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HISTORY

       The Terror marked the second “all-talking” feature-length motion picture released after Lights of New York (1928, see entry), also made by Warner Bros. Both films used the Vitaphone sound system.
       Screen rights to the underlying play, Edgar Wallace’s The Terror, were initially sold to Arthur Clavering, as reported in the 30 October 1927 Film Daily. Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.’s purchase of the screen rights occurred sometime in the following months. According to a news brief in the 12 September 1928 Variety, Edgar Wallace was paid $15,000 in exchange for the rights.
       The 24 June 1928 Los Angeles Times announced that filming was underway at the old Vitagraph Co. of America studio in Brooklyn, NY, which Warner Bros. had taken over in its acquisition of the former. A contradicting item in the 8 July 1928 Los Angeles Times indicated that filming occurred at the Warner Bros. lot in Hollywood, CA.
       Two negatives, one sound and one silent, were produced for distribution, so that the film could be played in all theaters, not only those that were equipped for talking films, according to the 11 August 1928 Motion Picture News. Theatrical release was scheduled to take place on 6 September 1928, although a review in the 25 August 1928 Harrison’s Reports cited an issue date of 20 November 1928. Earlier openings were set to occur in New York City on 15 August 1928 and in Los Angeles, CA, on 27 August 1928, as stated in the 25 August 1928 Los Angeles Times.
       Reactions to ...

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       The Terror marked the second “all-talking” feature-length motion picture released after Lights of New York (1928, see entry), also made by Warner Bros. Both films used the Vitaphone sound system.
       Screen rights to the underlying play, Edgar Wallace’s The Terror, were initially sold to Arthur Clavering, as reported in the 30 October 1927 Film Daily. Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.’s purchase of the screen rights occurred sometime in the following months. According to a news brief in the 12 September 1928 Variety, Edgar Wallace was paid $15,000 in exchange for the rights.
       The 24 June 1928 Los Angeles Times announced that filming was underway at the old Vitagraph Co. of America studio in Brooklyn, NY, which Warner Bros. had taken over in its acquisition of the former. A contradicting item in the 8 July 1928 Los Angeles Times indicated that filming occurred at the Warner Bros. lot in Hollywood, CA.
       Two negatives, one sound and one silent, were produced for distribution, so that the film could be played in all theaters, not only those that were equipped for talking films, according to the 11 August 1928 Motion Picture News. Theatrical release was scheduled to take place on 6 September 1928, although a review in the 25 August 1928 Harrison’s Reports cited an issue date of 20 November 1928. Earlier openings were set to occur in New York City on 15 August 1928 and in Los Angeles, CA, on 27 August 1928, as stated in the 25 August 1928 Los Angeles Times.
       Reactions to the film’s sound quality varied. A review in the 16 August 1928 Brooklyn Daily Eagle complained that the spoken dialogue was difficult to understand due to volume inconsistencies and pacing. Of Vitaphone, the review stated: “You become aware that the device works only when the lines are spoken loudly and slowly and that any attempt on the part of the actors to talk in conversational tones or at a conversational tempo results in partial or complete inarticulation of the film.” Lead actress May McAvoy’s lisp was also pointed out. The Boston Globe later mentioned McAvoy’s “delightfully realistic” screams and “looks of frozen horror.” The 19 August 1928 Los Angeles Times review, which incorrectly cited it as “the first all-dialogue picture of feature length,” lamented that The Terror would have been more entertaining as a silent. Meanwhile, the 25 August 1928 Harrison’s Reports lauded the picture and its sound, and stated it was a major improvement over Lights of New York, described as a “piece of junk.” Likewise, the 22 August 1928 Variety review praised the film’s sound as markedly better than that of its predecessor. The film’s musical score, played by the Warner Symphony Orchestra, received a positive mention in the 9 November 1928 [Johnson City, TN] Johnson City Staff-News.
       The film was set to open in London, where Edgar Wallace’s play had debuted, in late September or early October 1928. The 12 September 1928 Variety noted that the release would mark the second sound picture to play there, after The Jazz Singer (1928, see entry), but added that publicity for The Terror was minimal, owing to the “great deal of prejudice” against sound films. An item in the 31 October 1928 Variety followed up on the London opening, claiming that the reception had been dismal compared to “the tremendous success of ‘The Jazz Singer,’” and added that the picture’s “errors in English atmosphere and the excessive hoke of the film drew laughs.”
       Early Vitaphone sound films were accompanied by the advent of the “Coming Next Week” reel in sound, also known as “the talking trailer,” according to the November 1928 Motion Picture Magazine. The item reported that in advance of The Terror, an introductory film was shown of cast member Alec Francis introducing the picture and his fellow cast members, each of whom also appeared and said something about the movie.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Boston Globe
26 Nov 1928
p. 8
Brooklyn Daily Eagle [Brooklyn, NY]
16 Aug 1928
p. 34
Cincinnati Enquirer [Cincinnati, OH]
2 Dec 1928
p. 74
Film Daily
30 Oct 1927
---
Film Daily
19 Aug 1928
---
Harrison's Reports
25 Aug 1928
p. 134
Johnson City Staff-News [Johnson City, TN]
9 Nov 1928
---
Los Angeles Times
24 Jun 1928
Section C, p. 11
Los Angeles Times
27 Jun 1928
Section B, p. 10
Los Angeles Times
8 Jul 1928
Section C, p. 15
Los Angeles Times
19 Aug 1928
Section C, p. 13
Los Angeles Times
25 Aug 1928
Section A, p. 7
Motion Picture Magazine
Nov 1928
p. 66
Motion Picture News
11 Aug 1928
p. 462
New York Times
12 Aug 1928
---
New York Times
16 Aug 1928
p. 26
New York Times
18 Nov 1928
Sec. IX, p. 7
St. Louis Globe-Democrat [St. Louis, MO]
10 Sep 1928
p. 9
Variety
8 Aug 1928
p. 5
Variety
22 Aug 1928
p. 14
Variety
12 Sep 1928
p. 3
Variety
31 Oct 1928
p. 3
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Chick McGill
Dir of photog
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
PRODUCTION MISC
General press representative
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play The Terror by Edgar Wallace (London, 1927).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
6 September 1928
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 15 Aug 1928; Los Angeles opening: 27 Aug 1928
Production Date:
ca. Jun 1928
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
22 August 1928
LP25563
Physical Properties:
Sound
Vitaphone, Western Electric System and Apparatus
Black and White
Sound, also silent
Also si, 20 Oct 1928; 5,443 ft.
Duration(in mins):
80
Length(in feet):
7,654 , 7,774
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

The Terror, a maniacal killer whose identity is unknown, makes his headquarters in an old English country house that has been converted into an inn. With mysterious organ recitals and strange noises, The Terror frightens the guests, who include Mrs. Elvery, a spiritualist; Ferdinand Fane, a Scotland Yard detective who is not so stupid as he seems; and Joe Connors and Soapy Marks, a couple of criminals just released from jail who have sworn revenge on The Terror. After a night of murder and mayhem, the identity of The Terror is ...

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The Terror, a maniacal killer whose identity is unknown, makes his headquarters in an old English country house that has been converted into an inn. With mysterious organ recitals and strange noises, The Terror frightens the guests, who include Mrs. Elvery, a spiritualist; Ferdinand Fane, a Scotland Yard detective who is not so stupid as he seems; and Joe Connors and Soapy Marks, a couple of criminals just released from jail who have sworn revenge on The Terror. After a night of murder and mayhem, the identity of The Terror is revealed.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.