I recently watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Murder! (1930) that can be seen in its entirety online (see below). I have long been a fan of Hitchcock’s films but had not seen this one and was curious as to what his early efforts looked like.
It is not a great film but I learned something about how limited filmmakers were in their options in those days. As I was watching it, it felt strangely different and I finally pinned it down to the lack of ambient sounds, especially a soundtrack. With modern films, one hears music that sets the mood, footsteps when people walk, doors shutting, and all the other sounds that accompany the action. But in this case, there was mostly silence apart from dialogue, and it was the absence of such sounds that seemed strange.
In reading about the film later, I learned that in 1930, there was no post-production possibility of adding sounds after filming was completed, like they do now with Foley artists and adding a musical score. Any sound in the film had to be picked up by the microphones that picked up the dialogue while filming the scene. So for example, in this film at the 34:00 mark, we hear a character’s thoughts as a voiceover while he is shaving while a radio played music. How this was done was by having the actor’s voice pre-recorded and played on a phonograph while an actual orchestra on the set played the music.
Here’s the full film.