In 2016, Richard Koszarski and I composed an international annotated filmography of television in motion pictures from before 1939. Our aim was to list all pre-World War II narrative films in which some aspect of television plays at least a minor role. The filmography was first published, with Koszarski’s introductory essay, in The Journal of E-Media Studies.
The filmography is a work-in-progress, as more research on the topic continues to produce new finds. it currently consists of 146 films from 1908 to 1939. This page include the original filmography as well as new entries, corrections, and added information we have discovered since its publication. If you have suggestions for film we should feature here, please let me know in the comments sections below.
La photographie électrique à distance / Long Distance Wireless Photography
(1908, Star Film Co., France) dir. Georges Méliès
US release: Apr. 1908
“An aged couple enter the workshop of an inventor where the truly wonderful contrivance for wireless photography is explained and demonstrated to them. A photograph of three ladies is first transmitted to a large screen. The inventor finally persuades the old lady in her poke bonnet to sit by the transmitter and have her likeness thrown upon the screen. Her face in exaggerated proportions, and somewhat comically altered, is cleverly du[plicated . . .] then her husband, eccentric in his whiskers and coiffure, puts his face before the transmitter. But to the amazement of the beholders, a hideous monkey’s face appears at the other end of the apparatus, but resembling in general outline the sitter’s physiognomy” (Star Film Catalog 1908, 146).
Le merveilleux telecinematoscope / The Marvelous Telecinematoscope
(1908, Lux, France)
UK release: Dec. 1908
Very little information is available about the film, though the title uses a word that recalls how image transmission devices were referred to during the period.
Amour et science / Love and Science
(1912, Éclair, France) dir. M. K. Roche [?]
France release: May 31, 1912; US release: Sep. 29, 1912
“A strictly motion picture story, dealing with a scientist whose interest in perfecting a seeing telephone grows so great that he neglects his sweetheart. He succeeds, but while receiving his first call his girl plays a trick on him, which, innocent though it is, unseats his mind. In order to restore it the scene of the prank must be reproduced and for this purpose the services of a motion picture company are employed” (Moving Picture World, Oct. 12, 1912, 144).
Reviews: Universal Weekly, Sep. 28, 1912: 16; Cine Journal 195 (May 18, 1912)
Le telephone qui accuse / The Silent Witness
(1913, Pathé, France) dirs. Henri Desfontaines and Paul Garbagni
France release: Feb. 19, 1914
An engineer who invents a téléphote —a telephone that allows seeing at a distance—is wrongfully accused of a crime, but his invention ultimately helps revealing the real wrongdoers. “One thing much in its favor is its showing actually at work a new invention, the téléphote which will give a clear picture of the person talking through the telephone at the other end of the wire. The apparatus used is quite elaborate; one would think that some inventor at work on the very problem had loaned his material and, of course, by trick camera manipulation it is made to work perfectly. There is a good deal of interest attached to it; for the telephote, not yet perfected, is still the dream of many inventors and it is good in the picture, because it is a thing that has excited popular imagination” (Moving Picture World, Dec. 12, 1914: 1534).
For the Secret Service
(1914, Rex Motion Picture Company, US) dir. Robert Z. Leonard
US release: Aug. 27, 1914
Spy drama about the secret service’s use of a new technology for distant seeing in the struggle against a foreign power with advance aerial navigation (Moving Picture World, Aug. 22, 1914: 1140, 1142).
[Dr. Ams Tram Grams Kikkert / Dr. Ams Tram Gram’s Binoculars]
Sweden release: Sep. 1915
An inventor of an electrical telescope device that can display any place in the world showcases his invention to a guest. After they leave the laboratory, the inventor’s assistant attempts to use the telescope and ends up breaking it, so that it displays images in quirky fast motion. Dr. Ams Tram Grams Kikkert is the Danish title of the short film, found in the Swedish Television Archive; the original title is unknown.
Der Tunnel / The Tunnel
(1915, Projektions-AG, Germany) dir. William Wauer
Germany release: Sept. 9, 1915
This German production, the first filmic adaptation of Bernhard Kellermann’s novel The Tunnel, features a large-screen apparatus that displays images from the inauguration of the first transatlantic railway service, as presented on “The Atlantic Tunnel Radio Tele Kinematographic News.”
Ups and Downs
(1915, VIM, US) dir. Bobby Burns and Walter Stull
US release: Dec. 31, 1915
A short Oliver Hardy comedy. At one scene, the villain uses a “Sniffiscope,” a mechanical device consisting of a film rewind crank and some sort of phonograph horn. As he looks into the device and turns the crank, the film cuts to various masked shots of what else is going on at the time.
Le Mauvais Génie de Satan / [The Evil Genius of Satan]
French release: 1916.
Very little information is available on this film. According to an advertisement in the French newspaper Le Progrès de la Somme from 28 December 18, 1916 it “shows us the intrigues of an adventuress around an invention which was talked about in its time, the Telephonoscope. Instructive, amusing and exciting.”
The Flying Torpedo
(1916, Fine Arts Film, US) dir. John B. O’Brien and Christy Cabanne
US release: March 12, 1916
Originally produced as The Scarlet Band, then reshot and released as The Flying Torpedo, this science-fiction war film is set in the future of the 1920s, when the West Coast is attacked by an unnamed foreign enemy. “When all seems lost, a trainload of armored motor cars, equipped with wireless, and a quantity of the flying torpedoes arrive and are stationed some distance back of the retreating American army. Kites are sent up, to each of which is attached a wireless periscope which permits the operator of the armored motor car to see what is going on on the distant battlefield. The artillery of the enemy is clearly shown and the aerial torpedoes are then directed by wireless to their targets and soon the invading army is defeated. The army wiped out, the flying torpedoes are turned loose on the fleet and the huge battleships are destroyed, thus freeing the United States from all peril” (Motography, Jan. 29, 1916: 261).
The Mystery of the Leaping Fish
(1916, Triangle Film Corp., US) dir. John Emerson
US release: June 11, 1916
In this two-reel Sherlock Holmes parody starring Douglas Fairbanks, a closed-circuit TV allows the detective to see the people standing behind the house door.
Review: Motion Picture News, July 13, 1916: 277
Rovedderkoppen [The Spider’s Prey]
(1916, Nordisk Film, Denmark) dir. August Blom
The surviving 25 minutes of this Danish crime drama, written by Carl Theodor Dreyer, feature two different optical surveillance devices. The first is a screen device hidden behind a desk calendar and tracks people in the street outside; the second – perhaps an electrical instrument, perhaps a periscope – is hidden inside a framed picture, and equipped with a crank that allows controlling the camera position from afar.
(1916, Gaumont, France) dir. Louis Feuillade
In episode 2 of Feuillade’s crime serial, the eponymous caped crimefighter kidnaps a corrupt banker. At his hiding place, he observes the banker using what the intertitles describe as “a moving mirror controlled by an electrical device… like an implacable eye.”
Die Spinnen I: Der Goldene See [The Spiders, part I: The Golden Sea]
(1919, Decla-Bioscop, Germany) dir. Fritz Lang
German release: October, 1919
The first part of Fritz Lang’s adventure film includes a scene in which Lio Sha, leader of the mysterious “spiders” group, uses a visual device masqueraded as a normal mirror in order to spy on a meeting that takes place in another room. The film is ambiguous about whether or not it is in fact an electrical transmission device, but some hints suggest that it might be wired, and for some contemporary viewers it was understood as a televisual device. Lotte Eisner’s seminal The Haunted Screen, for example, describes the device as a mirror “which ‘televises’ scenes” (p. 239).
