The Quicksands of the Movies


THE permanent situation in Hollywood is this: every producer says, seriously and with the greatest sincerity, that the pictures he will offer next year will be in every way superior to those he has made this year; but it is an offense against the current morality to suggest that any of this year’s pictures are in any way short of perfection. To hint a fault or hesitate dislike is not only bad manners; it brings you, directly or indirectly, to the final argument, that the picture you have criticized has made, or will make, a million and a half at the box office, with the implied rebuke that any improvement you have mentioned would have cut down that excellent figure.

The error of criticism so far has been that the critics accepted the producers’ finances and disagreed with them about art. I propose, instead, to take the cue dropped by Bernard Shaw many years ago, in one of the most famous, and probably most authentic, of all the stories about Samuel Goldwyn. Haggling over prices for his plays, Mr. Shaw was assured by Mr. Goldwyn that the movies made out of the plays would be in every way loyal to the original intent of the author and, as productions, incomparable. ‘You are a business man, Mr. Goldwyn,’said Shaw, ’and interested only in art; I am an artist, and interested only in money.‘

For the critic, that is the correct line. The movies are not making nearly enough money; my estimate is that they should yield a third more profit — or, to put it another way, the movies are operating at only two thirds of their capacity and are earning 33 per cent less than they should. As for art, we shall have better pictures only when the producers learn how to attract all of their potential patrons; it is quite possible that we shall not get better pictures until the producers learn how to make more money.


For the past ten years the movies have been living by a series of shocks, and their almost incredible improvement, year by year, has come about while the industry has been going through one convulsion after another. Accustomed to a feverish life, the producers, actors, writers, and directors hardly winked an eye as the market crash of 1929 destroyed the value of stocks; they were, in fact, isolated from Wall Street by a crash of their own, the destruction of the silent picture on which they had worked for a generation, and the destruction, at the same time, not only of physical property, but of a hundred priceless popular figures. Plant, players, methods of writing, acting, and directing, all had to be altered, and hardly had this been done when the competition of radio (virtually free entertainment in the midst of the great depression) began to squeeze the movie producers, who had sold their souls to the bankers and were undergoing the miseries of financial subjection. The radio was not conquered, but a long armistice was declared, when the movies encountered their next crisis: the censorship-boycott movement. A masterly series of political moves blunted the edge of this weapon temporarily (it has just been sharpened again by the direct approval of the Pope) and the movies had nothing to face except the coming of color, which is not so revolutionary as the coming of sound, but is perplexing; and in the distance, all the more menacing because of the uncertainty, lies television.

These are The headaches of Hollywood,’ suffering which Hollywood has turned out, in addition to an incalculable amount of trash, such excellent pictures as have made even the diehards forget the ancient glories of the silent screen. It has mastered, tardily but surely, the complicated relation between dialogue and action; its average pictures, even, are more intelligent than they ever were; it has timidly touched upon serious themes; it has filmed Shakespeare without vulgarity and Dickens without artiness; and the movie director, central figure in the whole business of production, has grown in authority and independence.

There is, however, another crisis, far removed from Hollywood: the crisis at the box office, which is reflected in the bankruptcies, reorganizations, and mergers or outright sales of the great producing companies. Mr. Leonard Lyons, of the New York Post, recently reported ‘the serious suggestion, made by the owner of a Brooklyn movie house, that his colleagues unite with him in eliminating feature pictures, movie shorts, and newsreels from their programmes. “All we need,” he proposed, “is Bank Nights.”’ Bank Night, Screeno, and a dozen other devices for attracting customers to the movie houses on one or two nights a week, are forms of gambling which manage to be within the law; prizes ranging from five dollars to a thousand or more fall to the lucky ones, and energetic enthusiasts for the art of the cinema, in large towns, can manage to see pictures every night in a different neighborhood, and never pay an admission without a chance at a lottery.

These exciting attractions are only a well-organized version of the older method of giving a piece of china to every woman in the audience (there is the story of the operator who went to the booking office with a specimen prize and asked for a film ‘to go with this china’), and all of them go back to the system of double-billing, giving two full-length feature pictures, plus a newsreel and a short subject, on each bill. The exhibitor does not want to show two features — he could empty his house and fill it again much faster with one; but he has found that to fill his house at all he has to offer a second picture which roughly corresponds to the orchestra and stage show of the elaborate ‘downtown’ houses. To the producer, the double feature is an unmitigated nuisance; some of his more than usually super super-features are made so long that a second full-time picture cannot be added. But even such a successful picture as Chaplin’s Modern Times was shown in double billing within a few weeks after it had finished its first run.

