New York Nights (1929) Poster

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Norma Talmadge Talkie Debut
drednm19 November 2006
Interesting film based on a Broadway play (TIN PAN ALLEY) that starred Claudette Colbert.

The film is famous as one of Norma Talmadge's flop talkie attempts but it's not bad at all and is a better film than her 1930 attempt (and final film) as Madame DuBarry.

Talmadge plays a show girl married to a song writer (Gilbert Roland) but everyone is involved in the Broadway night life and endless parties. Plus Talmadge is being pursued by a gangster. Talmadge leaves her husband after he spends the night with a floozie. She ends up as the gangster's moll but soon gets tired of the life.

She runs into Roland (on the skids) later and tries to rekindle her relationship but as they attempt to leave wicked NYC for the country they get involved in a botched gangland murder.

This film proves that Talmadge had a perfectly good voice (she even sings a little), not overly trained and unnatural as she was as DuBarry. She's also pretty good in a the part and it's fascinating to finally see this great star in a "modern" role. Roland isn't bad as the husband and has surprisingly little accent.

Lilyan Tashman is Norma's pal, Roscoe Karns in the music partner, John Wray is the gangster, Mary Doran is the floozie, Jean Harlow has a bit part as a party guest, and Al Jolson makes a cameo and sings a song but it's all cut from the short version of this film that I have.

Another curiosity from the transition era. Why would this film have flopped?
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Much better than its reputation
AlsExGal2 February 2009
This was silent drama star Norma Talmadge's talkie debut, and it flopped at the box office. However, for the life of me, I cannot figure out why. Legend has it that Singin in the Rain's Lena Lamont was modeled after Norma, but I have to tell you that I really couldn't detect much of a New York accent in her voice, and her speaking was perfectly fine. She also seemed to understand how to integrate speaking and acting into a cohesive whole. Gilbert Roland was a bit hammy, but if you look at his performances just a couple of years later he improved very rapidly. In fact, the worst performance here - and it's really not that bad - is John Wray as the gangster that is after Norma's character. He plays it way over the top yet he had plenty of roles in talking films for years to come.

The story is pretty routine - Jill Deverne (Norma Talmadge)is married to Fred (Gilbert Roland), a struggling songwriter. Their domestic happiness is threatened by a gangster who is interested in Norma and by a chorus girl who is interested in Fred. Lilyan Tashman plays Jill's friend and does a great job with the catty lines as she stands up for Jill.

The only thing I can figure about the original failure of this film is that people had a certain idea about their silent stars and, for the most part, giving them a voice just took away the magic and made them seek out new faces - Cagney, Blondell, Tracy, and Hepburn among others. Very few weathered the transition and Norma Talmadge was among the many casualties. If you're a fan of the early talkies I recommend you check this one out if you get the chance. It's a rare opportunity to see Norma Talmadge in a film since so very few of her silent films survive. That's too bad since she was one of the most popular dramatic actresses of the silent era.
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You must see this Norma Talmadge talkie!
arthursward4 November 2002
A police wagon speeds through pre-dawn Manhattan streets as the credits roll. The siren screams, there is no music. Two policemen rouse a doctor to a stricken man, he's dying. "Who did it, Dopie?" Cut to a tuxedoed silk hat in the back of a chauffered limo. "Gee, boss, that was a nervy hit." An I. O. U. for $25,000 payable to Dopie Brown is being torn, "Somebody's always gotta pay for a fourflush." A cackling John Wray (as Joe Prividi) chews the I. O. U. pieces into a spitwad, then flings it out the window. Joe then breaks into a flower shop and takes a stolen bouquet to "his goil".

Norma Talmadge as Jill Deverne is the object of Joe's affections. Leaning into a clever two shot in a dumbwaiter, she reminds her Broadway show's producer that her husband might object. Jill walks the knife edge between offending her benefactor and encouraging his romantic inclinations. She is polite, yet firm. In another room, her husband, Fred (Gilbert Roland) works on a tune with buddy, Johnny (Roscoe Karnes). Fred's stuck for a closing lyric and Jill enters with a plum, then falls into his arms. In one scene, Gilbert Roland and Norma Talmadge exhibit their fine voices and sparkling, well-honed chemistry. Roland and Talmadge had been teamed in THE DOVE (1927) and A WOMAN DISPUTED (1928) and here, the magic pops out of the screen. Norma has several close-ups that display her acting mastery. Halfway through the first reel you'll be in love with this movie.

Lilyan Tashman, as Jill's friend Peggy, has a backstage scene where her beauty is truly revealed. With her hair hidden by a cloche-like headpiece, Ms. Tashman's face is revealed to be the most beautiful ever photographed. Also revealed, in this pre-code picture, is her body. Were it not for the wings of a bird seemingly painted on Lilyan's front, all of her modesty would be lost.