VIDEO [starting at the relevant scene]: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x240j0y?start=950
(1920, Realart Pictures [Famous Players-Lasky Corp.], US) dir. James Cruze
US release: Apr. 1920
A Harry Houdini vehicle featuring a submarine equipped with a televisual periscope.
Review: Variety, Apr. 30, 1920
A Message from Mars
(1921, Metro, US) dir. Maxwell Karger
US release: April 11, 1921
This American remake of a British 1913 science fiction feature (itself a take on A Christmas Carol) tells the story of a selfish inventor who is involved in financing a device to communicate with Mars, before dreaming of an encounter with a Martian messenger who makes him see the error of his ways.
Reviews and articles: Film Daily, March 27, 1921
La tempesta in un Cranio [Kill or Cure]
(1921, Campogalliani Film, Italy) dir. Carlo Campogalliani
Italian release: July 7, 1921
This madcap comedy that freely mixes dream, reality, fiction, psychoanalysis, and drunken hallucination features an adventure sequence in which the protagonists stops criminals from stealing the newly invented phototelephonophotograph. Depicted in the film as a hybrid of camera with a vacuum tube, the phototelephonophotograph is used for wireless visual communication at a distance, making it an early imaginary for of visual radio- telephony.
Le Canard en ciné, no. 2
(1921, Les Dessins animés Robert Lartac and Pathe, France) dir. Lortac (Robert Collard)
French release: Oct. 28, 1921
This episode from French cartoonist Lortac’s series of “cheerful animated newsreels” features a scene where a New York scientist uses a screen device to operate a remote-controlled driver-less car, causing multiple incidents.
L’uomo Meccanico / The Mechanical Man
(1921, Milano Film, Italy) dir. André Deed
Italy release: Nov. 1921
Science-fiction tale featuring gigantic robots controlled at a distance with the aid of television.
Radio-Mania aka The Man From Mars / Mars Calling / M.A.R.S.
(1922, Teleview Corp. and W. W. Hodkinson Corp., US) dir. Roy William Neill
US release: Dec. 27, 1922 (3-D version, titled Mars); July 15, 1923 (2-D version, titled Radio-Mania)
Science-fiction drama, originally released in the Teleview early 3-D format, telling the story of an inventor who devises a radio apparatus that can communicate with Mars. He then dreams of encountering Martians—who appear to be equipped with television technology.
(1922, Gaumont British, UK) dir. E.H. Calvert
UK release: 1922
In this British mystery feature, “an inventor using his television-like device to spy on his wife, whom he suspects of having an affair with a Frenchman, and uncovering a jewel thief in the process.” (Motion Picture Guide Silent Film 1910-1936, 254)
(1923, Tiffany Productions, US) dir. Robert Z. Leonard
US release: Feb. 12, 1923
Romantic comedy starring Mae Murray as the queen of Jazzmania, who puts “American ideas” into practice in her kingdom. The final sequence features a “Message Graph” that transmits texts as well as moving images.
Reviews: Variety, Mar. 15, 1923; New York Times, Mar. 12, 1923
(1923, Pathé Exchange, USA) dir. George Marshall Pathe
US release: May 6, 1923
Episode 6 of this Ruth Ronald 15-episode serial features the villain making use of unique visual device – a combined camera and projector which, with the aid of electrical connection, can display moving images at a distance without the use of a screen. Concealed in the villain’s underground hiding place, the device is used to scare one his enemies and drive him off a cliff.
Аэли́та / Aelita Queen of Mars
(1924, Mazhrabpom, USSR) dir. Yakov Protazanov
USSR release: Sep. 25, 1924
Features a futuristic device for interplanetary visual communication, used by the Martians to explore Earth.
The Last Man on Earth
(1924, Fox, US) dir. John G. Blystone
US release: Nov. 2, 1924
The film’s view of the year 1954 includes two different types of televisual media: a large outdoor screen that shows news text to passers-by, and a wall-mounted electrical apparatus used indoors, which is prominently placed but never put into action.
Reviews: Variety, Dec. 17, 1924; New York Times, Dec. 13, 1924
(1924, Cinégraphic, France) dir. Marcel L’Herbier
France release: Dec. 12, 1924
L’Herbier’s modernist science-fiction drama features a scene in which the protagonist, a famous singer, uses a television setup that allows her singing to be heard worldwide while displaying to her images of her distant listeners.
Up the Ladder
(1925, Universal Pictures, US) dir. Edward Sloman
US release: May 3, 1925
Marital drama involving a young wife whose husband invents the “Televisionscope,” a picture-phone device that raises troubling issues of privacy and duplicity. Adapted from Owen Davis’s 1922 stage play, which did not involve television.
(1925, Mack Sennet, US) dir. Del Lord
US release: June 14, 1925
In this short Mack Sennett film, the daughter of the inventor of a radio-controlled automobile uses her “Radioscope” to signal Dad that she’s run out of gas.
Reviews: Motion Picture News, June 13, 1925: 2968; Moving Picture World, June 13, 1925: 765
Wunder der Schöpfung [Wonders of Creation / Our Heavenly Bodies ]
(1925, UFA / Colonna-Film GmbH, Germany) dirs.: Johannes Meyer, Rudolf Biebrach, and Ewald Matthias Schuhmacher.
German release: September 14, 1925
This feature-length kultirfilm, which ambitiously aims to describe the universe and man’s place in it, depicts in its sixth act a journey outside solar system. In a spacecraft located ninety-five billion kilometers from earth, an astronaut switches on an electrical screen device (which the intertile dubs ‘fernseher’) in order to see what is happening back home. Due to the immense distance from earth, the screen image shows what has occurred ten year earlier. As the spacecraft increases its speed beyond the speed of light, the astronaut is able to reverse the temporal order of the televised images and to the receive image from previous times, back to the biblical era.
Maciste all’inferno [Maciste in Hell]
(1925, Fert-Pittaluga, Italy) dir. Guido Brignone
Italian release: March 31, 1926; US release June 26, 1931
In this late installment of the Maciste series, the legendary strongman goes to hell to fight demons who attempt to corrupt him. In one of the scenes, a she-devil takes Maciste on a flying dragon to watch a television projection of events that that take place at the same time back on earth.
Reviews and articles: Motion Picture Herald, July 11, 1931:35. http://lantern.mediahist.org/catalog/motionpictureher104unse_0193
Wiener Bilderbogen n. 1
(1925, Seel Film, Austria) dir. Louis Seel
Depicting novelties for a radio exhibition in New York, this animated short depicts a multi-purpose domestic radio device. Among its functions is an optical-radio receiver, with which a woman can observe her adulterous husband at a distance.
(1927, UFA, Germany) dir. Fritz Lang
Germany release: Jan. 10, 1927; US release: Mar. 13, 1927
Among the many futuristic elements featured in this science-fiction dystopia is a picture telephone that allows the ruler of the city to communicate with the manager of his underground machine rooms.
