Following Wings, the excellent first winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, I hoped The Broadway Melody would keep the momentum going. And so I was reminded yet again that to avoid disappointment, you should avoid expectations.
The Broadway Melody was not only a full-fledged talkie, but also an early adopter of the Technicolor process. (The Technicolor sequence has apparently been lost, so you can only see it in black and white). I have to wonder if its win was due solely to the spectacle of these new technologies.
The movie opens with a bunch of white people singing over each other, which might be a clue that the story is kind of awful. Charles King’s Eddie Kearns, a vaudeville “song-and-dance man,” is engaged to Hank Mahoney (Bessie Love). For his new act, he wants to hire Hank’s “Mahoney Sisters” act, starring herself and her sister Queenie (Anita Page).
The back story is somewhat unclear. For instance, Eddie says he hasn’t seen Queenie since she was a little kid; yet, he’s engaged to her sister and the two always travel together. Have Eddie and Hank not seen each other in years? What is the deal?
Anyway, the sisters come to New York from the West Coast, seeking to make it big. Hank is a petite, fast-talking brunette, while the younger Queenie is a hot blonde number. Guess which one Eddie suddenly wants.
Eddie gets absurdly jealous as Queenie begins seeing a wealthy playboy. Hank, who also disapproves, believes Eddie is simply being brotherly. However, Eddie shamelessly scams on the innocent Queenie (who’s pretty clearly half his age) while keeping his engagement to Hank. For some totally inexplicable reason, Queenie refuses to shut him down.
Being an optimistic viewer, I was actually surprised by how the plot progresses; suffice it to say, it’s pretty messed up. Surprises or not, though, The Broadway Melody just isn’t very enjoyable. I don’t love (non-Disney) musicals anyway, but this one really irked me.
Eddie, generally speaking, is super gross. Even at the very end of the film (I won’t tell you the circumstances), he’s openly flirting with other women. And Queenie? How about “bros over hos”? Honestly, my favorite character was probably the stereotypically flamboyant costume designer, who at one point is the butt of a “lavender” joke.
I would not recommend this film for its entertainment value, but only for those interested in it as an early award winner. I suppose the performances were fine, and some people might find the music amusing. But in 2014, it just doesn’t hold up – especially in comparison to its (silent!) predecessor.
Video available here.
The Broadway Melody (1929)
Director: Harry Beaumont
Starring: Anita Page, Bessie Love, Charles King
Run time: Approximately 100 minutes.