With the emergence of sound to cinema, the musical became a staple of Hollywood, so much so that one could say Broadway existed as a means of film, instead of the theatrical world we have come to expect it to be, especially considering that major studies essentially made musical review films in the numbers. This is certainly the case for The Broadway Melody, one of the earlier musicals, which would go on to have remakes in the two following decades, however, it would not find the success of its original, which, much to my surprise, won Best Picture that year. I say I am surprise, not because I have seen any of the films from the same year, but because The Broadway Melody is not especially good. It clearly has the desire to be a musical review, that happens to have the base story necessary to call it a film, the story is trite and the performer were clearly not hired for their acting. Of course this is early in sound filmmaking and means that the demands and expectations for such a film were different, yet only two years earlier, blackface aside, The Jazz Singer was released to much success and with a far higher level of production value and only a few years later 42nd Street would be released, which is a spectacle of a film and one of my personal favorites in the underviewed category of musicals. I think much of my disdain for the film comes from its glaringly stagnant camera work, often resting on two people talking, failing to do so much as even cut to reactions or even slightly alter an angle within a scene, which is more surprising considering that director Harry Beaumont also made Our Dancing Daughters, film, while silent, nonetheless, manages to avoid all the pitfalls and failures of The Broadway Melody. Of course, the music in the film is another matter, it is of a high-quality and many of the more instrumental based songs reflect a level of high musicality that is certainly lost in contemporary musicals and as such provides as the sole factor for what I found agreeable in the film. I certainly do not hate this film and am glad to have viewed it, but it is something I am unlikely to revisit again. I will be far more judicial with what I chose, likely sticking to either things involving the cinematography of Busby Berkeley or Astaire/Crosby era works.
The story of The Broadway Melody is noticeably straightforward, considering that the film does everything in the interest of moving the story along, although the opening shot of the New York cityscape via helicopter suggests something cinematically vibrant. Instead, we are show Eddie Kearns (Charles King) preparing a new song, sharing the title of the film, which he hopes to have released in an upcoming musical review. While producers are eager to put it in the hands of their star actresses, Eddie has the idea to provide the song to two girls he knows personally, his fiancé Hank Mahoney (Bessie Love) and her sister, Queenie (Anita Page), who much to Eddie's surprise is far more attractive then he remembers. After pushing and prodding, the girls are given a chance to perform, only to get booted from their initial act much to their dismay, considering that they are living paycheck by paycheck, yet it is the eye of Jock Warriner (Kenneth Thompson) that allows for Queenie to become the ingenue of Broadway. This thrusting into stardom creates a serious divide between the sisters, not only because of musical respect, but as they become physically confrontational over the love of Eddie. After some time Queenie begins to see Jock regularly, regardless of disapproving statements by both Hank and Eddie, but it becomes clear that she is only doing so to help ease her mind of growing feelings for Eddie, who she knows rightfully belongs to her sister. During a lavish party thrown by Jock, specifically for Queenie, he plans to get her alone to take advantage of the young girl, who he sees his property, considering he has essentially paid for her success. When Queenie denies his advances he becomes physical, but in a last minute rescue Eddie enters the room attacks Jock and saves Queenie. The film then closes after Hank and Eddie have split, finding their discomfort to large to ignore, Queenie laments that she hopes her sister will find happiness, something that seems unlikely even as she is shown with a new lover.
The Broadway Melody, while not a particularly great film, is rather technologically inventive, running across America as both a sound and silent film, something that becomes obvious by the inter-titles present throughout the film, and an eventual technicolor release of "The Wedding of the Paper Doll" scene, which is easily the most gorgeous moment of the film, even in black and white. However, The Broadway Melody also exists as an example of pre-code Hollywood in some of the moments depicted. As most readers, undoubtedly, know, the Hayes code was implemented to clean up the filth and immorality many deemed far too present in Hollywood and while this was certainly true for a few films of the time, most were innocent and happened to depict love earnestly. One would find some of the moments included in The Broadway Melody that were considered controversial rather humorous as they seem quite tame now. For example, the bond between the two sisters mean that they are intimate with one another and share an on-screen kiss, not one of incest but familial love. This act, would have in all likelihood been nixed from the film via The Hayes Code. Similarly the character, brilliantly named Unconscious (Uncredited) would have likely been cut from the film because he is a flat-out drunkard who can barely make it standing upright, let alone complete a sentence. The moments in this film, while seemingly inconsequential in contemporary society, would have been defined as morally reprehensible and unfit for cinemas across The United States. Yet, The Broadway Melody exists as a moment of pre-escapism subdued right before America was to face The Great Depression.
Key Scene: The performance of "Parson Brown" is exceptionally good irregardless of time, musical tastes and lyricism.
This is a fine film, not a great film. I would suggest watching it only if you desire to see all the Oscar winners, or have a definite love for musicals.