Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Broadway Melody (1929)



The Broadway Melody
MGM, 1929


Producer:  Irving Thalberg, Lawrence Weingarten
Director:  Harry Beaumont
Principal Cast:  Charles King, Anita Page, Bessie Love
Writers:  Edmund Goulding, Norman Houston, James Gleason
Cinematography:  John Arnold
Editing:  Sam S. Zimbalist, William LeVanway
Music:  Nacio Herb Brown, George M. Cohan, William Robison

Country:  United States
Running Time:  110 Minutes
Color:  Black & White
Aspect Ratio:  1.20 : 1
Language:  English


Plot



Hank & Queenie are a vaudeville sister act who come to New York City to make it on Broadway, with the help of Hank's boyfriend, Eddie Kearns.  Eddie inadvertantly falls in love with the beautiful Queenie, who also becomes a huge star, leaving her sister out of the spotlight.  Realizing that if Eddie leaves Hank it would devastate her, Queenie tries to protect her sister by getting involved with Jock Warriner, a member of New York high society.

Awards, Honors, Recognition


Academy Awards
Winner:  Outstanding Picture - MGM
Nomination:  Actress - Bessie Love
Nomination:  Direction - Harry Beaumont


Those men aren't going to pay ten bucks to look at your face; this is Broadway! 



Analysis

I try to watch everything I can.  Historically speaking this film is of a great deal of importance as it is the first-ever "talkie" to win the Academy Award for Best Picture... and it's a musical too.   Now what one has to realize when watching this film is that sound films, let alone musicals, were in their infancy.  So while today we are used to musicals being huge productions with extravagant sets and at least 5 or 6 show-stopping numbers, this film has about 5 songs total... and they're not exactly show stoppers.  Given that recording techniques were still new to the industry, the sound of the film is often times pretty terrible, and that camera shots never strayed from long wide shots or at most medium shots.  What a viewer has to realize is that Hollywood was in a transition period... moving from silent films to sound, so of course it's going to look and sound a little "off."  

Having said that, it's a very unique and interesting look at the beginning of Hollywood musicals on film.  The songs weren't quite as polished... the sets not quite as spectacular... but still, it is a unique and interesting experience.  One thing that The Broadway Melody does share in common with its musical bretheren is the melodrama.  THAT it has plenty of.  Hank loves Eddie.  Queenie loves Eddie.  Eddie loves Queenie and Hank.  Queenie and Hank are sisters.  Jock wants Queenie, which makes Eddie jealous.  And so on, etc. etc.

Of the three main actors, Bessie Love is probably the most effective, even though Anita Page is probably more fondly remembered.  However, Beesie's character, Hank, is the most interesting.  Hank must choose between sacrificing her own happiness or her sister's happiness, and Bessie Love never goes over-the-top when she certainly could have.  Not like that stopped Charles King, who was a complete ham in his role as Eddie Kearns.  But I can forgive it, because as stated earlier this was a transition period for Hollywood, and acting for a silent film is much different than acting for a "talkie."

If you're a film history junkie (like me) or someone interested in early Hollywood musicals, watch this film.