[The] spoken word has placed a hardship on the cause of motion pictures simply because dialogue tends to slow up the action and to atrophy that panoramic fluidity of the camera which was a chief and startling virtue in the silent film days.
In view of which it is interesting to note how one director has succeeded, to an unusual degree, in freeing himself from the fetters of sound recording. The picture is "Applause" … and the director is Rouben Mamoulian. (p. 240)
[There is] constant evidence that a creative intelligence was responsible for the making of "Applause." Having been given a free rein, Mr. Mamoulian went about his business with nothing to rely on other than his own skill in showmanship and, I suspect, fairly good acquaintance with the best of the latter day silent pictures.
The fact that he had dialogue to deal with didn't disturb him at all. Instead of allowing the dialogue to intrude itself in the story or even to take a respectable place alongside of it, Mamoulian used his camera for all it was worth and made it tell the story.
The result is that "Applause" exists—to me, at any rate—as a cohesive, well integrated series of pictures. Its intensity, its sharp projections of tragedy, emerge from the eye of the camera; an omniscient, omnipresent eye that slides easily over the links of the story and emphasizes only the true and the relevant. (pp. 240-41)
Always there are artful touches, designed to illuminate the characters or to indicate the humors of the story. The opening sequence is deadly eloquent in its simplicity. There is the deserted street of a small town. Scattered bits of newspapers and bill posters are blown about by the wind. That is all. But you can feel the bleakness of the day, the chill November winds that sweep through the vacant street. And then one of the bill posters is flattened momentarily against the side of a building. It is the advertisement of Kitty Darling and the burlesque troupe coming to town….
Certainly the mood of the picture is imparted without any waste of time and, I might add, without any waste of words. Taking a leaf from Mr. Mamoulian's book a rule for directors might be adduced to the effect that when you want to get a point over quickly to the audience, don't say it with words. As a matter of fact, the most telling sequences in "Applause" are done in pantomime. The dialogue is held to the subservient function of framing the story and heightening the characterizations.
In spite of the sordidness of its theme there is much pictorial beauty in "Applause." As far as I know, Mr. Mamoulian is the first director to utilize the photographic possibilities of the Brooklyn Bridge, with its delicate filigree of interlacing cables and the New York skyline in the distance. He has made his camera predominantly avid, which might be set down as rule Two for directors who would inject a future into the talkies. (p. 241)
Thornton Delahanty, "'Applause'," in The Arts (copyright, 1929, by The Arts Publishing Corporation), Vol. XVI, No. 4, December, 1929, pp. 240-41.