The Broadway Melody

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The Broadway Melody
BroadwayMelodyy1929.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Harry Beaumont
Produced by Irving Thalberg
Lawrence Weingarten
Written by Sarah Y. Mason (continuity)
Norman Houston (dialogue)
James Gleason (dialogue)
Earl Baldwin (titles)
Story by Edmund Goulding
Starring Charles King
Anita Page
Bessie Love
Jed Prouty
Music by Nacio Herb Brown
George M. Cohan
Willard Robison
Cinematography John Arnold
Edited by Sam S. Zimbalist
William LeVanway
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates February 1, 1929 (1929-02-01TUS)
Running time 100 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $3 million[1]

The Broadway Melody, also known as The Broadway Melody of 1929, is a 1929 American musical film and the first sound film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. It was one of the first musicals to feature a Technicolor sequence, which sparked the trend of color being used in a flurry of musicals that would hit the screens in 1929–1930. Today the Technicolor sequence is presumed lost and only a black and white copy survives in the complete film. The film was the first musical released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and was Hollywood's first all-talking musical.

The Broadway Melody was written by Norman Houston and James Gleason from a story by Edmund Goulding, and directed by Harry Beaumont. Original music was written by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, including the popular hit "You Were Meant For Me". The George M. Cohan classic "Give My Regards To Broadway" is used under the opening establishing shots of New York City, its film debut. Bessie Love was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.

Plot[edit]

The plot involves the romances of musical comedy stars, set against the backstage hubbub of a Broadway revue. Anita Page and Bessie Love play a vaudeville sister act who have come to New York for their big break on Broadway. Charles King plays the song-and-dance man whose affection for one sister (Harriet alias Hank) is supplanted by his growing love for the younger, more beautiful sister (Queenie). Queenie tries to protect her sister and derail the love triangle by dating a wealthy but unscrupulous "stage door Johnny."

The movie opens with Eddie Kearns debuting "The Broadway Melody." He tells some chorus girls that he brought the Mahoney Sisters to New York to perform it with him in Francis Zanfield's latest revue. Hank and Queenie Mahoney are awaiting Eddie's arrival at their apartment. Hank, the older sister, prides herself on her business sense and talent while Queenie is lauded for her beauty. Hank is confident they will make it big while Queenie is less eager to put everything on the line to be stars. Hank declines their Uncle Jed's offer to join a 30-week traveling show, but consents think it over.

Eddie, who is engaged to Hank, arrives and sees Queenie for the first time since she was a girl and is instantly taken with her. He tells them to come to rehearsal for Zanfield's revue to present their act. Zanfield isn’t interested in it but says he might have a use for Queenie, who begs him to give Hank a part as well. She also convinces him to pretend Hank’s business skills won him over. Eddie witnesses this exchange and becomes even more enamored of Queenie for her devotion to her sister. During dress rehearsal for the revue Zanfield says the pacing is too slow for “The Broadway Melody” and cuts Hank and Queenie from the number. Meanwhile, another girl is injured after falling off a prop and Queenie is selected to replace her. Nearly everyone is captivated by Queenie, particularly notorious playboy Jacques "Jock" Warriner. While Jock begins to woo Queenie, Hank is upset that Queenie is building her success on her looks rather than her talent.

Over the following weeks, Queenie spends a lot of time with Jock, of which Hank and Eddie fervently disapprove. They forbid her to see him, which results in Queenie pushing them away and deterioration of the relationship between the sisters. Queenie is only with Jock to fight growing feelings for Eddie, but Hank thinks she’s setting herself up to be hurt. Eventually, Eddie and Queenie confess their love for each other but Queenie, unwilling to break her sister’s heart, runs off to Jock once again.

Hank, after witnessing Queenie’s fierce outburst toward Eddie and his devastated reaction to it, finally realizes they are in love. She berates Eddie for letting Queenie run away and tells him to go after her. She claims to never have loved him and that she’d only been using him to advance her career. After he leaves she breaks down and alternates between sobs and hysterical laughter. She composes herself enough to call Uncle Jed to accept the job with the 30-week show.

There’s a raucous party at the apartment Jock had recently purchased for Queenie but he insists they spend time alone. When she resists his advances he says it’s the least she could do after all he’s done for her. He begins to get physical but Eddie bursts in and attempts to fight Jock, who knocks him through the door with one punch. Queenie runs to Eddie and leaves Jock and the party behind.

Sometime later, Hank and Uncle Jed await the arrival of Queenie and Eddie from their honeymoon. The relationship between the sisters is on the mend but there is obvious discomfort between Hank and Eddie. Queenie announces she’s through with show business and will settle down in their new house on Long Island. She insists that Hank lives with them when her job is over. After Hank leaves with her new partner and Uncle Jed, Queenie laments the fact that her sister hasn’t found the happiness she deserves. The final scene is of a distraught Hank on her way to the train station.

Production[edit]

A silent version of the film was also released, as there were still many motion picture theaters without sound equipment at the time. The film featured a musical sequence for "The Wedding of the Painted Doll" that was presented in early two-color Technicolor (red and green). Color would quickly come to be associated with the musical genre, and numerous features were released in 1929 and 1930 that either featured color sequences or were filmed entirely in color, movies like On with the Show (1929), Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929), Sally (1929), The Life of the Party (1930), and others. No known color prints of the sequence survive, only black-and-white.