Reviews: Variety, Feb. 23 and Mar. 16, 1927; New York Times, Mar. 7, 1927
The Thirteenth Hour
(1927, MGM, US) dir. Chester Franklin
US release: Oct. 13, 1927
Dark-house thriller starring the dog, Napoleon, and Lionel Barrymore. Barrymore has a closed-circuit television system that allows him to spy on the dog as it moves through various rooms of his mansion.
Reviews: Variety, Nov. 3, 1927; New York Times, Nov. 28, 1927
(1928, Degeto, Germany) dir. Paul N. Peroff
An animated short about a young boy’s dream of life in the year 2950. Two scenes in the film depict television devices: in the first, a group of children watch a large bee giving a math class over a large screen; in the second, a concerned father communicates with his child who is mid-air, falling from an airplane.
The Adventures of Sammy and Sausage 2: Television
(1928, British Pathe, UK) dir. Joe Noble
UK release May 30, 1928
The second in the series of short animated films about a boy and his dog, released as part of the Eve’s Film Review magazine.
The Third Eye
(1929, Graham-Wilcox Productions, UK) dir. Maclean Rogers
UK release: Jan. 1929
The plot involves bank robbers using a television apparatus in order to discover the safe combination. “The Third Eye [. . .] is said to contain a thrilling novelty appeal. The entire television process will be as part of the dramatic story” , Oct. 22, 1928: 3 Exhibitors Daily Review
The Lone Wolf’s Daughter
(1929, Columbia Pictures, US) dir. Albert S. Rogell
US release: Feb. 18, 1929
The Lone Wolf, a reformed criminal, foils an international jewel theft. Based on the character created by Louis Joseph Vance. “Television for the first time is used as a dramatic device to supply the unusual climax” Screenland, Jan. 1929: 76. Released as a part-talkie.
Reviews: Variety, Mar. 6, 1929; New York Times, Mar. 4, 1929; Motion Picture News, Mar. 9, 1929: 775
(1929, Stern Brothers/Universal, US) dir. Francis Corby
US release: Feb. 24, 1929
Short comedy based on the cartoons of George McManus. “This ‘Let George Do It’ comedy contains some good fun patterned after the usual ‘dumb’ comedy style of its star, Sid Saylor, who does effective work as a gamboling husband kissing the girlies in a television broadcasting room. His wife awaiting him at home sees his performance through her receiving set and hurries to the station to pummel her guilty better half and a rough and tumble fight is the result” , May 11, 1929: 1646 Motion Picture News.
(1929, Gaumont-British, UK) dir. Maurice Elvey
US release: Mar. 25, 1929; UK release: Sep. 20, 1929 (sound version)
Set in 1940 on the eve of a world war, this futuristic drama features a visual telephone apparatus. “The televisor takes the place of the telephone, a combination of screen and loud speaker is fitted into office desk or home bureau, the appropriate wavelength is switched on, and conversations are carried on in full sight of each speaker. ‘Oh! that someone would invent something to enable me to touch you!’ fervently exclaims the hero during one of these television conversations with the heroine” “A British Talkie,” Sydney Morning Herald, Sep. 20, 1929: 10.
Reviews: Variety, Oct. 2, 1929; New York Times, Aug. 25, 1929; Motion Picture News, June 7, 1930
(1929, Ideal Comedies-Educational, US) dir. Stephen Roberts
US release: March 31, 1929
A 1929 comedy short starring Jerry Drew (aka Clem Beauchamp). A man tells his wife he is staying late at work. “But through her television set she sees hubby at his office planning to go to the party with some chorus girls.” (Film Daily, Feb. 17, 1929).
Reviews and articles: Film Daily, Feb. 17, 1929: 12 http://lantern.mediahist.org/catalog/filmdaily4748newy_0392
The Vagabond Queen
(1929, British International Pictures, UK) dir. Géza von Bolváry
UK release: May 1929 (silent version); Aug. 1930 (sound version)
In order to save her from assassination, a young woman is asked to act as the double of the princess of a fictional European country. She agrees to do so because it would allow her to help finance her boyfriend’s invention of television.
Review: Variety, Sep. 3, 1930
Uncle Si and the Sirens
(circa 1928–30, CineArt Productions, US)
Release: late 1920s [?]
A stereotypical rube constructs a television set at home. At first he tunes in a temperance lecturer, but later switches to images of naked women in exotic locations. His wife discovers him and smashes the apparatus with a broom. CineArt produced films directly for the new 16mm market.
(1930, British Intl., UK) dirs. André Charlot, Jack Hulbert, Paul Murray, and Alfred Hitchcock
UK release: Feb. 6, 1930
A British answer to the American Hollywood Revue, the various musical vignettes in this film are tied together loosely in a storyline about a television broadcast of a show. Alfred Hitchcock reportedly was responsible for the general direction.
(1930, Mack Sennett Comedies, US) dir. Leslie Pearce
US release: Aug. 17, 1930
In this short Mack Sennett comedy, “Andy’s daughter Ann meets Nick over her television phone and falls in love with him despite Andy’s intention to have her marry a rich Stedman” (Brent E. Walker, Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory, 438).
The Golf Specialist
(1930, RKO, US) dir. Monte Brice
US release: Aug. 27, 1930
In this W. C. Fields short, the comedian approaches a hotel clerk and inquires, “Any telegrams? Cablegrams? Radio? Television?”
Believe It Or Not no. 4
(1930, Warner Bros., US) dir. Arthur Hurley
US release: Sep. 5, 1930
Vitaphone short. As part of experiments with television, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not material is projected “into the homes of the nation.” The film scenes alternate between the presenter in the studio and a family watching him on a television set.
Review: Motion Picture News, Nov. 1, 1930
(1930, Fox, US) dir. David Butler
US release: Nov. 23, 1930
Science-fiction musical comedy, set in a futuristic New York in 1980, features the use of a picture telephone.
Reviews: Variety, Nov. 26, 1930; New York Times, Nov. 22, 1930
Sankaku no sekai [TriangularWorld]
(1931, Shinshin Kinema Sha, Japan) dir. Hakusan Kimura
Release date unknown
An advertisement for this little known animated science fiction short, published in the magazine Eiga kyoiku (August 1931), reveals that it featured a television apparatus that allows spying on a secret meeting of aliens from the Triangular world who plot to destroy humanity.
Magie moderne / Modern Magic
(1931, Paramount Pictures, France) dir. Dimitri Buchowetzki
France release: 1931
A production of the Paramount studios in France, this film tells the story of a young television inventor whose sponsor proves to be a dishonest businessman who tries to appropriate the invention. This French-speaking film was shot in seven other versions, using the same sets and directors but crews from different nationalities (see following entries).
Review: Les Spectacles d’Alger, May 27, 1931
Televisione / Television
(1931, Paramount Pictures, France) dir. Charles de Rocheford
Italy release: Sept. 1931
Italian version of Magie moderne shot on the same set in France. Also called La canzone del mondo. Starring Anna Maria Dossena, Silvio Orsini, and Cesare Zoppetti.
De sensatie der toekomst / The Thrill of the Future
(1931, Paramount Pictures, France) dirs. Dimitri Buchowetzki and Jack Salvatori
Holland release: Oct. 1931
Dutch version of Magie moderne shot on the same set in France. Starring Dolly Bouwmeester, Rolant Varno, and Marie van Westerhoven.
