His Glorious Night

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His Glorious Night
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Directed by Lionel Barrymore
Written by Willard Mack
Based onOlympia
by Ferenc Molnár
Produced by Irving Thalberg (uncredited)
Starring John Gilbert
Catherine Dale Owen
CinematographyPercy Hilburn (*French)
Edited byWilliam LeVanway
Music byLionel Barrymore
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • September 28, 1929 (1929-09-28)
Running time
80 minutes
CountryUnited States
Language English

His Glorious Night is a 1929 pre-Code American romance film directed by Lionel Barrymore and starring John Gilbert in his first released talkie. The film is based on the 1928 play Olympia by Ferenc Molnár. [1] [2]


His Glorious Night has gained notoriety as the film that reputedly began the aging Gilbert's rapid career decline by revealing that he had a voice unsuitable for sound. [3]


Although being engaged against her will with a wealthy man, Princess Orsolini (Catherine Dale Owen) is in love with Captain Kovacs (John Gilbert), a cavalry officer she is secretly meeting. Her mother Eugenie (Nance O'Neil), who has found out about the affair forces her to dump Kovacs and take part in the arranged marriage. Though not believing her own words, Orsolini reluctantly tells Kovacs she cannot ever fall in love with a man with his social position, being the son of a peasant.

Feeling deeply hurt, Kovacs decides to take revenge by indulging in blackmail, spreading a rumor that he is an imposter and a swindler. The queen fears a scandal and invites herself over to his apartment to retrieve any proof of Orsolini and Kovacs' affair, including love letters. In the end, Kovacs agrees on remaining quiet by having Orsolini spend the night with him. True love is finally reconciled. [3] [4]



Although His Glorious Night was John Gilbert's first sound film to be released, it was not his first "talkie". His earlier sound film, Redemption , was "'temporarily shelved'" by MGM and not released until early April 1930, six months after the premiere of His Glorious Night. [5] [6]

Reception and Gilbert's voice

The suggestion that Gilbert's vocal performance was so dreadful that it prompted laughter in the audience has long been held as an article of faith in the film world. That tale is thought to have inspired the fictitious film The Duelling Cavalier, which is featured as a central plot element in the 1952 MGM musical comedy Singin' in the Rain . In fact, while reviews of His Glorious Night ranged in 1929 from tepid to cautiously supportive, Gilbert himself received generally good notices and his voice was judged perfectly adequate, if somewhat studied in tone. "John Gilbert Makes a Big Hit in First Talkie", announces the review headline in the Chicago Daily Tribune on October 21. [7] "Mr. Gilbert is a bit sound-conscious and over-ardent in the first few scenes", reports the newspaper, "but he whips himself into shape almost immediately and is oo lala as usual for the remainder of the picture." [7] [8] The Tribune then assures Gilbert's fans, "His voice is guaranteed to charm all listeners." [7] In his assessment of Gilbert's performance, Edwin Schallert of the Los Angeles Times focused too on the actor's style of delivery and found no particular faults with the overall quality of his voice. "Gilbert", writes Schallert, "has not yet hit quite the perfect note on intonation for the microphone, but, barring a certain over-resonant delivery of lines, his enunciation is crisp and fine." [9]

Mordaunt Hall, the influential critic for The New York Times, also generally approved of both the star's voice and performance:

Mr. Gilbert's responsibility does not lie with his lines and therefore he is to be congratulated on the manner in which he handles this speaking rôle. His voice is pleasant, but not one which is rich in nuances. His performance is good, but it would benefit by the suggestion of a little more wit. [10]

However, in the same October 5, 1929 review, Hall singles out the film's main flaws, namely its creaky storyline, repetitive dialogue, and old-fashioned approach to the material:

It is quite evident that the producers intend to keep Mr. Gilbert, even now that he talks in his amorous scenes, before the public as the great screen lover, for in this current narrative this actor constantly repeats "I love you" to the Princess Orsolini as he kisses her. In fact, his many protestations of affection while embracing the charming girl, who is incidentally impersonated by Miss Owen, caused a large female contingent in the theatre yesterday afternoon to giggle and laugh. [10]