Musical numbers[edit]

Music by Nacio Herb Brown, lyrics by Arthur Freed, except as noted.[2][3]

  • "Broadway Melody"
  • "Love Boat"
  • "You Were Meant For Me"
  • "Wedding of the Painted Doll"
  • "Boy Friend"
  • "Truthful Deacon Brown", music and lyrics by Willard Robison
  • "Lovely Lady"

Reception and legacy[edit]

The Broadway Melody was a substantial success and made a profit of $1.6 million for MGM. It was the top grossing picture of 1929, and won the Academy Award for Best Picture.[4]

Contemporary reviews from critics were generally positive. Variety wrote that it "has everything a silent picture should have outside of its dialog. A basic story with some sense to it, action, excellent direction, laughs, a tear, a couple of great performances and plenty of sex."[5] "Has everything," agreed Film Daily. "Sure-fire moneymaker that will drag 'em in everywhere."[6]

"This picture is great. It will revolutionize the talkies," wrote Edwin Schallert for Motion Picture News. "The direction is an amazing indication of what can be done in the new medium."[7]

Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times wrote a mixed review, calling it "rather cleverly directed" though "somewhat obvious," with sentiment "served out too generously in most of the sequences." Hall called King's performance "vigorous", but of Page he wrote, "Her acting, especially her voice, does not enhance her personality. Notwithstanding, it must be admitted that there are girls who talk as she is made to for the screen. Miss Page, however, fails to give one an impression of spontaneity, for she recites rather than speaks her lines."[8]

John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote, "The stage background allows opportunity for one or two musical interpolations, and no one is more glad than we that the talkies charmingly succeed in a very pleasant ballet. Because of that we shall try to forget the dialogue of the play, and that James Gleason ever wanted to take any credit for it."[9]

Historically, The Broadway Melody is often considered the first complete example of the Hollywood musical. While the film was seen as innovation for its time and helped to usher in the concept and structure of musical films, the film has become regarded by contemporary critics as cliché-ridden and overly melodramatic.[10] It currently holds a rating of 35% at Rotten Tomatoes based on 17 reviews.[11] Assessing the film in 2009, James Berardinelli wrote, "The Broadway Melody has not stood the test of time in ways that many of its more artistic contemporaries have. Some of its deficiencies can be attributed to ways in which the genre has been re-shaped and improved over the years, but some are the result of the studio's validated belief that viewers would be willing to ignore bad acting and pedestrian directing in order to experience singing, dancing, and talking on the silver screen."[12]

Sequels[edit]

Three more movies were later made by MGM with similar titles, Broadway Melody of 1936, Broadway Melody of 1938, and Broadway Melody of 1940, were released by MGM. Although not direct sequels in the traditional sense, they all had the same basic premise of a group of people putting on a show (the films also had recurring cast members playing different roles, most notably dancer Eleanor Powell who appeared in all three).

The original movie was also remade in 1940 as Two Girls on Broadway. Another Broadway Melody film was planned for 1942 (starring Gene Kelly and Eleanor Powell) but production was cancelled at the last minute. Broadway Rhythm, a 1944 musical by MGM, was originally to have been titled Broadway Melody of 1944.

Awards and honors[edit]

Academy Awards[edit]

Wins

Nominations

No nominations were announced prior to the 1930 ceremonies. Love and Beaumont are presumed to have been under consideration, and are listed as such by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

DVD release[edit]

The Broadway Melody was released on Region 1 special edition DVD by Warner Bros. in 2005. It is also included in the 18-disc release Best Picture Oscar Collection, also released by Warner Bros.[13]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ "Which Cinema Films Have Earned the Most Money Since 1914?". The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia). 4 March 1944. p. 3 Supplement: The Argus Weekend magazine. Retrieved 6 August 2012. 
  2. ^ Bloom, Ken. Hollywood Song: The Complete Film Musical Companion, Vol. 1, 1995. Published by Facts On File, Inc. ISBN 0-8160-2668-8
  3. ^ "Music, The Broadway Melody (1929)" tcm.com, accessed March 4, 2011
  4. ^ Wierzbicki, James (2008). Film Music: A History. Routledge. p. 116. ISBN 0-203-88447-7. 
  5. ^ Silverman, Sid (February 13, 1929). "Broadway Melody". Variety (New York: Variety, Inc.): 13. Retrieved December 10, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Broadway Melody". Film Daily (New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.): 10. February 17, 1929. 
  7. ^ Schallert, Edwin (February 9, 1929). "First Report on 'Broadway Melody'". Motion Picture News: 433. 
  8. ^ Hall, Mordaunt (February 9, 1929). "Review: "The Broadway Melody"". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 
  9. ^ Mosher, John (February 16, 1929). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker (New York: F-R Publishing Corp.): 83. 
  10. ^ Levy, Emanuel (2003). All about Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards. Continuum. p. 200. ISBN 0-826-41452-4. 
  11. ^ "The Broadway Melody". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster, Inc. Retrieved December 10, 2014. 
  12. ^ Berardinelli, James (November 1, 2009). "The Broadway Melody". Reelviews. James Berardinelli. Retrieved December 10, 2014. 
  13. ^ Fischer, Lucy, ed. (2009). American Cinema of the 1920s: Themes and Variations. Rutgers University Press. p. 260. ISBN 0-813-54485-8. 

External links[edit]