Televiziune / Television
(1931, Paramount Pictures, France) dirs. Phil D’Esco and Jack Salvatori
Romanian version of Magie moderne shot on the same set in France. Starring Mircea Balaban, Pola Illéry, and Sofica Ionescu.
Svet bez hranic / A World without Borders
(1931, Paramount Pictures, France) dir. Julius Lébl
Czech version of Magie moderne shot on the same set in France. Starring Theodor Pistek, Mána Zenísková, and Marie Ptáková.
Swiat bez granic / A World without Borders
(1931, Paramount Pictures, France) dir. Ryszard Ordynski
Polish version of Magie moderne shot on the same set in France. Starring Adam Brodzisz, Maria Dabrowska, and Andrzej Nalecz.
Trådlöst och kärleksfullt / Wireless and Loving
(1931, Paramount Pictures, France) dir. Frederick Lindh
Sweden release: Apr. 1932
Swedish version of Magie moderne shot on the same set in France. Starring Paul van der Osten, Karin Swanström, and Margita Alfven.
Welt ohne Grezen / A World without Borders
(1931, Paramount Pictures, France) dir. Eugen Thiele
German version of Magie moderne shot on the same set in France. Released in Berlin under the title Television. Starring Anni Ann, Ida Peery, and Fred Döderlein.
Once a Sinner
(1931, Fox, US) dir. Guthrie McClintic
US release: Jan. 25, 1931
Love-triangle drama starring Joel McCrea as a small-town inventor of a radio device that allows you to see what other people are doing if they have a corresponding transmitter. His life changes when the machine is taken up by investors. One scene features the machine in his workshop, though it is never demonstrated onscreen.
Reviews and articles: Variety, Jan. 21, 1931; New York Times, Jan. 17, 1931; Photoplay, Mar. 1931: 177
The Public Enemy
(1931, Warner Bros., US) dir. William Wellman
US release: Apr. 23, 1931
In this classic gangster film, one of the newspaper pages that is briefly shown onscreen includes an item about development in television.
Review: New York Times, Apr. 24, 1931
The Voice of Hollywood (second season, no. 1)
(1931, Tiffany, US) dir. [?]
US release: July 5, 1931
An episode in a series of radio-themed short musical revues, “made to look as though the pictures were being televised from a television studio” (Film Daily, Apr. 12, 1931: 18). This episode, in which Chester Conklin presents a cake recipe on television, “employs a television device cleverly, with a gag worked all through the various shots [of celebrities]” (Film Daily, Aug. 23, 1931).
Review: Film Daily, Aug. 23, 1931: 19
The Voice of Hollywood (second season, no. 6)
(1931–32, Tiffany, US) dir. [?]
US release: Sep. 13, 1931
In this episode in a series of short radio-themed musical revues, John Boles appears as a television master of ceremonies and introduces Hollywood stars in guest appearances.
Review: Film Daily, Oct. 11, 1931: 5
The Voice of Hollywood (second season, no. 13)
(1931–32, Tiffany, US) dir. [?]
US release: Jan. 1932
In this episode in a series of short radio-themed musical revues, a television set shows Jack Dempsey and his wife on a fishing trip.
Review: Film Daily, Jan. 17, 1932: 10
Die vom 17er Haus
(1932, Allianz-Film, Austria) dir. Artur Berger
This promotional film, made for the Social Democrats’ campaign at the 1932 city elections in Vienna, depicts a futuristic utopian Vienna of the year 2032. An archivist is seen using a television device to communicate with his grandson as well as to transmit historical multimedia materials.
(1932, Fleischer Studios/Paramount, US) dir. Dave Fleischer
US release: Feb. 5, 1932
Short cartoon in the “Bimbo” series, in which the mechanic-inventor dog calls his girlfriend on the television, and images of her taking a bath appear on his screen to her great embarrassment.
Review: Variety, Mar. 1, 1932
The Naggers Go Ritzy
(1932, Warner Bros., US) dir. Roy Mack
US release May 22, 1932.
A Vitaphone comedy short in The Naggers series, starring Jack Norworth and Dorothy Adelphi.
“After the Naggers move into a new luxury apartment, Mr. Nagger discovers that there is a hole in the wall adjacent to his neighbor’s apartment. To camouflage the hole, he places a radio in front of it. When Mrs. Nagger turns on the radio, she peers through the speaker in the receiver, noticing a man in the next apartment. Fooled into thinking that the radio receiver is really a television, she instructs her mother-in-law to look into the set. A commercial for mineral water comes on the air, claiming, “The Cascade Spring Company eliminates the middle-man. You get your water direct from the spring into your home.” Meanwhile, Mrs. Nagger and her mother in-law gaze into the radio speaker hoping to see a televised image. Instead, they find themselves drenched by a stream of water. Since a prior scene in the film shows that the next-door neighbor is actually squirting water at the Naggers through the hole in the adjacent wall, the joke is on the technically illiterate women who can’t distinguish between electrical and real space.” (from Lynn Spigel, Make Room for TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America, pp. 115-116)
I Ain’t got Nobody
(1932, Paramount, US) dir. Dave Fleischer
US release: June 17, 1932
A Fleischer “Screen Song,” featuring a lion zapping through various dance bits from all over the world on his television set, eventually watching a performance by the Mills Brothers Quartette.
(1932, Warner Brothers, US) dir. Roy Del Ruth
US release: Sep. 10, 1932
This pre-code feature does not depict televisual devices, but comments about them in the dialogue. Trying to get reporters to interview Dick Powell, Reilly (played by Frank McHugh) tells them “Ask him about sex appeal by television.” “By television?” answers George (played by Ned Sparks), “I tell you right now it’ll never prove a popular method.”
The Musical Doctor
(1932, Paramount Pictures, US) dir. Ray Cozine
US release: Oct. 28, 1932
Musical short featuring Rudy Vallee in the role of a doctor who treats his patients by singing “Keep a Little Song Handy” through a television system.
Review: Variety, Sep. 20, 1932
Hyakunengo no aruhi / A Day After a Hundred Years
(1933, Japan) dir. Shigeji Ogino
In this science-fiction animation short, set in Tokyo in the year 2032, a magic television set shows the spirit of the protagonist images of world events that occurred after his death.
Thought for Food
(1933, Jam Handy Picture Service, US) dir. John Freese
Sponsored short film for the Kroger Food Foundation, depicting a television presenter from a station in Cincinnati addressing an audience of homemakers and describing for them the facilities and quality control at the laboratories of Kroger Food.
The Television Follies
(1933, English Films, UK) dir. Geoffrey Benstead
“A revue musical in which a Lancashire family watch a series of performers on their television set” (John Mundy, The British Musical Film, 36).
Men Must Fight
(1933, MGM., US) dir. Edgar Selwyn
US release: Feb. 17, 1933
Much like High Treason, which was made four years earlier, this film is set in 1940 on the eve of a world war. A peace activist’s antiwar rally is televised into homes (and saloons), and the citizens communicate via picture telephone.
Reviews: Variety, Mar. 14, 1933; New York Times, Mar. 11, 1933
(1933, Mascot Pictures, US) dirs. Colbert Clark and Albert Herman
US release: Apr. 18, 1933
Serial, starring Bela Lugosi, about an arch-criminal who controls his gang by means of wireless and television technologies.
Rambling ‘Round Radio Row no. 7
(1933, Warner Bros., US) dir. [?]
