The Better 'Ole (1926 film)

The Better 'Ole is a 1926 American silent World War I comedy drama film. Released by Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc., this film is the second full-length film to utilize the Vitaphone sound-on-disc process, two months after the first Vitaphone feature Don Juan; with no audible dialogue, the film does have a synchronized musical score and sound effects. This film was also the second onscreen adaptation of the 1917 musical The Better 'Ole by Bruce Bairnsfather and Arthur Elliot. Charlie Chaplin's eldest brother Sydney Chaplin played the main lead as Old Bill in perhaps his best-known film today. This film is also believed by many to have the first spoken word of dialog, "coffee", although there are those who disagree.[3] At one point during the film, Harold Goodwin's character whispers a word to Sydney Chaplin which is also faintly heard.[4]

The Better 'Ole
Directed byCharles Reisner
Written byCharles Reisner (adaptation)
Darryl F. Zanuck (adaptation)
Robert Hopkins (titles)
Based onThe Better 'Ole, or, The Romance of Old Bill
(1918 play)[1]
by Bruce Bairnsfather and Arthur Elliot
StarringSydney Chaplin
Doris Hill
Harold Goodwin
Jack Ackroyd
Music byMaurice Baron
CinematographyEdwin B. DuPar
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • October 23, 1926 (1926-10-23) (US)
  • [1] ([1])
Running time
97 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageSilent (English intertitles)
Box office$1,273,000[2]


Old Bill (Sydney Chaplin), a jovial Limey sergeant, discovers that the major of his regiment is a German spy in collusion with Gaspard (Theodore Lorch), the local innkeeper. The spies mistrust him and poison his wine; but it spills and eats a hole in the floor through which Gaspard falls into the cellar. Trying to rescue him, Bill discovers a cote of carrier pigeons. Tipped off by the major, the Germans bomb an opera house where Bill and fellow soldier Alf (Jack Ackroyd) are performing; they escape, however, in their impersonation of a horse and later pose as German soldiers in a German regiment. Bill manages to get a photograph of the major greeting the German general, but it falls into the hands of Joan (Doris Hill), a prisoner of war. Bill is forced to join a German attack against the British, and though he saves his own regiment, he is shot as a German spy. An old friend, however, has substituted blank cartridges for the real ones, and Bill is pardoned when Joan and his friend Bert arrive with the incriminating photograph.


Premiere Vitaphone short subjects

The Better 'Ole premiered at the Colony Theatre in New York City, New York on October 7, 1926.

Title Year
Elsie Janis in a Vaudeville Act, “Behind the Lines,” Assisted by Men’s Chorus of the 107th Regiment 1926
The Howard Brothers in "Between the Acts at the Opera" 1926
George Jessel - A Theatrical Booking Office 1926
Reinald Werrenrath, Noted concert baritone, sings "The Long, Long Trail" and "When You Look at the Heart of a Rose" 1926
Al Jolson in A Plantation Act 1926

Box office

According to Warner Bros records the film earned $955,000 domestically and $318,000 foreign.[5]

Preservation status

The film, as well at its Vitaphone soundtrack, survive and remain intact, with the exception of one reel, which is currently missing. The film exists in the UCLA Film and Television Archive film archive.[6]

Home media

This film was released on DVD-R through the Warner Archive Collection in 2009.

See also


  1. The Better 'Ole at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. Glancy, H Mark (1995). "Warner Bros Film Grosses, 1921–51: the William Schaefer ledger". Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television. 15.
  3. Eyman, Scott. The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930
  4. The Better 'Ole Trivia at the TCM Movie Database
  5. Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 5 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  6. The Better 'Ole at the database
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