IT HAS LONG BEEN A CONTENTION IN film sound scholarship that the study of film is visually biased. Nowhere is this more evident than in existing accounts of classical Hollywood cinema, in which sound styles have largely been conceived in terms of broad technological standards, unchanging general principles and overarching norms, and where variations in practice have either remained ‘unheard’ or have only been identified in a handful of special cases. This can partly be attributed to the periodisations that have governed film historiography. As Donald Crafton has observed, there are few divisions more obvious than the one between sound and silent film, few periodisations more evident than the ‘transitional era’: the years between 1926 and 1931 in which a number of new sound technologies were adopted, used for a variety of different purposes, then refined, rendered more flexible, and finally honed to comply with the norms of the classical Hollywood feature film. 1 However, while scholars have now revealed the extensive roles played by music and sound in the ‘silent era’, little attention has been paid to the twenty-year period that followed the transition, a period conceived as one of stability and incremental improvement prior to the adoption of magnetic recording and stereophonic sound in the late 1940s and 1950s (itself an even more neglected topic). 2 Here we focus on the period between the early 1930s and the mid 1940s, seeking to detail some of the general principles and practices that governed sound films and the construction of their soundtracks and to pinpoint the uses made of sound in a number of different films. Prior to doing so, though, it is important to summarise some of the key developments and characteristics of the era that preceded it.