Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
THE BROADWAY MELODY (1929)
Considered the first true Hollywood musical by its own Wikipedia page, so good enough for me, The Broadway Melody is a 1929 film that couldn’t be prouder to contain TALKING, SINGING, and DANCING. It follows the Mahoney Sisters, Hank (Bessie Love) and Queenie (Anita Page), as they try to make it big on the stages of Broadway. Can Hank’s songwriter fiancé Eddie Kearns (Charles King) help them on their way to the top, or will they be consumed by old timey interpersonal showbiz drama?
Full disclosure, I expected a movie this old to be the fluffiest, cheeriest spoonful of sugar that boasted nice tunes and beautiful dames without a lick of dramatic tension. Thankfully, I was wrong. It’s not a dark, depressing tragedy or anything, but the cast and crew of the musical revue definitely aren’t a big happy family. The dancers get in a leggy lady fight, the lead vocalist is a dick to the conductor for no reason, and the lighting guy straight up tries to murder somebody. Don’t worry, it’s played for comedy!
The relationships between our main characters are complicated enough to stay interesting. Queenie is the one with the looks and Hank is the one with the talent, which is a minor source of conflict. Hank and her fiancé Eddie are overprotective of Queenie, but does Eddie have an ulterior motive? And do any of these people actually know why they wanted to be on Broadway in the first place?
Its proximity to Central Park?
I think the main issue with the story (and I wonder if this will be a trend with these early musicals) is the pacing. The movie takes place around the rehearsal of a show, so the plot will often screech to a halt for a song-and-dance routine. Are they good songs and dances? Sometimes, and we’ll get to that later, but they definitely feel like padding to distract from too simple a story to fill 90 minutes.
Enough with the character development… girls, girls, girls!
But, again, it’s more story than I expected.
So here’s the deal… I’ve never seen any of these actors in anything else, and I’m also not too knowledgeable about social conventions in the ’20s, so I’m at a loss to praise some of the performances in The Broadway Melody. For example, Charles King as singer and songwriter Eddie Kearns seems like a bit of a creep for a main character, but is that because courting was entirely different (read: molesty) back then?
Also, Anita Page’s Queenie Mahoney is pretty ditzy, but is that a case of good acting or good casting? Am I a jerk for even asking?
Everyone praises her star power when she’s standing completely still.
I honestly don’t know if that’s deliberate social commentary or not.
For me, Bessie Love really stole the show as Hank Mahoney. She gives off a hopeful, confident personality that only adds to the devastation when she finds herself at her lowest. She has a deeply emotional scene all alone in her dressing room that left me speechless.
“Rrrrrip!” – My heart.
Other performances of note include Mary Doran in an effective bit part as a rival performer, Kenneth Thomson as a creep looking to woo Queenie that honestly doesn’t come off any creepier than Eddie Kearns, and Jed Prouty as a stuttering uncle that is painfully unfunny.
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
The first song of the movie is its catchiest, a little ditty about the splendor of Broadway titled (big surprise) “The Broadway Melody.” It’s a demo Eddie Kearns is pitching at Gleason Music, and it’s performed in one long take with instrumentalists by his side. This number instantly made me fear that this was not a true musical, just a story about musicians with songs in it.
Throw it on the pile!
Thankfully, the very next number features that staple of the Hollywood musical, the “invisible orchestra” to accompany the singer. This time, Eddie is in the apartment of the Mahoney Sisters, convincing them he’s got real songwriting talent by performing… “The Broadway Melody.” Again.
“Stop me if you’ve heard this one!”
Then, after the Mahoney Sisters give us a snippet of one of their acts at a tryout, it’s time to rehearse for the show, starting with, I SHIT YOU NOT, “BROADWAY MELODY” AGAIN.
If they can reuse songs, I can reuse pictures.
Are there any other songs in this thing?? Yeah, at one point Eddie sings a tune he wrote called “You Were Meant for Me,” and once again, it’s kinda creepy since he’s singing it for someone he just met and the music is coming from nowhere. Run! He’s a demon!
She’s loving it, dude! Keep going!
The rest of the tunes in the movie are all acts from their revue. The lyrics have little to no bearing on the plot and the melodies are pretty forgettable. There’s “Love Boat,” sung by a Roman soldier in such a heavy operatic style that I couldn’t make out a single word; “Boy Friend,” a Mahoney Sisters duet and tap dance routine about… having a boyfriend; and “The Wedding of the Painted Doll,” which is a tad annoying musically but the dancing is nothing short of acrobatic.
And finally, for bonus We’re Not Even Trying to Work This In points, our characters go out to dinner and the house band breaks into “Truthful Parson Brown,” a ditty about a crooning clergyman that’s fun but what does it have to do with anything? Don’t worry, later on they start playing, I am absolutely not kidding, “The Broadway Melody” for a fourth time.
- In the DVD’s special features, there’s a short film called The Dogway Melody. It’s a 16-minute parody of The Broadway Melody performed entirely with dogs. It’s pure bliss.
Oh my dog.
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
So, every week I’m going to pick out the most forced lyric of the movie, the one that says, “Hey, we could’ve worked a little harder on this part but we don’t have all day.” Full disclosure, everyone in the room misheard this line as “mice in shoes,” but that doesn’t stop the real lyric from being a bit of a head-scratcher and a lazy rhyme for “blues.” From “The Wedding of the Painted Doll”:
“Rice and shoes will spread the news that it’s a holiday.”
The Broadway Melody exceeded my expectations in the story department but fell short on the music. When I think “musical” (and our whole premise here is that I haven’t seen many), I’m expecting a well-structured story during which characters magically break into songs and dances regarding their lives, but Melody was mostly just some stage numbers woven into the plot. But hey, this was the first; I didn’t really think the genre would be fully formed from the beginning. Overall, the songs were forgettable outside of “The Broadway Melody” and the pacing is a bit of a slog, but I appreciated the acting and the characters were well-written. Walk, don’t run, to your local video store.
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)