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June 1995, Week 2


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Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 9 Jun 1995 13:33:11 -0600
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Mike Frank writes:
"please to note - - - the actors in SPELLBOUND do NOT - - - repeat: do NOT - -
- speak with British accents.  .  .  they speak with Hollywood accents . . .
almost no one in Hollywood spoke anything remotely like American English
until the breakdown of the studio system - - - remember the comical elocution
lesson in SINGIN IN THE RAIN - - - or think about the way Kim Novak spoke in
almost all her roles . . . a certain Britishness was simply considered classy
and common in movies through the forties and fifties, and only actresses and
actors whose stock in trade was a kind of tough American quality (John Wayne,
Glen Ford, Barbara Stanwyck) or a kind of AMerican plain spoken honesty (Jimmy
Stewart is the classic example) could be counted on to speak anything like a
real human language.  Think for a minute of Myrna Loy and WIlliam Powell, or
Cary Grant and Kate Hepburn; they were clearly American characters but their
language was something no human ear ever heard outside of a movie house."
On the whole, you're quite right--but surely you'd make an exception for Leo
G. Carroll (*his* persona, as the most prevalent of Hitchcock supporting actors
as well as his tv roles in TOPPER and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. could be
interesting in itself).
An example of this "acculturation of voice" can be heard in the original
A STAR IS BORN as Esther Blodgett of North Dakota is transformed into
glamorous Vickie Lester:  Just listen to the change in her vocal pitch, timbre
and inflection from the early scenes to the end.  The vocal coach's advice:
"The nose is for smelling roses, not for talking" was apparently heeded.
Films from A STAR IS BORN to SINGIN' IN THE RAIN make a point of the "cultured"
and "educated" backgrounds that were (apparently?) expected of actors at one
time--although an exotic background could do as well (Libby in A STAR IS BORN:
"You're sure there's no Russian in your family?  Too bad!").  But the shift to
a plain-spoken stye noted above must have had something to do with the genre
and marketing of the film, among other things.  That might be worthy of a study
in itself.
On the other hand, the desire for a "genuine" speech can sometimes lead to
absurdities like Al Pacino in REVOLUTION--Did anyone in 1776 talk like *that*?
Don Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
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