Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The Broadway Melody (of 1929) is the genuine article, the first all-talking, -singing and
-dancing musical of the sound era - and it won a best picture Oscar as well. The staging and the
acting are as creaky as can be, but the film does have the zing of a killer song and a happy singer
to put it across ... about four times.
There was an MGM laserdisc of this in the middle 90s but Warners' DVD bests it for quality,
The audio has been cleaned up but not enough to harm the original feel of the
Song writer & performer Eddie Kearns (Charles King) has a hit new song to put in
Mr. Zanfield's new musical. Sensing that the time is right, he summons his girlfriend Hank Mahoney
and her sister Queenie (Bessie Love and Anita Page) to audition their sister act for the big
impresario. Hank thinks they're a hit but they are really hired on the basis of Queenie's beauty.
Worse than that, Queenie and Eddie soon realize they're in love and don't know how to tell Hank
the bad news. Queenie reacts in the only way she knows, by returning the dishonorable attentions
of the wealthy ladykiller Jacques (Jock) Warriner (Kenneth Thompson).
We see Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed trying out a new song in the crowded office of a music
publisher, with various performers raising a racket from all sides. Right off the top, Charles
King does an impromptu rendition of the title tune, the killer song that most of us know from
Singin' in the Rain twenty-three
years later. "Hot Dog!" A lot looser and with far better audio recording than the part-talkie
The Jazz Singer, The Broadway Melody gives us a peek at the enthusiasm of the time ...
1929, the same year that the stock market crashed; the same year as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
All of the audio recording appears to have been done live on the sets, putting The Broadway Melody
in the small minority of American films where the performances are being done live as we see them.
Those sets are none too sturdy, with echoing footsteps and doors that really clunk when they're shut.
All are missing the fourth wall, and the camera always stays on the same side of the action.
Most of the film is flatly staged by director Harry Beaumont but the actors are certainly
lively. Bessie Love (of
The Lost World) is the smart
member of the sister act and MGM star Anita Page the dumb pretty one, and their act looks hopelessly
corny. It's hard to tell how we're meant to take the dancing, whether they're supposed to be maladroit
or Page and Love were just doing their best. All of the chorus dancing we see is on the tepid side,
and with only a couple of exceptions the dances are staged in a very small space.
The sisters' high point is a cute attempt at the song The Boy Friend. They sing it rather
squeakily (with the requisite ukelele) and then Love goes into a klunkily desperate tap that makes
Ruby Keeler look like Ginger Rogers. It's also fun hearing them speak all the latest "smart"
patter, like "hotsy tot." At one point Besse turns irately to another character and says loudly,
"Screw!" (pronounced "Scah-roo!"). I assume it meant the same thing then as it does now, and it's
a big surprise.
Most every cliché of the backstage musical is already fully developed. One member of the
act falls in love with the other member's fiancée, which becomes a source of concern
throughout the whole movie. Queenie gets her big break when the top showgirl falls from her perch
(with a "ka-lunk!") to the stage below. Stage door johnnies are always there
to harass the showgirls. Queenie is given an apartment and a diamond bracelet by her rich lothario,
who cooly announces that he's spending the night.
With his authentic background, vaudevillian Charles King is probably the best thing in the movie.
Bessie Love is okay, but both she and Anita Page seem to be overmodulating to register on the mikes.
Some of Page's lines are pretty horribly overacted, but since she's supposed to be a ditzy showgirl
little harm is done. The music publisher is played by James Gleason of Here Comes Mr. Jordan and
Night of the Hunter, and he also is given a co-screenplay credit. Jed Prouty does a
stammering routine as the girls' agent, and Drew Demarest is the (natch) swishy costumer, fawning
over a fancy fur. William Demarest (The Miracle of Morgan's Creek) is said to be in there
too, but Savant didn't spot him.
Warners' DVD of The Broadway Melody looks fine; the film shows some wear here and there but
is basically intact. The special features menu is packed with early musical goodies. Five different
Metro Movietone Revues feature talent of the day; the one name I recognize is Fred Waring.
Van & Schenck is a recording of a comedy act (I wonder if the Schenck is related to the MGM
financier), and The Dogway Melody is an elaborate novelty parody with an all-dog cast.
There's none for this title, but an added gallery has trailers for four or five other Broadway Melody
movies, the kind that frequently featured Eleanor Powell, Robert Taylor and Buddy Ebsen. The box
cover and all the menuing is done with vintage ad art of the time ... lots of snazzy showgirl
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Broadway Melody rates:
Movie: Very Good
Supplements: Early musical Movietone shorts, trailers
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 11, 2005
1. Other songs from
Singin' in the Rain are The Wedding of the Painted Doll, You Were Meant for Me
and You are My Lucky Star.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson