The Lost Zeppelin (1929)

Article #1372 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-16-2004
Posting Date: 5-15-2005
Directed by Edward Sloman
Featuring Conway Tearle, Virginia Valli, Ricardo Cortez

Two men in love with the same woman leave together on a zeppelin en route to the south pole.

Fantastic content: The zeppelin trip to the south pole makes the movie at least marginally science fiction.

Back in my college days, I agreed to take a part in a radio play about a detective, and I ended up with the lead role. After the first read-through, one problem became alarmingly clear; the script was not long enough to fill the thirty-minute slot set aside for it. The director decided that the best way to deal with this problem was for everyone (especially me) to talk much slower. I did, and ended up giving one of the worst performances of my life.

To get to the point, the way I feel about my performance in this radio play is the way I feel about most of the very early talkies; I find them almost unwatchable, but it isn’t quite their fault. Because of the technical restrictions of trying to incorporate the technical innovation of sound, much of the dramatic content was badly compromised. The opening twenty-five minutes of this movie suffers from the fact that it is both talky and cliched, and the huge gaps between cues were both technically necessary and dramatically disastrous, as the pace slows to a crawl.

The movie improves immensely once we get to the zeppelin flight, largely because the special effects are excellent. However, every time it becomes necessary to turn to conversation to advance the plot, we are forced to leave the environs of the zeppelin (it’s droning sound would drown out any conversation) and must go back to civilization where we can watch people sitting around and listening to plot developments over the radio, and this gets tiresome quickly. As it is, if it weren’t for the special effects, I would find this movie almost unwatchable.

Still, I don’t want to be too hard on the movie; I have this problem with all the talkies from this era. Had it been made a few years later when the sound technology and the techniques been better developed, it would have flowed a lot better. Therefore, I feel more inclined to take my hat off to those who pioneered the early sound movies; whatever their flaws, they were taking the necessary steps to perfect the new technology. I applaud the effort, even if I find the results difficult to watch.


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