights of New York, released on July 6, 1928.

Jolson sang for just a few minutes in 1927’s the Jazz Singer, while Lights of New York carried a full-length soundtrack.

The movie, about the murder of a crime boss, starred Cullen Landis, Helene Costello and Wheeler Oakman, was directed by Bryan Foy and made as studios rushed to follow up on the success of Jolson’s novelty hit. Lights won the race, securing a place in history.

Warner Brothers – who also produced the Jazz Singer – remade a 1916 silent movie, which has subsequently become lost and originally intended it to be a musical short. But the film was continually extended until it became a full-blown 57-minute feature. And although it ended up as a crime thriller, it still contains three songs, which showed off what the new medium could achieve. The film cost only $23,000 to produce, but grossed almost two million dollars.

In 1928, Americans went to the movies an average of about twice a week. Now, we each take in about five films a year in a theater.

[Spoiler alert]
The hero of the movie is conned into fronting for a speakeasy on Broadway. There is, naturally, a chorus girl with a heart of gold, a gangster boss and his downtrodden ex-girlfriend. The gangster kills a cop and plants evidence on the hero, but before the cops arrive, he is shot by an unseen assailant. The murder weapon is owned by the chorus girl, but as she is about to be charged with murder, the gangster’s moll confesses to the crime and everyone lives happily ever after. Except for the dead guy and the moll.