If the producers have long memories, they may recall the time when a single, fairly short feature picture, a comedy, and a newsreel made up a programme which millions of people eagerly paid to see; if they have any mathematics, they can take the double feature as proof that the pictures they produce are not making enough money. Single pictures roll up huge grosses, and an individual producer when he has to lower his salary from a half to a quarter of a million dollars is still doing well; but the industry as a whole lags far behind its own possibilities and may soon give ground in a far more serious way.


Hollywood is living to-day on the virtually automatic habit of ‘going to the movies’ which was created in the past generation. Some of us go to see the exceptional or exceptionally publicized pictures; but every week there are seventy million paid admissions at movie houses, mounting to half a billion dollars a year and totaling, as engineers say, something like six billion man-hours of attendance annually — and this happens because for twenty years going to the movies has been almost as common a thing as having dinner. The phrase itself explains a great part of the popularity of the pictures: we say ‘We’ll go to a movie’ a hundred times for every time we definitely name the picture we shall go to see; going to the movies is still far more important than going to see Clark Gable or Joan Crawford in His (or Her) Great Night. The only reason people ask, ‘What’s playing?’ is to avoid seeing a film twice; otherwise any movie is as satisfactory as any other movie.

There was a time when the theatre enjoyed this uncritical patronage. On the road, theatregoers went to see whatever was offered, any play being better than none; but even in cities with half a dozen or more theatres, people planned to ‘go to a show,’ and the theatre for many years has lived on what remains of this habit, the faithful taking their chance on any play which has not been vigorously condemned by the critics, ultimately going to see every production which manages to last long enough; the others, fundamentally the movie public, go to a ‘show’ only if it becomes a spectacular success. The producers of movies are well aware of the existence of people who have never seen a stage play; but they do not begin to suspect that a generation may rise which will not habitually go to the movies.

This does not mean that the movies will cease to exist; only that their popularity will dwindle. Already children will not go to the pictures at certain hours of the day because at those sacred hours they must listen to serial adventures on the air; during the height of the madness about Amos ’n’ Andy there was a perceptible falling off of movie attendance for the period preceding their broadcast, and it was reported that certain theatres suspended their screen show and brought the comedians to their audiences through loud-speakers; in the past five years, which included the time of the great comedians on the air, millions have stayed at home to listen to the radio, and so consoled themselves for being unable to afford the price of the movies. Add television, and you multiply by a high coefficient the peril to the pictures.

If the time comes when people go to the movies only for an exceptionally attractive picture, the whole foundation of the industry will have to be altered. To anticipate that serious change, the producers should now eliminate as far as possible those pictures which serve merely to pass the time, those from which people depart not actively displeased, but not particularly enthusiastic. To capture and hold the two million new patrons who annually arrive at the age of going to the movies, the pictures must be definitely above the grade of those ‘seconds’ from which the producers themselves expect little return and which are manufactured largely to satisfy the commercial requirement of the double bill.


The fundamental defect of the movies to-day is that they are made to be forgotten. ‘Memorable’ is one of the last adjectives to appear in the vocabulary of the movie press agent, and, strictly speaking, is applicable to perhaps a dozen, at the most a score, of pictures made since the days of the peepshow. The life of a picture is limited to its first performance, so to speak, and the producers have no intention of extending it.

If a well-founded rumor suggested, six months in advance, that Sinclair Lewis might be nominated for President or Ernest Hemingway win the Nobel prize, the publishers of their books would issue new editions, perhaps with a fresh preface, but leaving the text unchanged. The producers of the movie versions of Arrowsmith and A Farewell to Arms would hastily make the pictures over again, especially if the stars of the original productions were no longer at a peak of popularity. Already one of the pictures with which the Warner Brot hers and Al Jolson launched the talkies has been remade, all new except for the star. The death of Will Rogers led to showings of his pictures, and any award or prize won by a picture or a player may bring a few films back to neighborhood houses. But the only films with permanent revival value are those of Chaplin, to which sound has been added, and the animated cartoons, chiefly from the Disney studio.

I have suggested a comparison between books and movies, and the parallel should be carried still further. The movies are at about the level of the detective story, which, with a few exceptions, is also made to be forgotten. The algebraic formula of the mystery novel is almost always the same: X murders Y; suspicion is thrown on A and Z; but D (for detective) discovers the truth in the end. In the movies, X seldom commits murder. X is in love with Y, but is thwarted by Z, usually through the creation of a misunderstanding which is cleared up by B, the comedian friend of X, so that the truth is discovered at the end, with love and kisses.

