The Broadway Melody (1929)

The Broadway Melody

The Broadway Melody

Starring: Charles King, Anita Page, Bessie Love

Director: Harry Beaumont

“Chick fights, bleach blonde jokes and a gay guy in wardrobe. Some things never change.”

That quote is from my girlfriend, who will be popping up here and there along this journey. She’s agreed to watch most of the movies with me when it’s convenient to her. While I did try to get her to watch the entire list as sort of a project we could do together, there were several that she refuses to watch. At the very top of the list is Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. She is adamant that she will never watch this movie. I tried to explain to her that, since I’m making personal sacrifices by re-watching Chicago and finally seeing Crash all the way through, she should make sacrifices herself.

This plan of attack did not work well.

But, she did agree to see what The Broadway Melody was all about.

The movie is sometimes know as The Broadway Melody of 1929 due to its success spawning three sequels, in 1936, 1938 and 1940. It is also said to be the first movie to spawn sequels, a fact that I’m sure is only technically true. The one thing for certain is that it was the second film to win the Oscar for best picture and the first sound film to do so.

If you’ve ever had the chance to read up on the history of the introduction of sound to the film industry (or, perhaps, have had the pleasure of seeing Singin’ In the Rain), you know that there were numerous problems that came with this new technology. The Broadway Melody is no exception to the rule.

The film centers around two sisters — the oddly named duo of Hank and Queenie — who come to New York City to make it big on Broadway. They’re fresh off the road, traveling around the country for the last several years with their act. Hank has convinced Queenie that coming to New York will be good for the both of them. Hank’s tired of the road and her “friend” Eddie has guaranteed a part in the show he’s working on.

The girls soon go meet Eddie, who has written a song that a Mr. Zanfield (a thinly-veiled reference to Flo Zeigfeld) has agreed to be part of his big show that plays on Broadway. Eddie is pleased as punch to have Hank in town because this means he can finally marry the reluctant Hank.

But… what’s this? Could it be…

Queenie? All growed up? Little Queenie, who he used to tease when she was in pigtails? Gee, she’s all growed up and a lady now!

And thus, the movie starts on its cliché-ridden ride.

Long story short, it turns out that Mr. Zanfield doesn’t like Hank, but takes a liking to Queenie. He thinks she’s especially talented. She shows off this talent by standing on a high platform with her arm stretched out for an entire song. An entire song! That’s like three minutes!

Another person who takes a liking to Queenie is the evil, slimy and filthy rich Jock Warriner (a thinly-veiled reference to Jack Warner). Jock decides that he wants Queenie all to himself. This is much to the chagrin of Eddie, who, you see, has decided that he loves Queenie. But, Queenie gets tempted by the glamour of fame and fortune, despite the fact that she has only been in one performance on Broadway.

Most of the rest of the movie involves Jock trying to woo Queenie while Eddie and Hank try to convince her he’s bad for her. Queenie just basically wants to be left alone and free to do what she wants. She’s gonna be a big star and no one can stand in her way!

Showgirls

The Broadway Melody of 1995?

Ultimately, Hank realizes that Eddie doesn’t love her anymore. She lies to him, tells him she never loved him and tells him that he’s “yella” (really) for not going after Queenie. Eddie confronts Jock in his penthouse apartment and confesses his true love (for the third or fourth time) to Queenie. Which comes to no surprise since Eddie also spends a good chunk of the film trying to stick his tongue down her throat. She confesses that she loves him, too. The final scene of the movie takes place after Eddie and Queenie come back from their honeymoon.

Happy ending. Hooray!

The one thing I can’t figure out is why the girls go ape over Eddie. He’s really a giant jerk who cruelly teases them throughout the movie. He’s not a likable character at all. Although, I guess he does have money now that he’s sold this one song to Mr. Zanfield. He even has gold garters to hold up his socks!

Hot dog! This guy’s a keeper!

While this movie has its fans, it’s definitely difficult to understand why it won Best Picture for the 1929/30 Academy Awards. By today’s standards, the movie is extremely heavy-handed and melodramatic. The pacing is awkward. There’s eternal pauses between each joke, as if to wait for the audience to stop guffawing. Most likely this is a technique left over from the stage.

The humor doesn’t really translate to a 2011 audience. One thing is for certain, today’s audiences still think that homosexual characters, drunks and stutterers are the high point of comedy excellence. The Broadway Melody definitely has those in spades with the presence of the wardrobe manager who raves about the fabrics; some drunk rich guy who hiccups a lot; and the sisters’ stuttering Uncle Jed who is a source of endless confusion laughter because he talks like Porky Pig.

The technical quirks of the movie are also quite bothersome. The sound drops out when there is no dialogue, most likely due to the director incorrectly believing that a microphone was not needed for those moments. Thus, the noticeable absence of sound altogether at times. Also, the songs themselves are improperly mixed, causing the musicians to almost drown out the vocalists.

It also seems that they had yet to master the numerous filmmaking techniques that we take for granted these days. Most of the dialogue was shot using medium shots. The dance numbers were shot using full, stationary shots. The concept of the pan and tilt seems to be years away. Although, I feel that Wings had a lot more movement with the camera and took more chances with the various shooting techniques.

This is what happens when a new leap in technology obsesses the filmmaking industry: the loss of story telling. It still happens these days. For every successful 3D movie such as Up or Avatar, which uses actual story telling along with the technology, there’s heaps that just throw out story telling altogether. I’m looking at you, Drive Angry.

By the end of this movie my girlfriend had fallen asleep and I was barely keeping my eyes open.

They all can’t be winners.

Well, this one did win the Oscar for best picture. But, that’s beside the point.

Next up: All Quiet on the Western Front

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2 Responses to The Broadway Melody (1929)

  1. Pingback: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) | 83 by 72

  2. Pingback: Cimarron (1931) | 83 by 72

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