US release: June 1933
Vitaphone short featuring a crystal ball described as a “crystal set” that allows not only hearing radio programs, but also seeing them. The magical object is then used in a television-like fashion to present a series of short songs.
Review: Film Daily, July 29, 1933
(1933, Paramount, US) dir. Edward Sutherland
US release: June 2, 1933
Promoted as “the Grand Hotel of comedy,” this W. C. Fields vehicle revolves around an international race to bid on the new invention of the “radioscope,” an audiovisual broadcasting apparatus invented by a Chinese scientist.
How to Break 90 no. 2 – Position and Backswing
(1933, Warner Bros., US) dir. George E. Marshall
US release: June 10, 1933
In this episode from a series of short golf instruction films starring Bobby Jones, the golf champion appears on a television set in a program broadcast over station KFWD (which at the time was actually a Warner Bros. radio station in Hollywood).
Review: Variety, May 16, 1933
Beauty for Sale
(1933, MGM, US) dir.Richard Boleslawski
US release: Sept. 1, 1933
At the start of the film, the character played by Elliott Nugent comes home and is greeted by his mother. “Is that you, Bill?” she says. “In person,” he replies. “Not by television.”
(1933, Warner Bros., US) dir. William Wellman
US release: Nov. 4, 1933
The opening scene of this football drama shows a meeting of college professors, with the participants listening to a football game on the radio. In the last moments of the game, an image of the match is shown on top of the radio apparatus—arguably intending to simulate a television broadcast.
Reviews: Variety, Nov. 14, 1933; New York Times, Nov. 11, 1933
My Lips Betray
(1933, Fox, US) dir. John Blystone
US release: Nov. 10, 1933
In the opening of this musical romance set in an imaginary European country, a young cabaret singer, played by Lillian Harvey, is offered a ride in the king’s car. The car is equipped with a television set that shows a Mickey Mouse cartoon, Ye Olden Days, but its original soundtrack has been replaced by Mickey (?) singing “I’ll Build a Nest,” one of the songs from this film.
Reviews: Variety, Nov. 7, 1933; New York Times, Nov. 4, 1933; Film Daily, Nov. 4, 1933: 4
(1934, Charles Mintz, Columbia Pictures, US) dir. Sid Marcus
US release: January 29, 1934
An animated short featuring Scrappy and his friends as they watch programs of classical music, jazz, farming, and a boxing match on a hand-built television set, which appears to consist of both vacuum tubes and a scanning disc.
Hips, Hips, Hooray!
(1934, RKO, US) dir. Mark Sandrich
US release: February 2, 1934
This Wheeler and Woolsey musical – notorious as one of the last pre-code films – starts out in the showroom of Maiden America beauty products, a lingerie manufacturer that promotes its product line through a combination radio broadcast and showroom parade. As one of the store models (Dorothy Lee) takes her place in an adjacent show window to attract a crowd, a large circular insert appears in the right of the frame. No explanation is given in the film, though it seems to be the output of a camera positioned just behind her make-up table, reproducing her actions in real time. It is worth noting that by the time the film was made, television sets have been used in department stores as a selling aid.
Die welt ohne maske / The World Unmasked
(1934, Ariel, Germany) dir. Harry Piel
Germany release: Mar. 9, 1934
Science-fiction thriller about an inventor of a television technology that not only broadcasts audiovisual materials, but also has X-ray–like powers to penetrate through obstacles.
Reviews and articles: Filmkritik, Mar. 18, 1934; Der Kinematograph Berlin 50 (1934); Die Filmwoche, Mar. 21, 1934 (cited in Florentine Strzelczyk, “Innocent Action and Splendid Spectacle:
Fascism and Entertainment in Harry Piel’s Movie Die Welt ohne Maske (1934),” German Quarterly 77.4 [Autumn 2004]: 427–42)
(1934, Monogram Pictures, US) dir. William Nigh
US release: Mar. 15, 1934
This murder mystery, set on a radio-controlled ship, features a visual telecommunication device that transmits handwritten messages ship-to-shore.
Reviews: Variety, Apr. 10, 1934; Photoplay, Apr. 1934: 90, 104.
The Stolen Melody
(1934, Warner Bros., US) dir. Joseph Henabery
US release: May 1934
Vitaphone short featuring “a machine (similar to television) that discovers the origins of songs [and] shows many of the songs being performed” (Roy Liebman, Vitaphone Films: A Catalogue of the Features and Shorts, 111).
Radio Parade of 1935
(1934, Associated British Pictures, UK) dir. Arthur B. Woods
UK release: Dec. 12, 1934
British musical comedy about a newly appointed director of a broadcasting company who tries to enlist new talent for a program he intends to air on television, in color, on screens erected in main streets. Shot partly in color, the film was released in the US as Radio Follies.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
(1934, John F. Dille Co., US) dir. Harlan Tarbell
US release: 1934
This low budget science fiction short was commissioned by John F. Dille’s newspaper syndication service to promote the Buck Rogers comic strip and premiered in the Chicago World Fair in 1934. Two futuristic devices are used in the film by scientist and Rogers associate Dr. Huer (who is played by Harlan Trabell, a stage magician and illustrator who also directed the film). One is a :cosmo-radio-photograph” that shows a picture of where the “war arrow” of a Martian attack is pointing; the other is a “cosmic radio-television” which shows the doctor views of the spaceships of the tiger men from mars as they are attacking earth.
The Lost City
(1935, Sherman S. Krellberg, US) dir. Harry Revier
US release: Feb. 14, 1935 (feature film version); March 6, 1936 (serial version)
Science-fiction adventure about a secret city in the jungle governed by a mad scientist. Among other technological novelties, the mad scientist uses a television surveillance system.
Review: Harrison’s Report, Apr. 6, 1935
The Phantom Empire
(1935, Mascot Pictures, US) dirs. Otto Brower and B. Reeves Eason
US release: Feb. 23, 1935
Gene Autry western/musical/science-fiction serial set in a futuristic underground empire located beneath the singing cowboy’s Radio Ranch. Among many other technological novelties, the people of the underground empire use a “master television” surveillance system.
The Miracle Rider
(1935, Mascot Pictures, US) dirs. B. Reeves Eason and Armand Schaefer
US release: Apr. 12, 1935
Western serial starring Tom Mix, in his last major role, as a Texas Ranger who fights to stop a gang of industrialists from driving off a local Native American group in order to mine their land. The antagonists in this film possess screen technologies for surveillance and transmission of textual messages.
Werewolf of London
(1935, Universal Pictures, US) dir. Stuart Walker
US release: May 13, 1935
The laboratory of the scientist (and soon to be wolf man) is equipped with a closed-circuit television.
Reviews: Variety, May 15, 1935; New York Times, May 10, 1935
The Big Broadcast of 1936
(1935, Paramount, US) dir. Norman Taurog
US release: Sept. 20, 1935
In this entry in the Big Broadcast series of musical comedies, the plotline that connects the various acts concerns a struggling radio station owner’s attempts to use the radio eye, “a nutty television contraption [. . .] which can pick up any event and also send” (Variety, Sept. 18, 1935).
Murder by Television
(1935, Cameo Pictures, US) dir. Clifford Sanforth
US release: Oct. 25, 1935
The festive inaugural demonstration of a newly invented television technology ends when the inventor suddenly dies on camera. The investigation that follows reveals that the murderer used an electrical apparatus to turn the television apparatus into a lethal death ray. Shows an actual mechanical television flying spot scanner.
