Applause (1929)

Film Review


Release Date: 7 October, 1929

Studio: Paramount

Director: Rouben Mamoulian

Starring: Helen Morgan, Joan Peers, Fuller Mellish, Jr.

Related Discussion Topic: The 1943 Home Front

Read more about the 1943 Home Front in the Topics section.


A vaudeville headliner (Morgan) has sent her daughter (Peers) to a convent school. When the daughter reaches seventeen, Morgan's boyfriend (Mellish) demands that she come live with them. Morgan will have more money to spend on him. The innocent daughter loves her mother, but is repelled by her mother’s degrading vaudeville act. Mellish, now Morgan’s husband, coaches Peers so she can dance in the show. To help her mother financially, the girl reluctantly becomes a dancer. One night Peers meets an equally innocent sailor, and they fall in love. Morgan blesses their marriage plans, but the husband tells the girl that the mother is too old to work and needs her income. She sends the sailor away. Morgan, realizing that she is blocking her child’s happiness, takes poison. At the theater, Morgan dies as Peers hugs and kisses the sailor who has returned to her.


In his first film, Mamoulian utilizes techniques that were uncommon for early sound films. He was especially creative in the use of a mobile camera. He took the camera outside for views of the skyline of New York and followed the characters onto the streets. The sets emphasize the shabby condition of the family’s apartment and of the vaudeville theater where they work.

Mamoulian had been directing on Broadway for several years before he directed this film at the Paramount Astoria Studio in New York City. He soon moved to Hollywood where he directed a succession of notable films including Love Me Tonight (1932) and Queen Christina (1933). His films made after 1935 are less effective than his earlier work, primarily due to dull scripts and less-compelling mise-en-scéne. Independent and strong-minded, Mamoulian often clashed with producers, and his film output declined after 1938. However, he continued directing on Broadway into the 1950s, including the hit musicals Oklahoma (1943) and Carousel (1945).

A notable cabaret singer, Helen Morgan established her name on Broadway in Show Boat (1927) and Sweet Adeline (1929). Her superb performances in Applause and James Whales' Show Boat (1936) comprise her major film work. Morgan's life was plagued by alcoholism, and she died at the early age of 41 in 1941. In Applause, Morgan’s facial features and make-up give her the appearance of a middle-aged woman, although she was only 29.