This approach to love scenes, far more in line with the technique of silent cinema than sound, was criticised in many reviews. [11] One critic even stated, "Gilbert will be able to change places with Harry Langdon. His prowess at lovemaking, which has held the stenos breathless, takes on a comedy aspect, that gets the gum chewers tittering at first, then laughing outright at the very false ring of the couple of dozen 'I love you' phrases." [12] Such reactions were attributed not to Gilbert's voice but specifically to Willard Mack's "overly florid dialogue, which might have been fine as subtitles but sounded downright embarrassing to audiences when spoken by a cast suffering from the stilted direction of a microphone-conscious Lionel Barrymore". [3]

Rumors of sabotage

Some, including Gilbert's own daughter Leatrice Gilbert Fountain, [13] have blamed MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer for deliberately perpetuating a rumor that Gilbert's voice was unsuitable for sound in order to drive out a star whom he judged to be too expensive, too cocky, and approaching his use-by date. Mayer and Gilbert undoubtedly shared a strong enmity, and according to rumors, Mayer knew that the script was substandard, and deliberately hired an out-of-condition Lionel Barrymore as the director. [14]

As was common at the time, foreign-language versions of a film were not made by dubbing; instead, scenes were reshot either with the original actors reading translations of their lines phonetically or by using other actors fluent in a specific language. In 1930, the French remake Si l'empereur savait ça, Spanish remake Olimpia and German remake Olympia were released. [15] All versions received notably better reviews. [3]

MGM sold the film's rights to Paramount Pictures. A different film version, based on the original play rather than the 1929 movie, was produced as A Breath of Scandal in 1960.

See also

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  1. Info "Screenplay Info for His Glorious Night (1929)". Turner Classic Movies . Retrieved January 16, 2010.{{cite web}}: Check |url= value (help)
  2. Olympia as produced on Broadway, Empire Theatre, October 16, 1928 to November 1928; IBDb.com
  3. 1 2 3 4 Hall, Mordaunt (2012). "Review Summary". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times . Baseline & All Movie Guide. Archived from the original on October 26, 2012. Retrieved January 16, 2010.
  4. Synopsis "Full Synopsis for His Glorious Night (1929)". Turner Classic Movies . Retrieved January 16, 2010.{{cite web}}: Check |url= value (help)
  5. "Redemption (1930)", catalog, American Film Institute (AFI), Los Angeles, California. Retrieved October 18, 2019.
  6. Albert, Katherine (1930). "Is Jack Gilbert Through?", Photoplay (Chicago, Illinois), February 1930, p. 29. Internet Archive, San Francisco, California. Retrieved October 18, 2019.
  7. 1 2 3 Tinee, Mae. "John Gilbert Makes a Big Hit in First Talkie", Chicago Daily Tribune, October 21, 1929 p. 33. ProQuest Historical Newspapers (Ann Arbor, Michigan); subscription access through The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.
  8. The use of "oo lala" in the cited quotation is an English corruption of the French expression Oh là là, which has a variety of connotations in France but in English-speaking countries is commonly used to describe a person or situation as being risqué or sexually suggestive.
  9. Schallert, Edwin. "Gilbert Is Hero In Gay Intrigue...", Los Angeles Times, October 19, 1929, p. 11. ProQuest.
  10. 1 2 Hall, Mordaunt (October 5, 1929). "THE SCREEN; A Ferenc Molnar Play". The New York Times . Retrieved March 15, 2010.
  11. Koszarski, R., An evening's entertainment: the age of the silent feature picture, 1915-1928. p.311
  12. Basinger, J., Silent Stars. p.394
  13. Fountain, Leatrice Gilbert, and Maxim, John B. Dark Star: The Untold Story of the Meteoric Rise and Fall of Legendary Silent Screen Star John Gilbert. New York: St Martins Press, 1985.
  14. Fleming, E. J., The fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling, and the MGM publicity machine. p.80
  15. "Notes for His Glorious Night (1929)". Turner Classic Movies . Retrieved January 16, 2010.