The direction is excellent, tightly handled by Lewis Milestone right before he started ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. The pace is rapid and only relents for one brief reconciliation between Jill and Fred. They plot their getaway in a booth in a diner. As they hash out the final details, the camera dollies slowly to the next booth, chillingly revealing Joe's chauffer eavesdropping.

Ray June keeps interesting shots coming throughout the 64 minutes my print ran. And this is where a discrepency arises. The runtime is given as 108 minutes (IMBD), then a release footage of (approx.) 7380 ft (IMDB). AFI lists the release footage at 7447. As both footages run 81 or 82 mins, one wonders what happened to the rest of the film. [I know film shrinks, but that's rediculous] I can find only evidence of one song ever having been in the picture.

73 years after its release, it is impossible to determine what sank this wonderful film at the box office. But, sank it did. Impossible to ascertain whether it failed to be promoted, what the rumor mill ground out or just how the public expected silent film stars to sound. After one more picture, the glittering career of Norma Talmadge, a star that shone so bright as to bring two sisters into the arc light, would be extinguished. Only a year later, as writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz noted, the end of the silent era was typified by Norma Talmadge leaving the Brown Derby and telling a gang of autograph hounds, "Get away, you little b*****ds, I don't need you anymore." And thus fell silent a splendid, promising new talking picture career.

At least we have this terrific movie to remind us of how good silent film technique could be in talkies.
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I watched this by accident
shaykelliher29 August 2018
I wanted to watch "The Lights of New York", searched it up on YouTube, clicked on the first thing that came up (which was this movie), realised thirty minutes in and then decided to finish it anyway.

It was okay? Well, a little less than okay. I was into it for a while but then when I realised that it wasn't what I had wanted to watch I kind of lost interest for a bit. The story was pretty standard but none of the dialogue really popped out and the acting was pretty good for the most part.

I still haven't seen "The Lights of New York".
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Let's put the Lina Lamont rumors to rest
MissSimonetta13 January 2016
New York Nights (1929) is no classic or even worth a repeat watching for the average movie-goer, but it does not deserve the toxic reputation it has amassed since its release.

I'm not a terribly big Norma Talmadge fan; she's a competent actress with a deep, powerful voice. For some reasons, rumors of her possessing a shrill Brooklyn accent have lingered for years, no doubt due to the claim that she was the basis for the unpleasant voice of Lina Lamont, the villainess of Singin' in the Rain, a movie which is not a terribly accurate depiction of the silent to sound transition to begin with, though many seem to believe so. Nonetheless, Talmadge is solid as the heartbroken chorus girl. The rest of the cast is fine. William Cameron Menzies's art direction is great and the cinematography is pretty good too. The plot is hokum, but it's entertaining while you're watching the picture.

I'd wager Talmadge's fall from grace was not caused by an inability to exist in sound, but by the cultural shift brought on by the Great Depression. Hard-nosed dames and working girls struggling to survive were more in vogue than the types Norma tended to essay during her 1910s/1920s heyday. Up and comers like Joan Crawford, possessing different images and fresh faces, held more appeal for audiences.

As the Buddhists say, times are always changing. Talmadge's day had passed on by. At least she retired a wealthy woman; as her sister Constance is said to have told her, the critics can't mess with those trust funds, honey!
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All the Excitement of an Empty Street!!
kidboots1 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
"New York Nights" was one of a sizable group of straight dramas whose story was set back stage to feed (in 1929) the public's ever increasing appetite for anything connected with Broadway. Norma Talmadge had built her acting reputation on "sobs and smiles" usually as the star in spectacular costume dramas so any speaking voice she had, unless it was a duchess's, would have sorely disappointed. But would people really have been let down because Norma didn't speak in a "lah de dah" accent, after all she was playing a struggling chorus girl, Jill, who along with her husband Fred (Gilbert Roland) is desperately trying to find fame on the Great White Way.

Based on the play "Tin Pan Alley" that starred Claudette Colbert and at 69 performances was hardly a success, transferred to films with a story as exciting as an empty street. This is a "behind the scenes" story but without the heartache and emotion and you don't get much singing or dancing except for the dreary "A Year From Today" which is played constantly because everyone thinks it will be a big hit - of course!! There is also a medley of performers, Al "Rubberlegs" Norman and a pair of tappers at the wild party. Fred is a bit of a ne'er do well who misses Jill's birthday because he goes on a bender - and then lies about it!! Norma is given a big emotional scene where she finishes up with "I'm going out to get MY happiness" before hitting the New York night spots with racketeer Joe Prividi who acts more and more crazy as the film progresses. Jill is happy to kick up her heels but when she finds Fred in a night court picked up for vagrancy they decide to give their marriage another go - even though she is scared of what Joe will do!!

