In Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond said of her fellow silent-picture actors, “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces.” She is sneering at the performers who came after her for relying on the crutch of speech, but of the golden era of sound movies that followed, one could fairly, indeed lovingly, say, “They had voices.

Think of the salty crispness of Clark Gable’s voice—it’s like someone tearing the cellophane off a package of crackers—or Bogart’s slight whistle, or the soft, reedy tone of Henry Fonda that even in close-up sounds like he’s somewhere behind you in the distance. You could never mistake Katharine Hepburn’s goose-like timbre for Jean Arthur’s husky tinkle—Arthur has a girlish voice, but it’s a girl who smokes.