(1935, Gaumont British, UK) dir. Maurice Elvey
US release: Oct. 27, 1935; UK release: Nov. 1935
British adaptation of the Bernhard Kellermann novel that was also made in Germany in 1913 and 1933. Like the first version, this film features large-screen televisions that are used for making public announcements about the project of digging the undersea tunnel, as well a visual telephony system. Released in the US as Transatlantic Tunnel.
Reviews: Variety, Oct. 30, 1935; New York Times, Oct. 28, 1935
Te Quiero con Locura / Rest Cure
(1935, Fox, US) dir. John Boland
US release: Nov. 1, 1935
This Spanish-language film shot in Los Angeles features a couple who are observed by psychiatrists via closed-circuit television in order to determine whether they are insane.
Review: New York Times, Nov. 4, 1935
Thanks a Million
(1935, Twentieth Century Fox, US) dir. Roy Del Ruth
US release: Nov. 15, 1935
This musical comedy references television, though not showing it, as one of the characters reads Variety on a bus and proclaims—years before television broadcasts started—that radio and television are here to stay.
Review: Variety, Nov. 20, 1935
The Fighting Marines
(1935, Mascot Pictures, US) dirs. B. Reeves Eason and Joseph Kane
US release: Nov. 23, 1935
Adventure serial about US Marines’ struggle against a mad scientist. The antagonist communicates with his agents through an unusual two-way television device that requires wearing a headset to operate.
She Shall Have Music
(1935, Twickenham Film, UK) dir. Leslie S. Hiscott
UK release: 1935
In this British light musical about a band broadcasting a show from a yacht in the South Seas. “Ingeniously used here is the idea that a wrist-watch television set enables the disabled yacht to get into visible and audible touch with home.” (Motion Picture Herald, Dec. 21, 1935)
Reviews and articles: Motion Picture Herald, Dec. 21, 1935: 53. http://lantern.mediahist.org/catalog/motionpictureher121unse_0833
Kosmicheskiy reys / The Cosmic Voyage
(1936, Mosfilm, USSR) dir. Vasily Zhuravlyov
USSR release: Jan. 21, 1936
In this Soviet space adventure, television screens facilitate communication between Earth and a spaceship heading to the moon.
The Perfect Setup
(1936, MGM, US) dir. Edward L. Cahn
US release: February 1, 1936
A short film in the long running MGM series of cautionary tales, Crimes Does Not Pay. “Sanders, a brilliant scholar in high school, secures at graduation a job in a local radio factory. He thinks he has perfected a new method for television, manages an interview with the president of the company, is told that the company’s engineers will examine the idea, although it does not sound possible … Believing he has been sidetracked by the company, sanders willingly tells an old acquaintance how to put how to put a burglar alarm out of commission. He is soon running a radio repair shop as a blind, and providing his friend’s gang with the technical advice which makes their crimes possible. He later takes part in a holdup, is surprised, and shoots a man.” (Catalog of Films for Classroom Use [New York: Teaching Film Custodians, 1939], p. 245)
Things to Come
(1936, London Film, UK) dir. William Cameron Menzies
UK release: Feb. 2, 1936; US release: Apr. 17, 1936
“A new story based on material contained in his book, The Shape of Things to Come,” this big-budget H. G. Wells science-fiction film depicts the world of the mid-21st century. It features both domestic television apparatus (described in the script as “a piece of apparatus on which pictures appear”) and a “gigantic screen” version for public display.
Reviews: Variety, Mar. 4 and Apr. 22, 1936; New York Times, Apr. 18, 1936
(1936, United Artists, US) dir. Charlie Chaplin
US release: Feb. 21, 1936
During the famous factory sequence in this Chaplin comedy, the president of the Electro Steel Corp. uses closed-circuit television to spy on his workers, give orders, and even rush the tramp out of the toilet to resume his work.
Reviews: Variety, Feb. 12, 1936; New York Times, Feb. 6, 1936
(1936, Universal Pictures, US) dir. Frederick Stephani
US release: Apr. 6, 1936
Science-fiction serial, also released as a feature film, about the space adventures of the comic-strip hero. Flash’s rival, Emperor Ming the Merciless, is depicted using television devices both as a security system against aerial attacks and for the transmission of images from an exotic wedding ceremony.
Reviews: Variety, Mar. 11, 1936; Motion Picture Herald, Mar. 14, 1936
The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand
(1936, Weiss Productions, US) dir. Albert Herman
US release: Apr. 18, 1936
In this mystery serial, the eponymous villain goes after a secret formula for artificial gold, and communicates with his henchmen and his extortion victims by means of a two-way television.
The Singing Cowboy
(1936, Republic Pictures, US) dir. Mack Wright
US release: May 11, 1936
Musical western features Gene Autry and a band of “television troubadours” touring across the country and broadcasting live remotes. Their sponsor is a manufacturer of “cowboy coffee.” Curiously, the film does not depict any cameras or other television broadcasting apparatus other than a peculiar antenna. Audiences view the programs on large-screen receivers. Not a work of science fiction, this is the first American film to treat television programming as a matter of course.
Review: Variety, Nov. 25, 1936
(1936, Republic Pictures, US) dirs. B. Reeves Eason and Joseph Kane
US release: May 30, 1936
Adventure serial about a quest for the lost continent of Atlantis, which features the tyrant leader of the Atlanteans using television technology as a surveillance system.
Trapped by Television
(1936, Columbia Pictures, US) dir. Del Lord
US release: June 15, 1936
“[T]he story of a young inventor who perfected a television method, what happens to him when he tries to market it, also what happens and how to the crook who tries to steal the invention” (Motion Picture Herald, May 23, 1936: 27). As another review noted, “it is difficult to envision a radio broadcasting company struggling for television equipment when the current factual battle is to get enough coin to make the invention commercially feasible” (Variety, June 7, 1936).
Calling the Tune
(1936, Phoenix Films, UK) dirs. Reginald Denham and Thorold Dickinson
UK release: July 7, 1936
A British drama, set in the early days of the gramophone industry, featuring Eliot Makeham as an inventor who has created an early image and sound recording system akin to John Logie Baird’s actual invention of the Phonovison. Towards the end of the film, the recording system is used to capture the confession of a rival who has tried to destroy the inventor’s manufacturing operation.
Soft Lights and Sweet Music
(1936, British Lion Film, UK) dir. Herbert Smith
UK release: July 20, 1936
A British variety feature in which comedy duo the Western Brothers view assorted acts through their experimental television equipment.
The Hills of Old Wyomin‘
(1936, Paramount, US) dir. Dave Fleischer
US release: July 24, 1936
This short animated parody of scientific-novelties newsreels features a televisual “fool-proof telephone,” with which a suspecting wife can check on her unfaithful husband.
Fredek uszczęśliwia świat / Happy Freddy
(1936, Varsowia-Film, Poland) dir. Zbigniew Ziembinski
Poland release: Sep. 16, 1936
Polish musical about a young inventor who creates an attachment to the telephone that allows you to see the person you are talking to. This only works one way, so it results in many embarrassing scenes being uncovered. Problems ensue. Will the government take action against this violation of privacy? Also, a televisual unveiling of infidelity, much like in the 1912 Amour et science, troubles the young inventor’s love life. At the end, they sell off the invention to all the people whose improprieties they have been uncovering.
