TCM’s Moguls & Movie Stars: The Talkies

They Talk!

This week, TCM’s Moguls & Movie Stars moves into the sound era. Now, not only could movie stars talk, but they could sing, too. Musicals were studio staples at the time, but these days they’re few and far between.

As the brand new musical Burlesque gets ready to open, I talk with documentary filmmaker and historian Jon Wilkman, about the cyclical nature of musicals in Hollywood.

“When you certainly look back over the history of the movies, you see that there are cyclical patterns and the fact that a movie like Chicago wins an Academy Award fairly recently, means that the musical’s not dead. It’s not the same excitement that it had with the sound era, obviously, when in a short period of time the studios produced 70 musicals and saturated the market. Then it was revived in the thirties with people like Fred Astaire to some extent and Busby Berkley and there’s a visual innovation that you can see and then it goes away again. Then it’s back again in the 50’s with color and that’s a different technology… a different result and then it dies off again. So these things return and come back.

“The problem today is that we have so many other competing things. We have television programs like American Idol that feature musical performances, we have MTV and rock videos that are very theatrical and musical, so that appeal of the musical and musical performance is tapped in other ways. Certainly, if you go to revival theaters, musicals are playing, Broadway has a revival of West Side Story right now, I just saw South Pacific in L.A. , it never goes away, but you know for example everyone in the 50’s were big fans of science fiction and then that went away and then it came back in spades with George Lucas. The western has been a continuous genre that has now gone away. And all those sword in the sand type epics that were the staple of all those Victor Mature movies in the 50’s , now they’re all coming back again, with 300 and the roman legions fighting in 3D and the digital effects. So I thing the core genres are always there, what I think as far as musical performances are concerned, I think there are so many other ways of getting that similar experience of musical drama, it means that it’s not demised but that it’s in a pause for a while, it’ll come back in.”

Tune in to TCM, Monday night, November 22 at 8 pm for the next installment of this amazing salute to the filmmakers that made Hollywood great. Then stay tuned after the show for great films such as Little Caesar. On Wednesday, you won’t want to miss Top Hat, Little Women and one of my favorite Marx Brothers movies, Duck Soup.

Here’s the full line up from TCM.

Episode Four: Brother, Can You Spare a Dream (1929-1941)

Monday, Nov 22, at 8 p.m. (ET/PT)

Warner Bros. introduced the first major synchronized sound film, The Jazz Singer (1927).  Stage-trained actors were suddenly in demand, and among those to break through in the early sound era were James Cagney, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn and Edward G. Robinson. For the most part, the movies were able to ride the storm of the Great Depression, as crowds flocked to escapist entertainment ranging from Mae West comedies to the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musicals. Most of the moguls toughed out the hard times, though some tumbled. Hungarian-born William Fox, after being a dominant force with his production company and chain of theaters, faced bankruptcy. Laemmle was forced to sell Universal in 1935. However, Harry Cohn prospered at low-budget Columbia Pictures, which gained new respect with director Frank Capra’s Oscar®-winning It Happened One Night (1934). Darryl F. Zanuck, at 20th Century Fox, blossomed into one of the youngest moguls. A new generation of filmmakers from Europe included Ernst Lubitsch, William Wyler and Alfred Hitchcock, while homegrown genius Walt Disney created magic through the wonders of animation. As producer David O. Selznick capped the decade of the 1930s with his epic Gone With the Wind (1939), the great conflict of modern times was waiting in the wings.

Narrated by Christopher Plummer

Written and Produced by Jon Wilkman

Executive Produced by Bill Haber


Following each Monday’s episode of MOGULS & MOVIE STARS, TCM will present a collection of films from the era covered.  The following is the complete schedule for Monday, Nov. 22 (TCM premieres in bold):

Monday, Nov. 22


Episode 3 – “The Dream Merchants” (1920-1928) – Encore


Episode 4 – “Brother, Can You Spare a Dream?” (1928-1941) – Premiere

9 p.m.         Footlight Parade (1933)


Episode 4 – “Brother, Can You Spare a Dream?” (1928-1941) – Encore

12 a.m.       The Public Enemy (1931)

1:30 a.m.    Little Caesar (1930)

3 a.m.         I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

5 a.m.         Red Dust (1932)

Encore, Panel Discussions and Films

Each Wednesday, TCM will present a special encore of that week’s episode MOGULS & MOVIE STARS, followed by a panel discussion with Robert Osborne, Jon Wilkman and film experts featured in the series.  Each Wednesday night’s schedule also includes additional films about or made during the era covered in that week’s episode.  The following is the complete schedule for Wednesday, Nov. 24 (TCM premieres in bold):

Wednesday, Nov. 24

8 p.m.         It Happened One Night (1934)


Episode 4 – “Brother, Can You Spare a Dream?” (1928-1941) – Encore

11 p.m.       Episode 4 Panel Discussion – Robert Osborne, Jon Wilkman, Cari Beauchamp, David Thomson and Jeanine Basinger

11:15 p.m.   Duck Soup (1933)

12:30 a.m.   Top Hat (1935)

2:15 a.m.    Heidi (1937)

3:45 a.m.    Little Women (1933)

5:45 a.m.    Of Human Bondage (1934)

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