In 1927 came an
event that revolutionized the movie industry: Warner Brothers released The Jazz
Singer with portions of synchronized dialogue and songs and suddenly silent
films were outmoded.
The coming of sound was to ruin many a top star's career
- many floundered because their speaking voices or thick accents did not compare
to audience's preconceived notions. Not so for Ronald Colman;
if anything he
became even more popular - his modulated voice and British accent not only met
but exceeded his public's expectations.
Early sound films
were hampered by technical difficulties - the huge camera had to be encased
in a large soundproof box and movement was limited, unwieldy microphones hidden
amidst the scenery drew actors into static clusters to say their lines - but
within a few short years these problems were overcome and the movie industry
blossomed as never before.
talkie was 1929's Bulldog Drummond, for which he received a Best Actor
Oscar nomination. In addition to his cultured voice, Colman's acting style had
always been more restrained than some of the more flamboyant histrionics seen
on the silent screen - overly dramatic gestures and facial expressions that
had seemed apropos without dialogue were laughed off the screen with the coming
the early 30's producer Sam Goldwyn decided Colman was too big a star to 'overexpose'
and limited him to one film a year. Colman therefore had time to enjoy his hard-earned
success. He took a world cruise, joined partway by good friend Richard Barthelmess.
publicity stunt definitely backfired; he authorized press releases saying Colman
needed a few drinks to sustain his acting - something that may have well applied
to quite a few of his colleagues, but was not the case for Colman. He understandably
took offense to Goldwyn's little plan, sued his boss for a couple million dollars
and vowed not to work for him again. The case was settled out of court, but
Colman asked for and received a release from his contract with Goldwyn. Thus
ended a decade that had been highly profitable for both producer and star. Colman
soon became one of just a handful of top stars to successfully freelance, picking
and choosing his assignments and studios.