Mary Doran (mis-spelt as Koran in the credits) plays the usual trouble making chorus girl initially eager to come between Jill and Fred but now just as keen to fall in with the psychotic Joe as he plots revenge. Everything happens at the end - Joe orders his goons to stop the happy couple from boarding the train but things go wrong and Fred finds himself in a showdown with Joe on a fast moving express!!

I am usually quick to embrace any early talkie but I can't get keen on this one. I disagree with the reviewer who pans Gilbert Roland's performance - I mean he is playing a weak man who in the scene where he lies to Jill, there are indications that it has happened before and this is the last straw. Norma Talmadge was okay, she "grand dames" it in her big emotional scene and while again I don't agree with the reviewer who commented on Norma's looks, I think she looks her age and not like an ambitious chorus girl, hungry for success. It would have been better with Claudette in the main role, she would have brought youth and vigour to the part. One actress who would have lifted the film if she had been given more to do was Lilyan Tashman. Her witty scenes were the film's highlight.
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Norma Talmadge is no Lena Lamont.
anches-725-97630621 March 2012
It is difficult for me to mark this picture as the copy I have is of very poor quality in visual and sound. I have seen Norma Talmadge in "DuBarry" and on the evidence of these two films, it certainly was not her voice that ended her career. I think it was simply a matter of her increasing age and weight. Apparently she was 34/35, but at times looks more like 50 and there is clearly a thickening of the neckline and Queen Mothering of the upper arms. A previous reviewer has mentioned the arrival of a new set of younger faces at this time (Joan Blondell and Jean Harlow, for instance),but ironically, only a couple of years after Talmadge's retirement, the big new star was a forty year old, overweight woman with just the type of accent which was supposed to have ended Norma's career, namely, Mae West. The young Gilbert Roland has very much the appearance of his namesake, John Gilbert and the same Latin charm as his friend and fellow Mexican, Ramon Novarro. As is to be expected, the film is tied down by the static microphone, but not as obviously as, say, "Lights of New York". Sadly, my copy is shorn of several minutes; there is one complete song and some musical snippets in the party scene but no sign of Al Jolson in a cameo role.From what I see, however, the film had potential which, somehow, just didn't come to fruition. Returning to the matter of "Lights of New York", not only do these films share a similar title, but even the endings are not a million miles from each other!
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A bit dated...
MartinHafer10 January 2016
Perhaps "New York Nights" worked better when it debuted back in 1929. When seen today, however, the film comes up wanting in many ways-- with some stilted acting and a completely ridiculous ending.

When the film begins, Fred (Gilbert Roland) is running around with his buddy getting drunk and chasing when in a speakeasy. Once again, when he returns home he lies to his wife Jill (Norma Talmadge). She believes him at first as well as his recent promise to reform but when an acquaintance reveals the truth, she's had enough.

For much of the rest of the film, Jill lives a wild life with wild parties--all in an effort to not think about her now ex-husband. But when she meets him in court after she's been out on a bender and he's a hobo, they reconcile...but what about the gangster that has fallen in love with her? Will he simply allow Fred to come home and step aside for the guy or will it be curtains?

This film is only mildly interesting and no more. Not a terrible film but certainly NOT a very good one either.
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An Undeservedly Bad Reputation
boblipton2 November 2017
This is one movie from 1929 that does not deserve the bad reputation it has. Norma Talmadge's voice is fine. Her performance in this remind me of Clara Bow, and director Lewis Milestone throws a costume party for the demi-mondaine that strikes me as something that human beings out for a good time with the rough crowd might go to for: free food and booze -- one at which the neighbors call the cops at 2AM instead of waiting for lightning to set the dirigible on fire a la DeMille.

The story is a little flat and predictable for 1929: showgirl Talmadge throws out songwriter-husband Gilbert Roland after he turns up drunk one time too many and takes up with visiting Chicago hood John Wray, who's crazy for her, but she can't help loving the big sap of a hubby.

There's lots of good stuff, from proto-noir lighting and some nice moving shots by cameraman Ray June, some fine editing by Hal Kern and good acting all around. So why the lack of interest? I think Miss Talmadge was in her mid-thirties, thought that film-making was getting too complicated, she wasn't getting any younger, and she didn't need the money. She and her sister Constance owned a big chunk of San Diego, anyway.
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Pre-Code Shocker, Sometimes Offensive, Consistently Static.
mark.waltz17 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
When Gilbert Roland uses the word chink to describe a Chinese waiter, it's almost so shocking you're not sure you actually heard right. Fortunately, there are no other racial slurs in this predictable and creaky melodrama where Gilbert Roland's infidelities cause the end of his marriage to Norma Talmadge. She ends up involved with a dangerous gangster millionaire who threatens violence when Roland returns. Supporting performances by Roscne Karnes and Lilyan Tashman outshine the leads. A few musical interludes help establish the Broadway nightclub atmosphere and end up being quite welcome considering the surprising lack of humor.
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