His Glorious Night

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His Glorious Night
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Directed by Lionel Barrymore
Produced by Irving Thalberg (uncredited)
Written by Ferenc Molnár (play)
Willard Mack
Starring John Gilbert
Catherine Dale Owen
Music by Lionel Barrymore
Cinematography Percy Hilburn
Edited by William LeVanway
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • September 28, 1929 (1929-09-28)
Running time
80 minutes
Country United 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. It has gained notoriety as the film that reputedly ended the career of John Gilbert by revealing that he had a voice unsuitable for sound.[1]

More recent research suggests that an old fashioned script that clung too closely to the conventions of silent film was a more likely culprit.The film is based on the 1928 play Olympia by Ferenc Molnár.[2][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.[citation needed]

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.[1][4]



Although His Glorious Night was John Gilbert's first sound film to be released, it was not his first talkie to be filmed. He previously filmed Redemption (1930), which was released a year later.[5]


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. The tale is thought to have inspired `The Duelling Cavalier', the film at the centre of Singin' in the Rain (1952).

In fact, while reviews of the film itself ranged from tepid to cautiously supportive, Gilbert himself received generally good notices and his voice was judged perfectly adequate, if somewhat studied in tone. Mordaunt Hall, the New York Times' film critic, wrote of him:

"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."[6]

However, in the same review, Hall singled out the picture's main flaw - a creaky story 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."[6]

This approach to love scenes, far more in line with the technique of silent cinema than sound, was criticised in many reviews.[7] One critic even stated that '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.'[8]

The laughter was blamed not on Gilbert's voice but 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'.[1]

Rumors of sabotage[edit]

Some, including Gilbert's own daughter Leatrice Gilbert Fountain,[9] 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.[10]

As was common at the time, foreign-language versions were not made by dubbing, but by additional filming, with the original actors either reading translations of their lines phonetically or replaced by actors fluent in the language. In 1930, the French remake Si l'empereur savait ça, Spanish remake Olimpia and German remake Olympia were released.[11] All versions received notably better reviews.[1]

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 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[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Hall, Mordaunt. "Review Summary". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-01-16. 
  2. ^ Info "Screenplay Info for His Glorious Night (1929)" Check |url= value (help). Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2010-01-16. 
  3. ^ Olympia as produced on Broadway, Empire Theatre, October 16, 1928 to November 1928; IBDb.com
  4. ^ Synopsis "Full Synopsis for His Glorious Night (1929)" Check |url= value (help). Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2010-01-16. 
  5. ^ Walker, A., The shattered silents: how the talkies came to stay. p.169
  6. ^ a b Hall, Mordaunt (1929-10-05). "Review". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  7. ^ Koszarski, R., An evening's entertainment: the age of the silent feature picture, 1915-1928. p.311
  8. ^ Basinger, J., Silent Stars. p.394
  9. ^ 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 (1985), St Martins Press, New York
  10. ^ Fleming, E. J., The fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling, and the MGM publicity machine. p.80
  11. ^ "Notes for His Glorious Night (1929)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2010-01-16. 

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