Hollywood has always been quick to jump on new trends, whether it’s CG-animated movies, 3D blockbusters, widescreen photography, or synchronized sound. Although there had been films with sound beforehand, the overwhelming success of “The Jazz Singer” — which included scenes with musical numbers and dialogue — had Hollywood scrambling to catch up, and make these so-called “talkies” the industry standard.
You can see how quickly the turnaround came just by looking at the first two Academy Awards ceremonies. The nominees for Best Picture — both categories, since there were two at the first year of the Oscars — were all either silent or mostly silent productions. The nominees at the second Academy Awards were almost all talkies, except one. And that film was the historical epic “The Patriot,” the final silent film nominated for Best Picture until “The Artist” (2011), and even that film technically has synchronized sound in it.
“The Patriot” tells the story of the Russian Emperor, Paul I, played by Emil Jannings, who won the first-ever Best Actor Oscar, just one year earlier. Paul I is a dangerous man and prone to irrational violence, so a plot arises to overthrow him. Paul I refuses to believe all the warnings from his loved ones and ends his life in ruin. The film was directed by Ernst Lubitsch — who would become much more famous for his many classic comedies, like “Design for Living,” “The Shop Around the Corner,” and “To Be or Not To Be” — and co-starred a young Neil Hamilton, who would eventually play Commissioner Gordon in the 1960s “Batman” television series.
“The Patriot” was nominated for five Academy Awards, and won the Oscar for Best Writing, but we’ll have to take the Academy’s word that it’s a great film because it’s almost completely lost.