First 'talkie' draws crowds in Wellington

8 March 1929

Exterior of the Paramount Theatre building, Wellington
Exterior of the Paramount Theatre building, Wellington (Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-139949-F)

Moviegoers flocked to Wellington’s Paramount Theatre to see Frank Borzage’s Street angel, a silent picture with a recorded musical soundtrack. The main feature was preceded by five ‘talkie shorts’, including an interview with the King of Spain.  Silent movies were usually accompanied by live music, so a recorded soundtrack was a novelty.

Street angel told the story of a spirited young woman, Angela (Janet Gaynor). Down on her luck and living on the streets, she joined a travelling carnival and met a ‘vagabond’ painter, Gino (Charles Farrell). Gaynor won a Best Actress Oscar for this and two other performances.

The first feature-length movie with synchronised dialogue was The jazz singer, released in the United States in October 1927. The new technology did not convince everyone: United Artists president Joseph Schenck asserted in 1928 that the talkies were just a passing fad. But by the following year virtually every American film had a recorded soundtrack. The first New Zealand-made talkie screened in early 1930 (see 3 January), and within a few years they were a global phenomenon.