Format: DVD from Galena Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.
So I was warned about The Broadway Melody. It was going to take a complete stinker to take the place of Gigi on the bottom of my personal rankings of Best Picture winners. And yet here I am in a quandary. This is objectively a worse film than Gigi, but I’m not sure I liked it less. It’s a worse film, but Gigi is morally objectionable, but it’s really well made. The Broadway Melody is silly, stupid, maudlin, melodramatic, and annoying. The film runs 100 minutes. It feels like 1,000.
This is a pretty typical “behind the scenes” style of musical, the sort that seemed to be popular as all hell through the ‘40s and crop up now and again. Everyone we see is connected to show business in one respect or another. We start with Eddie Kearns (Charles King) who has just penned a new song called “The Broadway Melody,” which would be a snappy name for a new picture. Anyway, he’s giving it to a sister act called the Mahoney Sisters. These are Harriet “Hank” Mahoney (Bessie Love), the older and smarter sister, and Queenie Mahoney (Anita Page), the younger and prettier one. As it happens, Eddie is engaged to Hank, and has promised them big things if they come to New York. He’s sold his new song to Francis Zanfield (Eddie Kane) for one of his new stage shows, and he wants the girls to sing it with him.
So there are a couple of plots going at the same time here. First, Eddie suddenly realizes that Queenie has grown up and is, in the world of the film, more attractive than her sister. When the audition of the two sisters goes badly, it’s Queenie who steps in and rescues the act, at least temporarily. However, the act gets cut in the final rehearsal (which is complete bullshit—things don’t happen that way), but Queenie gets a new job in the show when another dancer is hurt. And the budding relationship between Queenie and Eddie grows. However, since Queenie would rather not hurt her sister, she starts dating a rich jerk named Jock Warriner (Kenneth Thompson) just to protect the relationship.
Eventually, Hank figures out was is going on and gets her own terribly depressing ending while Eddie and Queenie get a happy one. Along the way, there are a bunch of song and dance numbers.
What I find interesting with this is to see the style of acting. This is a year or two out of the silent era (in fact, a silent version of this was produced, although it seems like an oxymoron to have produced a silent musical). Because of this, the acting is incredibly broad and silly. It’s aggressively stagy. Everyone in the film is someone I want to reach in and shake by the shoulders. It’s also evident that no one had really figured out how to act on screen, since the dialogue frequently comes off as if playing to the back of the auditorium.
Look, this really isn’t a good film by any stretch. That’s the biggest problem here. While there’s nothing particularly objectionable here, it’s just really not very good. The numbers are fine, but even they pale in comparison to just about everything else produced in the years after it. While I haven’t seen the other nominees from 1929, I can’t help but think that the Academy was so enamored of the idea of a musical that the award was handed to this for no other reason.
And so, the unthinkable happened. I’ve found a Best Picture winner I like less than Gigi. What it comes down to is the production itself. I find Gigi objectionable because of the story. As a production, Gigi is pretty grand, and the musical numbers are beautifully filmed. There’s plenty of spectacle if you don’t mind not paying any attention to the story. With The Broadway Melody, we have a story that is flat stupid. Eddie is a heel, to put it nicely, and he’s managed to make family gatherings weird by ending up with the sister of his fiancée. And beyond that, the numbers, which should be the focus here, aren’t that much to look at.
As much as I’m not generally a fan of musicals of this era, I’d rather watch just about every other one I’ve seen before instead of watching this one again. Even with my low expectations, I was disappointed.
Why to watch The Broadway Melody: It’s the first talkie Best Picture winner.
Why not to watch: It’s genuinely not very good.