Unless the alphabetical symbols have special points of interest as human creatures, there is no more satisfaction in reading a detective story a second time than there is in reading the mathematical formula. In the movies, special interest lies in external circumstances: how Z interferes with X and by what enterprise X overcomes his difficulties. The transcontinental bus and the courtroom are not only settings, but mechanisms for developing the plot. But, once the answer is known, there is nothing to attract a second view. It may be true that the shopgirl identifies herself with Joan Crawford, or with anyone else in gowns by Adrian, but she does not want to do this twice in the same picture, and the more rapidly she forgets the first movie, the more ready she is to see another.

Far too many books are published for their immediate sensation, but the great publishing houses do not live by these, nor by the windfall of bestsellers; they have a backlog of books which sell steadily from year to year, and are constantly adding to that list. Moreover, the automatic habit of reading is nourished by a steady supply of books which can be, and are, read over and over again. It is to the solid and permanent foundation of the publishing business, and not to the accidental and haphazard situation of the theatre, that the movies should look for a guide in their own perplexities. The reel of film in the can is as permanent as the bound pages of a book; it has nothing to do with a performance on the stage which is over when the last curtain falls.


Haltingly, half-consciously, the movies have discovered new fields. Fifteen years ago when I would suggest biographical or historical feature films, I would be told that the movies had to have stories and the stories had to be love stories. (The success of the gangster cycle of films a few years ago put an end to the last of these illusions.) The movies still make fiction of the lives of Pasteur and Florence Nightingale and Dr. Mudd of Shark Island; there are half a dozen eminent biographers who do the same thing with their subjects. The significant event is the appearance of the character of human beings as the prime element in pictures, and this event, if I am not mistaken, can be traced back to the activities of the boycotters who in 1934 became a serious menace to the prosperity of Hollywood.

The intimidated producers — they are never arrogant to organized groups — cast about for safe subjects and with a fine instinct landed on the Victorian novel. The very name ‘Victorian’ was a guarantee of purity, and the fact that passions existed in these novels was an added advantage. The producers discovered when they went to work that if they wanted sin they had only to remove a slight veil of sentimentality from the Victorians’ fiction, and there sin was, protected by the sanctity of time from anything the censor might do. Out of the vast three-decker novels they could always salvage enough action for an average feature picture, and prestige could be counted on to offset any possible distaste for costume pictures.

It was a happy choice; how happy the producers do not yet know, for they seem unaware of the free gift which the Victorian novel made to them: the gift of rounded, complete, human characters. For the first time, audiences began to be interested in what a person is, more than in what he does.

The perfect example is David Copperfield, in which David himself was of little interest, being chiefly the carrier of the plot or action; Uriah Heep, Micawber, Aunt Betsey Trotwood, and Murdstone were absorbingly interesting because all of their words and actions revealed character. The same cause and the same effect were seen even earlier in the movie version of The Thin Man. Unable to transfer the brutal sexual play of this book to the screen, Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich made it into a light comedy, and at the request of W. S. Van Dyke, the director, put in eight scenes between a husband and wife who, by some miracle, loved one another. In those scenes the characters of the pair were fully developed; but those scenes did not carry the plot a foot forward, and in fact, in this excellent and remarkably successful picture, the plot was negligible.

Bemused, apparently, by their experiment in color, the producers of Becky Sharp made the primary error of considering Vanity Fair as a series of dramatic episodes instead of a typical Victorian character study, and the film was altogether unsatisfactory; even biographical films have made the same error, Barnum coming to the screen with hardly a trace of the original character and Diamond Jim doing nothing whatever with the human being Brady, and a great deal too much with a plot which, I suspect, he would have despised. On the other side, the violent action of Viva Villa became absorbingly interesting because Villa himself was not a movie bandit, but a remarkably attractive human being.

The importance of character in the movies is that it provides a sustaining interest which continues after the picture is ended. That a man beats his wife may, if we see the action, satisfy some sadistic impulse in us, but unless we know what kind of man he is (and what kind of wife she is) our interest ends with the event. The cavalier treatment of women which was for a time the mark of James Cagney’s pictures was effective beyond the duration of the act, because Cagney is an actor of unusual natural talent and applied intelligence, so that he can render a character completely. The Hollywood habit is to abandon such renderings of character to the minor actors, while the stars carry the plot and the emotional charge of the film.