Shadow of Chinatown
(1936, Victory Pictures, US) dir. Robert Hill
US release: Oct. 10, 1936
B-thriller released both as a fifteen-episode serial and as a feature film, starring Bela Lugosi as a scientist and inventor who is hired by criminals to put Chinese traders out of business. Among the inventions he uses is a television audiovisual surveillance system.
(1936, Mentone Productions-Universal, US) dir. Milton Schwarzwald
US release: Dec. 23, 1936
In this musical short, a television set installed in a yacht club in New York. Comedian Henny Youngman is trying to interest investors in the television device by showing various musical acts. The film uses a particularly cheapest method of showing a television image on this screen: the curtain in front of the television device is pulled back and the camera tracks in, capturing musical numbers that are staged on a set right behind the device. In other words, what we see is just a hole in the wall of this set, beyond which is where the musical numbers take place. A focusing problem gives the trick away.
Hell-O-Vision / Hell-A-Vision
(1936 [?], Roadshow Attractions, US) dir. Louis Sonney
A low budget independent exploitation film, which allegedly cannibalizes footage from the Italian silent version of Dante’s Inferno, and deals with “a scientist’s latest invention: a cathode ray tube that can pick up transmissions from Hades” (Michael Benson, Vintage Science Fiction Films, 1896-1949, page 68.).
Calendar of the Year
(1936, GPO Film Unit, UK) dir. Evelyn Spice
UK release: 1937
A short film produced by the General Post Office film unit (the same year as their more memorable Night Mail). The 1948 MoMA catalog of documentary and educational films describes it as “An impressionistic study of seasonal activities, showing how the Post Office is adapted to deal with them in transmission of radio and television, in the telephone service and in the collection and distribution of mail.”
Television Romance / Mr. Mugzee in Television
(1937, production company unknown) dir. Charles Bennes
A short film by animator Charles Bennes, depicting “a delightful television broadcast in which all the characters are puppets” (Walter Gutlohn’s “Entertainment Films 16mm Sound” catalog, 1940). This short animation romantic comedy revolves around Mugzee’s attempts to impress a young woman who is rather enamored with a television star, which include putting up his own television show. Distributed in the US by Ideal.
(1937, production company unknown, US) dir. Otis Garrett
Futuristic short film, starring Billy Barty, Ruth Warren, and Hal Borne, depicting bandleader Hal Borne playing a duet with himself on television and a family watching an apartment house fire on TV discovering it is their own building that is burning (according to a description on a 16mm Em Gee Film Library catalog).
Larceny on the Air
(1937, Republic, US) dir. Irving Pichel
US release: January 11, 1937
One scene in this B crime drama features a doctor speaking about the dangers of radium poisoning on a radio broadcast, saying, “I’m sorry that television isn’t in every home today, so that instead of words I could show you the untold miseries brought on by these quack products.”
Bugs Beetle and His Orchestra
(1937, Terrytoons/Fox, US) dirs. John Foster and Paul Terry
US release: Jan. 21, 1937
Short musical cartoon about bugs attending a show at the Big Apple club (aptly located inside a big apple). A spider, who has been watching the event from his home by a radio-television apparatus, then shows up at the club and interrupts the entertainment.
Blake of Scotland Yard
(1937, Victory Pictures, US) dir. Robert Hill
US release: Jan. 30, 1937
Spy serial, also released as a feature film, revolving around an invention of a death ray that may bring an end to all wars, unless it falls into the wrong hands. The initial demonstration of the death ray’s ability to destroy a ship in mid-sea is observed via a televisual “visual glass” system.
Krazy’s Race of Time
(1937, Screen Gems/Columbia, US) dirs. Manny Gould and Ben Harrison
US release: May 6, 1937
Short cartoon parody of the March of Time newsreel. In the “industrial utopia” of 1999, we see a large-screen television in a boardroom transmitting images from a factory.
Review: Film Daily, June 3, 1937
(1937, Terrytoons – Fox, US) dirs. Mannie Davis, George Gordon, and Paul Terry
US release: May 14, 1937
A short “Puddy the Pup” cartoon from Terrytoons, in which the puppy and his kangaroo friend watch a live transmission of a coronation on an NBC television. Just two days before the cartoon’s release, the BBC televised the coronation of King George VI, its first outside broadcast.
Television Talent aka Television Trouble
(1937, Alexander Films, UK) dir. Robert Edmunds
UK release: Nov. 1937
A music teacher competes in a talent contest in which the winner gets to appear on television.
La fessée / The Buttock
(1937, SPAF, France) dir. Pierre Caron
France release: Nov. 10, 1937
A husband spanks his wife in the midst of a domestic dispute, not knowing that an amateur cinematographer captures the moment on film. The footage is then broadcast on television by mistake and causes a scandal.
Manhattan Merry Go-Round
(1937, Republic Pictures, US) dir. Charles F. Riesner
US release: Nov. 26, 1937
This musical follows a failing recording studio that has been taken over by gangsters who know little about show business. The studio’s secretary shows her boss a “remote controlled short distance television set” on which he can view a musical performance.
Bombs Over London [aka Midnight Menace]
(1937, Grosvenor Films, UK) dir. Sinclair Hill
UK release: Dec. 20, 1937
British drama about a newspaperman’s attempt to stop a conspiracy to start a war. It depicts the use of picture-telephone apparatus, as well as a multi-screen control station from which the villains operate radio-control aircraft.
Review: Variety, July 14, 1937
Exiled to Shanghai
(1937, Republic Pictures, US) dir. Nick Grinde
US release: Dec. 20, 1937
Comic drama about the competition between newsreel cameramen and television cameramen. “Most newsreel stories are of rivalry among the cameramen, in obtaining exclusive pictures and in getting the pictures first on the theatres’ screens. Here it is a newsreel company against the radio, wired-photos and eventually news by television. In the story the newsreel runs a poor fourth. The application of television here, incidentally, is beyond the wildest dreams of today’s optimists, what with broadcasts from far away Shanghai to New York” (Motion Picture Herald, Dec. 18, 1937).
The Spider’s Web
(1938, Columbia Pictures, US) dir. James W. Horne and Ray Taylor
A television camera, camouflaged as a book, is used as a spying device in this B-serial depiction of an ongoing battle between a masked supervillain named “The Octopus” and a masked crimefighter named “The Spider.”
Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars
(1938, Universal Pictures, US) dirs. Ford Beebe and Robert Hill
US release: March 21, 1938
In the second serial about the adventures of Flash Gordon, the comic-strip hero fights a Martian plot to destroy Earth’s atmosphere. The serial, which was rereleased as a feature-length film under the title Mars Attacks the World in November 1938, features television devices installed in spaceships and caves to facilitate interplanetary communication.
Review: Film Daily, Feb. 16, 1938
You Leave Me Breathless
(1938, Fleischer Studios, US) dir. Dave Fleischer
US release: May 27, 1938
Musical short, combining animation and filmed footage, with the music of Jimmy Dorsey and his orchestra. “The idea is to show what the television sets of the future will display. The cartoon skits cover some gags such as a shower-bath type street cleaning apparatus, a fountain of youth operating in Turkey, chill-proof over-coats for Eskimos, football player harnessed up with a stove, invention for a cow to mow a lawn and feed at the same time. Then the television set brings in Jimmy Dorsey and his band” (Film Daily, June 2, 1938: 4).
