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Grant, who assisted Nicholls to run the Melbourne office, can-  the corresponding estimate for city cinemas was a staggering
          not be discounted from the Westgarth equation at the present  50 per cent.
          time.                                                  A lachrymose aspect of talkies was that their introduction
            It may be worthwhile recalling at this point that no archi-  roughly coincided with the onset of the Great Depression and
          tect was employed in building the Westgarth Theatre in 1921.  its concomitant misery. Many an orchestra player was con-
          This, combined with the absence of building records concern-  demned to the swelling ranks of unemployed during this debil-
          ing the 1929 refurbishment, may lead one to surmise that no  itating time. Sadly, this was to be the exact fate of the seven
          architect was employed in the 1929 refurbishment. Research  piece Westgarth Theatre Orchestra. Mr Jack Nicholls recalled
          continues on this point. The absence of  documentary evidence  that the orchestra lost their jobs promptly upon the arrival of
          is a fundamental impediment.                        talkies. Musical director, Professor Jonathon Morton, became
                                                              an usher as a consequence.
          The Talkies                                            The unemployment rate in Victoria increased from 11.1
          Films with sound brought an entire new dimension to cinema.  per cent in 1929 to 27.7 per cent in mid 1932. Nevertheless,
          After the extensive 1929 orna-                                               irrepressible promoters adopt-
          mentation of the  Westgarth                                                  ed a mirthful guise: “Forget
          Picture  Theatre, it is perhaps                                              the  Depression! The Talkies
          unfortunate that Westgarth was                                               will cheer you up!” was their
          not the first of the High Street                                             defiant catchcry.  The reality
          theatres to exhibit talkies. That                                            behind this facade was any-
          coveted prize was seized by the                                              thing but cheerful. On 4 April
          Thornbury Regent which hosted                                                1932, the Cinematographe
          a grand, gala opening to show                                                Exhibitors Association  wrote
          Hearts in Dixie and In Holland                                               to   the   Public  Health
          In Holland on Monday 5 August                                                Department seeking a twelve-
          1929.                                                                        month deferral of ventilation
            The Northcote Theatre com-                                                 and temperature control relat-
          menced exhibiting talkies on                                                 ed works at the  Westgarth
          Monday 2 September 1929, its                                                 Theatre. Reasons cited were
          program    featuring  The                                                    small attendances and severe
          Mysterious Donovan Affair star-                                              financial strain.  The Health
          ring Jack Holy, supported by                                                 Department duly sanctioned
          The Flying Fleet.                                                            this request.
            One week later, on Monday
          9 September 1929, Westgarth                                                  Recovery, Renovation
          crossed the rubicon and showed                                               and War
          its first movie with sound:                                                  As the 1930s progressed, so
          Through Different Eyes starring                                              did a series of modifications
          Warner Baxter. This feature was                                              to the Westgarth Theatre. Re-
          supported by the silent drama                                                seating of the dress circle was
          The Sin Sister   and  Fox                                                    approved on 24 November
          Movietone News. The Westgarth                                                1934. Seating platforms in the
          Theatre, ameliorated by its elab-                                            front section of the circle were
          orate decorations, now billed                                                regraded and lounge seats
          itself  as  “The   Theatre                                                   were installed. As mentioned
          Beautiful”.                                                                  previously, it is possible that
            The rivalry between cinemas                                                the projectors were relocated
          was intense. On the opposite                                                 to the rear of the dress circle at
          side of Merri Creek, Hoyts                                                   this time. However, it is more
          Merri Theatre, North  Fitzroy,                                               likely that this had occurred in
          was also making its presence                                                 1929.
          felt as an exhibitor of talkies.                                                Further evidence of a post-
                                             Advertisement from Northcote Leader,      Depression cinema renais-
          The Great Depression                     Friday 1st August 1930.             sance was the opening of the
          The euphoria of the 1920s gave                                               Plaza Theatre  Northcote  on
          way to the congealing hardship of the Great Depression. The  Saturday 29 December 1934. The opening feature was  The
          cinema and live theatre industries were in no way invulnera-  Scarlet Empress starring Marlene Dietrich. This was support-
          ble. A State Entertainment Tax levied on live theatres effective  ed by Charles Ruggles, Mary Boland and Lanny Ross in
          December 1929 on admission prices over 2/6 only made mat-  Melody in Spring. The Plaza Theatre Northcote was in fact a
          ters worse. In 1929, Her Majesty’s  Theatre closed and the  remodelling of the desuetude Northcote Market.
          Athenaeum, Palace and Princess Theatres converted to film  Other High Street cinemas to emerge after the Great
          exhibition.                                         Depression were the Circle, the Planet and the St James (for-
            Everyones estimated, in December 1930, that box-office  merly the Star), all in Preston.  The Palais, later named the
          receipts in suburban cinemas had fallen by 25 per cent while  Plaza (then Cinema North), opened in High Street Reservoir

                                                                               CINEMARECORD Autumn 2001 15
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