Flashback 1929: First All-Color Talkie Debuts in NYC

This week in 1929, the year inextricably linked to the October stock market crash that plunged the country into the Great Depression, On With the Show opened at New York City’s Winter Garden Theater with sound and color.

The Warner Bros. film was the first “talkie” to be filmed entirely in an early two-color version of Technicolor. (An earlier film was partly color.) The historic occasion came less than two years after an even more momentous occasion in film history: the release of The Jazz Singer, the first feature-length motion picture with a recorded music score and lip-synced singing and dialogue. The era of silent film was nearing its end, although it would hang on for a few more years.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle cinema columnist Martin Dickstein wrote: “The Warner Brothers brought a Vitaphoned musical comedy, photographed entirely in natural colors into the Winter Garden last night—a pretentious production which probably represents more money than any Ziegfeld or Carroll has ever dared to risk on a musical extravaganza. Elaborate settings and expensive costumery garnish its extravagant pattern, a pattern, incidentally, which is often made so much more eye-fitting by the use of the Technicolor process.”

Noting that the film “somehow falls short of being first rate entertainment,” Dickstein continued: “The fault may lie, perhaps, in the now gradually accepted fact that the regulation sized motion picture screen is not large enough to hold the pageantry and movement of a musical extravaganza in full swing. Or it just may be that the changing and vivid hues of the Technicolor (by no means yet a perfected process of color reproduction) can be a bit too hard on the eyes in the course of a two-hour exhibition….”

Humble beginnings, indeed.