Hits and Bits of 1938
(1938, International Road Show, US) dir. [?]
US release: Sep. 1938 [?]
A race movie, consisting of various short musical episodes, including at least one featuring the Hampton University Choral Choir. According to a continuity script preserved in the New York State Archives and quoted by the AFI Catalog, an introductory title card reads, in part, “M-G-M gave us Broadway Melody of 1938, R-K-O gave us Radio Revels of 1938, Paramount gave us Big Broadcast of 1938. We, to be original, give you ‘Television of 1937 [sic].’ They tell us it’s just around the corner ready for perfection. The same proverbial corner that prosperity is hiding behind. Let’s take a look around that corner and see what we can see—and hear.”
(1938, Associated Independent Producers, UK) dir. Widgey R. Newman
UK release: Sep. 26, 1938
Musical comedy about the foundation of a television advertising company.
Five of a Kind
(1938, Twentieth Century Fox, US)
US release: Oct. 14, 1938
Starring the Dionne Quintuplets, this comedy of two rival radio reporters concludes with a performance by the quintuplets that takes place in Canada and is transmitted to a new theater, thanks to the “American electric company and their recently perfected television system.”
Reviews: Variety, Oct. 12, 1938; New York Times, Oct. 31, 1938; Hollywood, Aug. 1938: 16–17, 57–58; Harrison’s Reports, Oct. 22, 1938
The Return of the Frog
(1938, Imperator, UK) dir. Maurice Elvey
UK release: 24 November 1938
A sequel to the 1937 crime film The Frog, wherein the titular criminal uses television and radio devices to communicate with his minions while in hiding.
Wer fuhr IIA 2992? / Who Drove IIA 2992?
(1939, UFA, Germany) dir. Karl G’schrey
Germany release: 1939
Short film made for the German Reichspost in order to inform the public about television. It uses a documentary-like depiction of a police investigation of a hit-and-run accident that makes use of television to broadcast forensic evidence and identify a suspect.
The Middleton Family at the New York World’s Fair
(1939, Audio Productions Inc., US) dir. Robert Snody
Feature-length promotional film, in Technicolor, sponsored by Westinghouse. A family from Indiana visits the 1939 World’s Fair (mainly the Westinghouse pavilion) and attends a television studio demonstration.
Review: Film Daily, Oct. 3, 1939
Mille lire al mese / One Thousand Lire Per Month
(1939, Italcine, Italy) dir. Max Neufeld
Italy release: Jan. 1939
A “white telephone” comedy of errors about an electrical engineer who moves to Budapest to start a new job in a television station, but very quickly has an unfortunate clash with the director of the station.
Batticuore / Heartbeat
(1939, Era Film, Italy) dir. Mario Camerini
Italy release: Jan. 16, 1939
Satirical melodrama about a young woman who, after finishing thieves’ school, is caught red-handed by a well-to-do ambassador. During a scene in which the two visit an embassy, they witness a demonstration of a television broadcast that gets scrambled and results in a series of comical images.
(1939, Warner Bros., USA) dir. Roy Mack
US release: 25 Feb. 1939
In this short film, part of the Vitaphone “Broadway Brevities” series, a drug store worker purchases a television set from a salesman in order to boost the store’s business.
(1939, Universal Pictures, US) dirs. Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind
US release: Apr. 11, 1939
Serial version of the adventures of a pilot who finds himself in the 25th century. Rogers teams up with the representatives of an oppressed future society who struggle against a tyrannical ruler equipped with a television surveillance system.
Mandrake, the Magician
(1939, Columbia Pictures, US) dir. Norman Deming and Sam Nelson
US release: May 1939
In this 12-parts adventure serial, based on a popular comic strip, a large-screen video-telephone device allows a mysterious villain to communicate orders to his hitmen. Interestingly, the device is used only for unilateral communication – the villain speaks to the gang, but they do not speak back; this is all the more cryptic, as the villain always appears on the screen hidden behind a mask.
Reviews and articles: Film Daly, May 11, 1939: http://lantern.mediahist.org/catalog/filmdail75wids_0324
VIDEO (episode 1): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7KaJ7liZzY
S.O.S. Tidal Wave
(1939, Republic Pictures, US) dir. John H. Auer
US release: June 2, 1939
A television reporter and his friend the television ventriloquist discover incriminating evidence about a corrupt politician. Apparently inspired by the 1938 Orson Welles “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, the politician attempts to distract voters on election day by telecasting a false news report of the destruction of New York City in a tsunami (footage lifted from the 1933 RKO film Deluge).
Dick Tracy’s G-Men
(1939, Republic Pictures, USA) dirs. William Witney and John English
US release: September 2, 1939
In the first episode in this third Dick Tracy serial produced by Republic, international spy Zarnoff is navigating from a distance a boat full of explosives at distance, using a wireless controlling device equipped with a television screen.
The Phantom Creeps
(1939, Universal Pictures, US) dirs. Ford Beebe and Saul A. Goodkind
US release: Oct. 17, 1939
Adventure serial starring Bela Lugosi as a mad scientist. In his laboratory, a device that provides him advance warning from raids by law enforcement appears to be a closed-circuit television apparatus.
Review: Variety, Aug. 9, 1939
(1939, Paramount Pictures, US) dir. Edward Dmytryk
US release: Oct. 20, 1939
A rich patron sponsors a young inventor who constructs a television system, with the aim of perfecting it and then handing it over to the US government. At the same time, a group of spies attempts to get hold of the novel technologies.
Weltraumschiff I startet [Space Ship 1 Takes Off]
(1937 [?], Bavaria-Filmkunst GmbH, Germany) dir. Anton Kutter
German release: November 1940
This Nazi-era science-fiction kulturfilm depicts the launch of a space rocket, which is preceded by a televised press conference. Production of the film started in Munich in 1937 or 1938, but budgetary and political constrains held the release until 1940.
Macao, l’enfer du jeu [Gambling Hell / Mask of Korea]
(1939/1942, Demofilms, France) dir: Jean Delannoy
French release: December 9, 1942
Shot in 1939 by released only in 1942 (and in the US in 1950), this adventure film features a scene in which Sessue Hayakawa, playing an operator of a gambling hall in Macao, observes gamblers on a television set constructed in his office desk. Notably, the television apparatus seems to be connected to several cameras and the operator can choose among them.
(1940, Selznick International, US) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
US Release: April 12, 1940
Toward the end of Hitchcock’s first American Film, which was shot in 1939, the characters pass for a brief moment by a large poster advertising a “Radio and Television Exhibition.”
Acknowledgments: For invaluable help in compiling the database, the authors would like to thank Nicholas Baer, Geoff Brown, Hannah Frank, Oliver Gaycken, Ron Gregg, Boaz Hagin, Diane Lewis, Katharina Loew, Trond Lundemo, Johan Nordström, Jan Olsson, Christina Petersen, Matthew Solomon, Yuri Tsivian, Julie Turnock, Johannes von Moltke, and Alberto Zambenedetti.
See the original published version of “Television in the Cinema Before 1939: An International Annotated Database, with an Introduction by Richard Koszarski” here.