"This is Edwin C. Hill speaking, Hearst Metrotone globe trotter, bringing to you the picture news of the day....This is Edwin C. Hill , Metrotone globe trotter, bringing to Loew's Theater audiences the picture news of the day."
Whatever the film's subject, reassuring under the guise of informing was the touchstone of movie narration in the fretful 1930's.
William Randolph Hearst renamed as "Hearst Metrotone News" the silent newsreels he had been marketing to theaters since 1914 when, in 1929, he licenced the Fox Movietone sound system. Edwin C. Hill, news columnist who had worked for Fox creating news reels and even novelized Fox's The Iron Horse (1922), thereupon narrated Hearst news.
Booming over march band music and black and white news footage, Hill resembled a Wizard of Oz. Unseeable, seemingly omniscient, he was a voice emanating from a curtain. By 1952, he was the voice of authority introducing a Washington-themed radio melodrama, "Freedom USA." The footage above is outakes, presumably recorded to slip behind variant versions of Hearst newsreels.
Below, Edwin C. Hill narrates an account he wrote of Franklin D. Roosevelt's first days as president below. "Someone knows," Hill's diction said.
As bombers menaced London in 1939, E.V.H. Emmett, heard but unseen, similarly reassured moviegoers in British movie theaters.
"Okay...Houston, we've had a problem here."
"This is Houston. Say again please."
"Houston, we've had a problem. We've had a B bus undervolt."
"Roger. B bus undervolt. Okay. Standby, Thirteen, we're looking at it."
Ground controllers and astronauts in crisis resemble audience and character in voice-over. A voice from the abyss continues to exist...so long as you do.
In Portrait of Jennie (1948), an otherwise lackluster painter encounters an etherial presence, Jennie, visible only to him, who enters time to lead him beyond it. The movie abounds in voice-over. Let this Joseph Cotten voice-over from Portrait of Jennie (1948) stand for all of them.
Read it. Learn it. Do it.
In Portrait of Jennie (1949), Joseph Cotten delivered ten voice-overs for producer David O. Selznick. In The Third Man (1949), Cotten's next film, he delivered just one—created for the American release of the British film. American co-producer David O. Selznick substituted Cotten's voice-over for the original one delivered by the film's director, Sir Carol Reed. Hear segments of both voice-overs above.
Memo to scriptwriter Ben Hecht from producer David O. Selznick November 24, 1948:
DEAR BEN: VERY MANY THANKS IN ADVANCE FOR COMING TO THE RESCUE AGAIN ON A FOREWORD [for Portrait of Jennie]…THE AUDIENCE WAS ENCHANTED WITH THE WHOLE IDEA OF THE FOREWORD, AND IT SET THE MOOD BEAUTIFULLY FOR THE PICTURE…BUT IT SEEMED TO ME TO FAIL IN THE FOLLOWING PARTICULARS:…TOO ABSTRUCE AND HIGHFALUTIN’ FOR COMPLETE AUDIENCE UNDERSTANDABILITY. IT NEEDS…A CERTAIN ARTISTIC TONE WITH THE OLD HEARST SUNDAY-SUPPLEMENT TYPE HOKEYPOKEY, PSEUDOSCIENTIFIC APPROACH… WARMEST REGARDS. MOST GRATEFULLY. DAVID
Lenonard Lyons syndicated column, June 26, 1946
Hecht was a legendary scriptwriter who, from his home in Nyack, New York, doused Hollywood with vinegary wit. Director Preston Allegedly Sturges once wrote to a friend in New York about Hollywood in the 1930s, "It really is like Bridgeport with palms, only Bridgeport is greener." Hecht could have said that (and some say that he did).
You Did It Then: Change the emotional temperature of Portrait of Jennie by recording a voice-over track of your own voice over the sound track that sound engineer James G. Stewart created. In one new voice-over, “Eben” speaks. In another, “Jennie” does. You’ll mix the voice-overs, ducking Jennie’s “voice” over Eben’s, and vice-versa. You’ll adjust the original sound track to overweight the voice-overs. Step-by-step instructions and the files you can use are here.
You Do It Now: Shoot a new scene based on the Storyboard and Studio exercises. It has to have a voice over. Other than that, do what you want in the movie.