In the gay escapade, It Happened One Night, there was a faint suggestion that Claudette Colbert was playing the part of a willful daughter of the rich, but what species of man Clark Gable was representing could not be told, and what remains in the memory of this remarkable film is such an episode as Miss Colbert’s fixing her garter, to attract the attention of passing motorists, after Mr. Gable’s ‘thumbing’ had failed. Working with material not nearly so light in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, the same director, Frank Capra, made Gary Cooper portray a simple but definitely known human character and, by delaying the plot to give the character time to unfold, insured himself against any failure of interest. Mr. Deeds took part in the orchestral serenade to himself, playing the tuba part of ‘He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’; for comedy, the scene was worth a great deal of time, but its greater value was that when Mr. Deeds went into philanthropy on a grand scale, and became as tiresome and involved as most philanthropists do, that memory of his simplicity carried the spectator through until the next exciting episode began.

The carry-over of interest is precisely what the film of action-without-character always lacks. In the old days, when a preview was held and the producers found a sequence which was tiresome, they either cut it out or inserted a train wreck. The dialogue picture does not permit such summary operations, and as not even the best movie can continually hold the pace of its most exciting moments, something else must be found. The current practice is to insert comedy, and this has brought to prominence a number of excellent players like Frank McHugh, Henry Armetta, Edgar Kennedy, Zasu Pitts, and Edna May Oliver, most of whom are far superior in ability to the stars whom they support. The defect of this grafting method, however, is that it often throws the interest of the spectator to minor characters in the film and, what is worse from the producer’s point of view, diverts attention from the players on whom he is currently spending vast sums for exploitation.

Mr. Capra’s experiment with Gable and Cooper, giving them comedy in the first case and character in the second, is an indication of the proper method. It corresponds to our common experience: we do not expect our most intimate friends to be always witty, or always picturesque, or even always interesting; we are not aware of their being below their usual form, except in rare instances, because they have remained themselves, the persons who have always attracted and interested us. So in a movie, if a character has once caught our attention, we are willing to let him proceed at his own pace and do not clamor for a succession of thrills.

The development of characters as a primary element in the movies will, therefore, make them more interesting and interesting for a longer time. Destined to be universally popular, the movies cannot abandon any of their superficial attractions: beautiful women, handsome men, coarse comedy, and everything that appeals to the simpler emotions. As they lie in peril of exhausting the instant appeal of these elements, they must build them, as the popular novel does, on a firm foundation. For the moment they are safe in the arms of the Victorians; Brontë and George Eliot will follow Dickens and Thackeray. Eventually they will find that the well has run dry; they will have to create their own material; then, if they remember the lesson of the Victorians, that human beings arc perpetually interested in human character, they will be safe.


For the most part, the players in the movies have been animated illustrations of a plot. They have walked, shrugged shoulders, looked coy, and otherwise been decorative, but they have n’t often played in a ‘ cast of characters.’ The dozen outstanding men and women of the screen are, most of the time, counterparts of the men and women created a generation or so ago by Gibson and Coles Phillips and Keller and Wenzell and the other gifted illustrators of that period. Fashions in illustrated books changed, and finally illustrations disappeared entirely. Fashions in stars change also. But stars need not disappear.

The moment the producers (with the coöperation of their directors) instruct their stars to create characters on the screen, the effective life of the movie star will be perceptibly lengthened. The gain in longer runs for each picture and the creation of a permanent repertory of revivals will be matched by the greater return on the enormous investment which a film star now represents. In the remorseless turnover of Hollywood, a few stars persist, with an unusual power to renew their appeal to the public. The rest are energetically exploited, tossed into one picture after another in which they play substantially the same part, trusting to a novelty of plot or a new headdress to make them appear fresh; and presently they are going downhill, carrying with them a part of the investment by which they were created. To prolong their lives, by the standards of the box office, should be the first concern of the producers; and the only way to prolong their lives is to give them variety, to make them ten times as interesting because they play ten times as many characters. Once in a lifetime, perhaps, a Garbo can walk through a part as if in a trance and still be completely fascinating; she is often permitted to do this by directors who seem unaware of the range of her talents, and many of her pictures have been failures. Those who have less magic — or into whose legend less magic has been injected — have to act. The audiences demand it.

