Gentlemen: if you are too dense to realize that Merle Oberon has the hots for you, then you truly deserve every terrible thing that happens to you for the rest of your miserable life.
Oberon, whose intense beauty has been known to border on illegal levels, stars in "The Broken Melody," a 1934 musical melodrama from director Bernard Vorhaus ("The Last Journey," "The Amazing Mr. X"). She plays Germaine, a lowly Parisian who gets by working at a café; her father is a landlord, and she's madly in love with one of the tenants, a struggling composer named Paul (John Garrick). But he thinks they're just friends, as he's much to engrossed in his music to notice such things. They share a lovely song or two, and she helps him gain some minor success with one song - only this success leads him into the arms of Simone (Margot Grahame), the city's most famous opera diva. Poor Germaine gets left in the dust when Paul and Simone wed. Ah, but it's an unhappy marriage, with Paul growing so very jealous at the many men with whom Simone loves to flirt. Serves him right, the dolt.
The film manages to cram an awful lot into its compact 80 minutes, but this becomes its weakness. What starts up as an enjoyable little soap opera (Simone begins an affair with a snooty socialite) slips way off the track by its second half, as Paul winds up on a prison island, fighting off hunger and insanity by whipping up a cheerful song. By now, both female characters are gone from the picture - and when one of them returns late in the story (as we flash forward a few years), there's no explanation for the reunion. Too much emotional information is ignored, and the movie assumes the audience will be so wrapped up in the mere idea of a reunion that we won't bother asking why or how or even when. Even Paul's son, just a baby when he's carted off to jail, gets completely written out of the story. Which is odd, as you'd think this would lay the groundwork for some major sappy heartbreak by the finale. But no - we get a throwaway line about him in one scene, while the rest fails to even mention him at all.
It's as if a good ten minutes or so is missing from the story, and those ten minutes are vital to the emotional development of all involved. Instead, the screenplay (credited to Vera Allinson, Michael Hankinson, and H. Fowler Mear) thinks it's being clever when it reveals Paul has written a stage musical about his experiences, and now we'll get to watch what happened to him as interpreted by the play, filling in the gaps for ourselves. But this gimmick, while fascinating at first, actually offers us nothing (indeed, it's more frustrating than anything else, as we're asked to believe that Paul and Germaine would star in their own very popular musical about their own life, despite hiding from the law!), and we're left with this big hole in the plot that's too noticeable to avoid.
Then again, by this time, we've already started to lose interest. The best stuff here is the interaction between the three main characters and all the romantic hubbub. All of this disappears in the second half, and Paul, on his own, is not interesting enough to carry the rest of the story.
It's a case of a grandiose melodrama trying to be too much at once, and while there's plenty here to admire - the performances, while frequently over-the-top, are engaging; the love triangle, while corny, is quite watchable in a soapish sort of way - "The Broken Melody" eventually collapses under its own weight.
The Roan Group once again supplies us with a very commendable transfer of an aging film. The image (maintaining the original 1.33:1 format) shows the occasional inescapable print damage (I counted at least two major, if extremely brief, tears), but all other issues, such as dirt and debris, are virtually nonexistent. In fact, most shots look remarkably clear, while those that do reveal a bit of dust or grain keep the problems to a minimum. Considering the source print, this is darn good work.
The mono soundtrack is also notable, free of the expected hiss and pops. Both dialogue and music come in clear; the only problems come late in the film, when the lyrics to Paul's stage musical become a bit muffled - although I'm guessing this is more a problem at the source than with Roan's restoration. Nicely done all around. No subtitles are offered.
The only bonus feature of any real value is the two-minute introduction by Michael Young of the New York Film Academy. Young offers some solid background information on the film and its makers without giving too much away for those watching for the first time. As per usual with Roan's discs, this intro was done with a cheap camcorder, delivering an ugly video look.
The only other feature with any connection to "Melody" is a four-minute scene from Ernst Lubitsch's "That Uncertain Feeling," which stars Oberon. This scene has appeared on other Roan releases - the movie is available from the company, you see - and it acts as a de facto trailer of sorts.
The other extras all fit in with Roan's method of slapping any old anything onto their discs, never mind the relevancy. And so we get a sixteen-minute interview between Troma honcho Lloyd Kaufman (Troma owns Roan) and veteran filmmaker Bernard Tavernier. Tavernier spends the time griping about an "economic blacklist" that exists in Hollywood (and other film circles) that keeps small-time filmmakers down. When he's not complaining about that, he's talking about the dumbing down of cinema, and how too many movies are made for "a young illiterate audience," part of "the tyranny of ignorance." (I wonder what he thinks of Kaufman's Troma releases.) Tavernier makes for a boring subject; Kaufman unexpectedly makes for a mediocre interviewer (his questions rarely follow through with his subject's statements); and once again, we get a lousy camcorder production.
Finally, we get "Radiation March," the same early-1980s avant garde anti-pollution PSA that's popped up on many a Roan and Troma disc. Whatever.
Despite a mostly lovely audio-video presentation, there's not enough to "The Broken Melody" (either the film or the special features) to make it worth owning. Fans of classic melodrama might want to Rent It just to check out some seldom-seen Oberon, although whenever she's out of the story, prepare to lose interest.