Lights of New York (1928 film)

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For the 1916 film, see Lights of New York (1916 film).
Lights of New York
Directed by Bryan Foy
Written by Murray Roth
Hugh Herbert
Starring Helene Costello
Cullen Landis
Eugene Pallette
Music by Louis Silvers
Cinematography Edwin B. DuPar
Edited by Jack Killifer
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates July 28, 1928
Running time 57 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $23,000

Lights of New York is a 1928 American crime drama film starring Helene Costello, Cullen Landis and Eugene Pallette, and directed by Bryan Foy. It is the first all-talking full length feature film, released by Warner Bros., who had introduced the first feature-length part-talkie The Jazz Singer in the previous year. The film, which cost $23,000 to produce, grossed over $1,000,000. The enthusiasm with which audiences greeted the talkies was so great that by the end of 1929, Hollywood was producing sound films exclusively.


The plot of the film centers around Eddie (Cullen Landis), a young kid from upstate New York who is conned into fronting for a speakeasy on Broadway. There is a chorus-girl with a heart of gold (top-billed Helene Costello), a cop-killing gangster boss, Hawk Miller (Wheeler Oakman) and his downtrodden ex-girlfriend (Gladys Brockwell). With the cops closing in on him, Hawk needs a fall guy. Planting contraband in poor Eddie's shop, the gang leader then instructs his henchmen to "take him for a ride" But Eddie escapes his "ride," and there is a final confrontation. Just as all hope seems lost, Hawk is killed by persons unknown. The murder weapon, however, belongs to the chorus girl and she is about to be arrested by Detective Crosby (Robert Elliott), when the real murderer—Miller's downtrodden ex-girlfriend—gives herself up



  • "At Dawning" (Sung by Harry Downing)
  • "Kiss and Make Up" (Sung by Harry Downing and danced by Chorus Girls in nightclub sequence)
  • "March Dance" (Danced by Chorus Girls in nightclub sequence)


Directed by Foy from a script written by Murray Roth and comedian Hugh Herbert, Lights of New York was originally intended to be a two-reel film with a budget of $12,000, as the studio had not yet committed to regular production of full-length talking films. However, with studio heads Harry and Jack Warner out of the country to oversee the European premiere of The Jazz Singer, the crew gradually elaborated the plot as the seven-day shooting schedule progressed. Louis Halper, who was in charge of the studio while the Warners were away, eventually wired Jack Warner for the additional money needed to finish the film.[1]

Upon discovering that Foy had shot four reels more than promised, Jack Warner ordered him to cut the film back to the original two. Foy later said that the Warners' initial rejection was possibly based on their plans to make the first all-talkie a prestige picture. In an effort to keep the movie off the shelf, Foy screened the picture for an exhibitor friend, who immediately offered to buy it outright for $25,000. Upon hearing this, the Warners asked Albert Warner to view the film, and his praise of Lights convinced Jack and Harry that their decision was premature, securing the film's release.[2]


Contemporary critical reception of Lights of New York was decidedly cool. A New York Times review, while acknowledging the film's place as "the alpha of what may develop as the new language of the screen", called the plot "crude in the extreme" and the direction wooden, only singling out the musical interludes for praise.[3] Variety was even more harsh in its dismissal, labeling the production "hokumed junk." "In a year from now everyone concerned [...] will run for the river before looking at it again"[4]

The criticism did not keep audiences away, although demand may have been driven more by the novelty of the first "all-talking" feature film than the film's dramatic qualities. A preview engagement in Pasadena, California, resulted in lines around the block, and the first week's gross at New York City's Mark Strand Theater amounted to $47,000.[1] Upon nationwide release, the film grossed $1.3 million.


Lights of New York still survives in complete form. In a formal ceremony on July 24, 1946, Albert Warner presented a print of Lights of New York to the Library of Congress as part of a yearlong celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the premiere of the Warner Bros. studio's first sound features.[5]


  1. ^ a b Sperling, Cass Warner; Cork Millner, Jack Warner Jr. (1998). Hollywood Be Thy Name: The Warner Brothers Story. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 139–141. ISBN 0-8131-0958-2. 
  2. ^ Eyeman, Scott (1997). The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution, 1926-1930. Simon and Schuster. pp. 174–176. ISBN 0-684-81162-6. 
  3. ^ "Seven Reels of Speech". New York Times. July 9, 1928. Retrieved March 16, 2010. [dead link]
  4. ^ Barrios, Richard (1995). A Song In The Dark: The Birth of the Musical Film. Oxford University Press. pp. 47–48. ISBN 0-19-508811-5. 
  5. ^ Frick, Caroline (2011). Saving Cinema: The Politics of Preservation. Oxford University Press. p. 68. ISBN 0-19-536811-8. 

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