I am aware of the general impression in Hollywood that the audiences demand nothing but what the producer happens to give them. There is evidence, however, that audiences have a feeling for character. Miss Myrna Loy for many years acted a part, a purely conventional, attractively villainous seductress. She was sufficiently liked, but it was only after she deserted that role and deftly played the character of the wife in The Thin Man that she became sensationally popular. Victor MacLaglen’s magnificent performance, under the direction of John Ford, in The Informer, was another instance of the progress of an actor. The Informer, in many ways the most important picture Hollywood has made since sound came in, was not remarkably successful, but MacLaglen’s reputation rose almost to the highest point attainable by an actor who is not also a matinee idol. By one of his many shrewd guesses, Mr. Goldwyn divined the presence of a capable actress under the famous slant eyes of Merle Oberon; he discarded the highly advertised make-up, gave her a simple character to play, and vastly increased the range of her appeal. Cagney, E. G. Robinson, Roland Young, and a number of others, being actors in the first place, have had to fight only against stereotypes; Paul Muni, definitely a character actor, provided a memory as Pasteur which contrasted with Muni as a fugitive from a chain gang. Although the voice of W. C. Fields as Micawber was the voice of the most endearing comedian of our time, the character he created was fresh and complete, accomplishing the small miracle of convincing even those who ‘saw’ Micawber totally different in physical aspect.

Charles Laughton, as Bligh, Ruggles, and Mr. Barrett of Wimpole Street, is the most conspicuous instance of an actor escaping from a type; Mae West and Shirley Temple are the two most obvious examples of players compelled to neglect their great creative talents — they are both remarkable actresses — in order to exploit a specialty in as many films and as rapidly as possible. Bette Davis, like Spencer Tracy or Warner Baxter, will either exhibit a bag of tricks with sufficient talent to fool an audience or blaze into an astounding creation as she did in Of Human Bondage and Bordertown.

The last moment, in which the player’s intelligence about the part he is playing is fused with the talent by which the part can be rendered and the emotion can be communicated, is what we always look for and always recognize in acting; it is seldom called for on the screen.

This assumes that players are capable of understanding the characters they portray and are permitted to know what the characters are. In the old silent days, D. W. Griffith preferred not to tell his players anything about the plot or the characters; he dictated the emotion to be shown, with a meagre hint about the episode then being filmed; and actually he got excellent results. In talking pictures the players have to know enough to give sense to the words they speak; whether they always do is a question.

Last year the favorite story in Hollywood, a story told by writers and actors, but by no directors, concerned an actor who was called in on short notice to do a small part. The director explained it: ‘You are an old retired sea captain and you’re sitting here at this desk, and then you look up and you see Jack coming down the stairs, over there. You get up — you have n’t seen him for ton years — and you say, “Why, if it is n’t my old friend Jack!” Then you remember, and you put your hand behind your back and you sit down again. Do you think you can do it?’ The actor thought he could, but every time he did it the director cried out in pain that it was all wrong; after dozens of rehearsals and retrials the director repeated the instructions over again, and in desperation the actor asked, ‘What is it I’m supposed to remember?’ and the director said, casually, ‘Oh, didn’t I tell you? You’re supposed to be suffering from leprosy.’

If this is fantasy, the solemn testimony of a distinguished actor is not. He was to play the governor of a district in a costume play. ‘Shall I take it frivolously,’ he asked, ‘or solemnly, or shall I make him a damn fool, or what? ’ And the director, one of the best in the business, replied, ‘What are you asking all those questions for? You’re playing the governor. You know — Merriam is governor of California — well, you ’re governor of this place.’ He knew nothing more of part or plot — and turned in a much applauded performance.


We on the outside, to whom the moving picture is a miracle perpetually renewing itself, are not aware of the producers’ difficulties, and it is only as a matter of strategy that we promise greater profits from better pictures. Actually the producer is timid. It took the movies about three years to move the camera away from the face of the speaker; the producers were apparently afraid that audiences would be confused if they heard the voice of a man saying ‘I love you’ and saw the expression on the face of the woman he addressed. They have always underestimated their public. Yet they are not without experience. They remember that Zasu Fitts gave a remarkable performance as a tragic mother in All Quiet on the Western Front, but had to be eliminated from the finished picture because the preview audiences, accustomed to laugh at her fluttering hands, refused to believe that the emotion she expressed was to be taken seriously. This is their justification for keeping players within a narrow range; it actually proves that the actress should have played many parts before any particular mannerism had become too familiar.

