Broadway Melody (1929) – Musical Prompt

I’m a stubborn person, as my Mom would say I’m hard-headed. In stating that, I completely ignored the advice from @007hertzrumble and @hollywoodcomet regarding “Broadway Melody” the Best Picture winner from 1929 (you can check out their comments on episode 12 of the Cinema Shame podcast). An informative watch due to the historical context, but overall not really a film worth watching and should probably be removed from some shame lists. I’m far from a musical expert, more of a neophyte regarding the genre. Even though I’ve witnessed few, “Broadway Melody” is at the bottom of the barrel.

I was blinded by the gold beauty from the Best Picture statue on the cover of the DVD. Only the second film to receive the honor, it was the perfect follow-up after my shame statement on the first Best Picture winner “Wings”. I fear I’m sounding too harsh but there was little value in this viewing. The only positive was the beauty and an introduction to the film careers of Bessie Love and Anita Page. The film’s plot is best classified as a bad love story involving a pair of sisters who come to New York to be on Broadway. The sisters are Hank (Bessie Love) and Queenie (Anita Page), a small-town act from the western U.S. coming to the big city to take their vaudeville act to the next level. The sisters receive help from Eddie Kearns (Charles King), a songwriter and performer and Uncle Jed (Jed Prouty), their agent and family connection in the city. Eddie’s background and connection with the girls is where the confusion with the film starts. He knows the girls, but how well? I would say it’s between picking up a date from a newspaper ad to preparing to take a knee and pop the question. I assume the viewer is supposed to be so enamored by Queenie’s looks, that it is completely justifiable Eddie would drop Hank for Queenie. The reconnection between the three is played out in the hotel room, there is a pervy reacquaintance between Eddie and Queenie, who has blossomed into a woman, in which we are not given any details on when the last time Eddie saw her.  Eddie is supposedly the next big thing on Broadway and boasts his cred to the sisters when they come into town, promising them a large number in his musical.

The relationship of Eddie and Hank is never fleshed out with background information. I don’t need the whole story but for a man to state he intends to marry a woman I would like a little evidence to build a reality of this relationship. Eddie’s whole infatuation with Queenie is so over the top any viewer can tell where this plot is going. Eddie gets the audition for the ladies and it doesn’t go well. Hank argues and fights with the other dancers after her and Queenie’s performance is sabotaged. While their musical number was impaired, the overall dance routine was not remarkable. This is where the editing or story gets messy, I originally thought the sisters didn’t get the dance number but they show up on dress rehearsal performing with Eddie. They are then pulled from the show due to the slow tempo of the number. I have no idea about the tempo, I wasn’t entirely sure how a song about Broadway connected with a show set during the age of Romans. The main aspect of the plot is one sad love story. I find it hard to believe the intent of this production was to delivery a sad movie about isolation and failure. Being the first Hollywood musical, I would expect a more uplifting story. Eddie becomes obsessively attached to Queenie, gets extremely jealous when other suitors try to take her out. I don’t know if I’m supposed to be cheering Eddie on in this movie or to be repulsed. Is he the hero? Trying to protect Queenie from these Broadway producers who only want one thing, which is the same thing Eddie wants but somehow, he is the noble, deserving suitor. Hank is basically left out in the cold and realizes Hank’s infatuation with Queenie. She must watch Eddie pine after Queenie and witness the two get married. The two sisters break up the act. Queenie steps into the role of housewife and Hank partners up one of the dancers she fought during the audition. They start their own vaudeville act and prepare to tour the country. The only piece of emotion is shown near the film’s end, as Hank leaves New York and vows to return to Broadway, there is a shot of her face as she mentions Queenie. It shows her loneliness and heartbreak. It’s a subtle shot and I could be placing too much emphasis on the shot because her character’s romance with Eddie is never fully explained. We are even unsure her about her relationship with her sister, was it the performing that she loved or just being with Queenie.

In Richard Barrios’ book “Must-See Musicals,” “Broadway Melody” is included as one of the “50 show-stopping movies we can’t forget”.  Barrios states about Broadway Melody, “As with many Oscar recipients, it’s timely entertainment, not timeless art, and as a very early sound film, it now seems as primitive and remote as a relic from the bronze age. The dialogue sounds as though they were still trying to figure out exactly how movie talk should sound, cinematography is static, the musical numbers gauche, if charming, and the dramatics pretty threadbare.” I don’t know a lot about the technical aspects of many films, rarely do I judge classic films just on their technical aspects. “Broadway Melody” desperately needed a decent story, it lacked depth regarding the relationships of the characters. As for this being on someone’s musical shame list, I would suggest finding a different musical. I plan to follow this up with the recent Criterion’s release, “King of Jazz” which was released in 1930, it was also included in Barrios’ book.

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