A haunting lyric foxtrot ballad it may be, but `Weary River’ became famous for something else it was - or wasn’t.
Richard Barthelmess was one of the most highly respected actors in Hollywood. He had been the star of some of D.W. Griffiths’ most famous films, including `Broken Blossoms’ (1919) and `Way Down East’ (1920), as well as the star of what is still one of the most beloved American silent films, Henry King’s `Tol’able David’ (1921). As his first talkie, `Weary River’ was hotly anticipated.
Barthelmess played the role of a criminal whose love of music and talent for singing leads him back onto the straight and narrow - a story that was reputedly based on a real life incident. It went without saying that a good singing voice would be essential.
Studios had invested millions of dollars in the development of their actors, and were now eager to push the idea that sound would `refurbish’ existing stars by showing a whole new side to them. “You don’t know nothin’ yet!” boasted a Vitaphone advertisement for `Weary River’, consciously echoing Al Jolson’s famous proclamation from `The Jazz Singer’.
Slightly evasively, it added: ”You and millions of others have gone just to see him act. Now you can hear him talk and play the piano!”
But what of his singing? The truth would soon out.