Mr. Laughton broke away from the type of the cynical sadist in good time, and the audiences which saw him in Ruggles did not for a moment think he was meant to be funny in Mutiny on the Bounty, although many of the gestures he used were identical. In spite of an excellent theatrical make-up as Uriah Heep, Roland Young was recognizable as the man who had played a dozen light and sardonic parts, but he was even more recognizable as Uriah Heep. Actors, even the most talented, have found that they express certain emotions best in a way of their own, a trick of gesture or voice, and they will revert to this way whenever those emotions are to be communicated ; their trouble, a perpetual one on the screen, begins when the mannerism conveys nothing, and is merely a trademark by which they, individually, are identified, just at the moment when they should be submerged in the character they are playing.

In a sense the producers do not want their stars to act. It is only after the primary charm of their personalities has evaporated that stars are allowed to play what they call ‘character parts,’ as if the principal rôles in any dramatic action were carried by people without character. The producers themselves foster the idea that their beautiful women have no talent. Miss Jean Harlow, having been launched as an actress because she was a platinum blonde, actually startled the public with comic talent of a rather high order; but the second wave of her popularity is based on the discovery of a new shade of hair dye, somewhat revoltingly called ‘brownette.’ The cosmetic talents of Hollywood are incalculable, but it is easy to see that the variations are not limitless; whereas the appeal of good acting is everlasting. For instant results, a new make-up, a new lover or divorce, a touch of synthetic glamour, and a good leg are excellent commodities; ten thousand are interested in what Miss Carole Lombard thinks about acting with her divorced husband and only one or two individuals care about art. But as a sensation dies, its beneficiary ceases to be attractive at the box office, whereas a success firmly grounded on good acting asks no outside help. So long as the movies live by the drivel in the fan magazines, they are wasting their substance, building up reputations only to see them die, and, what is far worse for themselves, destroying their long-run hold on the public.

One of the longer-lasting sensations of the movies was ‘It,’ which was something beyond the normal exploitation of the sexual interest. Yet sex appeal as a dominant theme does not occur three times in the twenty-five pictures which have brought in the largest gross receipts in the history of the industry. After the great spectacles and the musical shows, moving pictures based on characters and the interrelations of human beings hold a high place: there are the character comedies of Chaplin, far surpassing the action comedies of all his rivals; far up on the list are the character pictures starring Marie Dressler; there are Anna Christie and Little Women and Daddy Long Legs and The Champ and State Fair, and almost alone as representative of Sex Appeal there is The Sheik, far down the list, and I can discover no picture featuring Clara Bow, the ‘It girl’ herself.

This does not mean that the exploitation of sex appeal was a financial error. It probably paid as well in its time as the exploitation of the gangster interest a few years ago. But it added nothing to the permanent strength of the moving picture, and the gangster pictures, being conceived as melodramas of human beings, definitely did.


The moving picture has to attract some two million new patrons every year; that number of children arrive annually at the age of going to the movies. Moreover, it has to keep nearly all its adult clients; and if producers cling to the idea that the average adult intelligence is no greater than that of a child of eleven or twelve, they need to reëxamine the child’s intelligence, to note how rapidly a child distinguishes, at his own level, what is faked and what is sound, how soon he is tired of imitations, and how quickly he responds to everything powerful and clear.

The producers cannot throw away their immediate attractions; there is no reason for them not to exploit a passing interest, a new fad, a style of dress, a child player. There have been exploitations at least as meretricious in grand opera, portrait painting, book publishing, and the theatre. What is lacking in the movies is only the deep background of these other arts, the background which creates permanent interest. It would be a pity if the movies forgot that they are a business and tried too hard to be an art; but to be a good business the movies must learn something of the way in which human beings are entertained. People go to hear the same symphonies played dozens of times, not to mark differences, but to repeat a known pleasure; they listen to popular tunes being played dozens of times a night on the air, or play them endlessly, for months, on phonograph records; in books, in plays, they surrender to the known as well as to the unknown; and it is this disposition to go over in our minds the pleasures we have had, and then repeat the experience which gave us the pleasure, which makes us book lovers or music lovers or playgoers or constant visitors to museums and galleries.

The lasting satisfaction of enjoying a movie long after we have seen it is very rare; Chaplin and Fields are the only two players who always give it, and no director since Griffith, no producer, no writer for the movies, can be counted on for it. Until some five years ago, this lack of the third dimension of human interest did not cost the movies a penny; ten or fifteen years from now it may cost them all the millions they have made, because it will have cost them the habit of going to the movies. The way to make the movies more interesting, for a longer time, is not by attempting to make artistic films, but by discovering the true source of the movie’s power, which lies in its magical and matchless capacity to convey all the variety and richness of life through the actions of human characters.