Why do people in old movies talk so fast?

Were they trying to make the movie shorter to save film or something?

Youtube examples please.

oh, say… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PG3NZjRv2nM. and maybe http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-r6mU2JnKo

or say http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kZQ8-MmHwM

Those don’t seem especially fast from me. When I think of fast I think of the movie Network. Besides this monologue the entire movie is one long burst of explosive emotion meant to increase tension.

I come from Southern California though. LA folks seem to simply talk faster than much of the country so maybe this is why I don’t really hear the speediness of the dialogue.

I think older movies were written more like plays though, tons and tons and tons of dialogue and fewer expensive action shots.

I don’t really hear what you’re talking about. Of course, I also didn’t have an issue with The Jackal’s line delivery in Far Cry 2–he definitely had a unique cadence to his voice, but I didn’t think he was speaking unnaturally fast. A better example of talking beyond a comfortable speed might be Groucho Marx’s delivery, but that’s a character bit.

On a side note, did you know that English is one of the slowest spoken languages in the world?

Ok, so, like, Basil Rathbone mouthing off to the Sheriff and Prince John in that second link. Rapid-fire. And hardly any gaps at all between lines of dialogue. There’s just enough pause for dramatic expression, but no more. It seems common from those movies; not so much anymore.

You slipped in a couple links between the time I hit reply and hit submit. Those later clips better represent what you’re talking about, I think.

I think it has to do with the idea that everything in the big city, or the upper class just moves faster. Back when those movies came out most of the people in his country were probably still country bumpkins. Today’s country bumpkins still talk with a slow drawl, and increasing the speed of the dialogue like this probably made the characters look smarter, quicker and increased the dramatic intensity of the scene for many of the viewers.

I think it was just a cheap way to build excitement.

I’m pretty sure Howard Hawks asked Grant and Hepburn to speed up their dialogue on Bringing up Baby… It creates a certain sophisticated absurdity that I personally feel irresistible.

That Rathbone scene’s not fast.

Jennifer Jason Leigh in the Hudsucker Proxy is fast!
(Couldn’t find a good clip on youtube, but she’s fast when Robbins isn’t in the scene).

Because time was faster seventy years ago, obviously.

The point isn’t to find the fastest talking ever done in movies, but rather, that people in old movies like the above generally spoke at a fast clip, and in modern movies, they don’t have that kind of rapid-fire dialogue unless they’re deliberately trying to capture that old-movie rapid-fire dialogue feel. Conversations are much more… deliberate. If they have any dialogue worth remembering at all. :)

I think it was just a style thing. At the time it was cool to speak very posh and cleverly impossibly fast which just made you seem even cleverer. Nowadays, being linguistically clever isn’t seen as so fashionable, cinema and stage plays have driven more towards realism in dialogue with natural pauses and speech rhythms.

Lack of focus groups stuffing popcorn in their ears, mainly. As focus group testing evolved, movie makers realized that there was more revenue to be had by not alienating audience members who like to stuff popcorn in their ears, and money talks. Slowly.

Didn’t people speak differently back then anyway, leaving aside any differences that are accounted for by aesthetics?

In all seriousness, movies weren’t dumbed down like they are today. My wife is an old movie buff and so I’ve seen a bunch of old movies. If a black and white movie comes on on some channel, she always knows what it is.

While I find some of the acting very stiff by today’s standards (probably more to outdated social norms than the acting itself), the dialogue is usually a bit sharper than in today’s movies. Though, most of the these old movies that still show are classics, so I could be judging today’s average against yesterday’s classics.

I know exactly what you’re talking about. My (completely baseless) assumption has always been that this style of delivery is a hold-over from stage acting, where elocution is valued more than realism because the dialog needs to be clear and carry to everyone in the theater.

But I don’t really know. I think it would be interesting to pinpoint the moment in history where this style started to change, and why.

And I think the Coens had Jennifer Jason Leigh do her “His Girl Friday” thing as an homage :).

Speaking of people in old movies, why do they all frantically jerk the steering wheel when they drive?

Some of it (the talking, not the steering-wheel thing) had to do with movies in the 60s breaking out of the studio for more on-location shooting, where it became a lot harder to record dialog. Many films started doing post-dubbing - Fellini famously sometimes didn’t bother telling his actors what their lines were, because he was probably going to rewrite it in post anyway.