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Broadway Melody, The - S.E.  (1929)

 

Rating: NR

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Release Date: February 1, 2005
Review posted: February 10, 2005

 

Reviewed by Dylan Grant

 

SYNOPSIS

 

History’s first “All Talking!  All Singing!  All Dancing!” movie was also All Hit, drawing enough 35-cents admissions to pile up an enormous $4 million box office.  The film’s sound technology innovations were revolutionary, the performances had gusto, and the Arthur Freed/Nacio Herb Brown songs became irresistible standards and when all was danced, acted and voh-doh-de-oh-dohed, a new American art form emerged: the movie musical.

 

CRITIQUE

 

In 1927, The Jazz Singer signaled the end of the silent era in motion pictures.  Despite its historical significance, the film is stunningly rudimentary.  A familiar story even in its day, The Jazz Singer is basically a silent film with a few standout musical numbers and a knockout performance by Al Jolson.  With The Broadway Melody, made only a scant two years later, we have a full-fledged talkie.  Not only do the characters talk throughout, but the film is at times able to reach an aural cacophony that seems advanced for its day.

 

The first in a series of films, The Broadway Melody celebrates the song and dance art form at its finest.  A number of stars would later come to grace this franchise, but the real star was always Broadway itself, and this film plays like a love letter to the Great White Way.  “A million lights they flicker there,” goes the song, “a million hearts beat quicker there.”  The film was made during a period when Theatre was still a popular, preeminent form of entertainment; the latest shows were awaited with the excitement of today’s summer blockbusters.  The story is the backstage saga of Queenie (Anita Page) and Hank Mahoney (Bessie Love), two sisters who come to the Big Apple full of dreams and ambition, determined to make their act work on Broadway.

 

The dialogue in this film is incredibly snappy, loaded with rich period slang, and we get a sense of how people might have actually talked in those days.  Many of today’s period films would have us believe that everyone in the 1920’s spoke in precise, proper language; in that sense, The Broadway Melody is eye opening.  The naturalistic dialogue makes this 76-year-old film seem not so far removed from today.  We also see how the movie musical evolved over the years.  Songs were not used as part of the storytelling, and people did not, for the most part, break into song for no apparent reason.  That came later.  Here, all the music comes out of the rehearsals, preparing for the Big Show.  At the same time, almost every song is a celebration of the magic of Broadway, and they beautifully counter what is happening in the story.

 

With their first audition, Queenie finds herself on the way up, as Hank is forced to watch from the sidelines, content to manage her sister’s budding career.  A successful audition leads to a successful rehearsal, and as the show progresses, Queenie becomes more and more aware of her fame, falling easily into the trappings that come with it – alcohol, mostly, and a controlling boyfriend, Jock Warriner (which sounds suspiciously like Jack Warner, the head of a rival studio at the time).  The sisters begin to fight more and more as Queenie spirals more and more out of control.  Some of the acting gets to be a bit stagy here, but it works surprisingly well.

 

There is a frankness to The Broadway Melody that one does not often expect to find in films from this period, a darkness lurking just under the surface.  “I’m going to have everything in the world I want,” says Queenie, drunk one night, coming off like the naďve dreamer that she is.  Behind all the glitz and show stopping numbers, there are the catfights, and the girls are worked like dogs, all too aware that there are always a hundred other girls ready to step in if they start to slip.  In the end, Jock even tries to rape Queenie.

 

The Broadway Melody won the 1929 Academy Award for Best Picture, only second Oscar ever given, and it was the first talkie to win.  The film is quite a lot of fun, and it is incredibly well made.  The performances are great all around, and the sound editing is amazing.  Not just for the curious, The Broadway Melody is a solid film that anyone can enjoy.

 

THE VIDEO

 

The Broadway Melody is presented in the original 1.33:1 full frame format.  The transfer is sharp, well translating the original black and white photography.  There are scenes where scratching and other flaws in the film are almost overwhelming, but that has more to do with the condition of the original negative, more a case of poor presentation than a bad transfer.  The overall picture has been treated very well.

 

THE AUDIO

 

This DVD is presented in the original mono, and as such it is subject to that format’s limitations.  The presentation is decent, and all the musical numbers come through sharply.  As with the video presentation, there are some instances of popping and other audio defects that have more to do with the original recording.  They have been cleaned up as much as possible, and the interference is minimal.

 

THE EXTRAS

 

The Dogway Melody: A short stage door musical… with dogs!  The story loosely follows that of The Broadway Melody, and it is a lot of fun to watch, especially the dog that sings Al Jolson, and the “Singin’ In The Rain” number.  An interesting curio, and also indicative of the time in which it was made.  (17:00)

 

Metro Movietone Revues: Five musical numbers, again very typical of the period and a lot of fun to watch.  The host is funny, and the songs carefree.

 

Musical: Van & Schenck: Two men, also featured in the Revues, treat us to two more songs.

 

Broadway Melody Musicals Trailer Gallery: The original theatrical trailers for the Melody of 1936, 1938, 1940 and 1944.

 

It would be nice if there were a featurette of some kind to put the film in a historical context, or maybe to show the evolution of the musical over the years.  As it is, the material that is here is quite good.  It is a lot of fun to watch, and it sets the period almost better than the film itself.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

The Broadway Melody is pure entertainment from beginning to end.  The sound editing they were able to achieve then is remarkable and the performances are great.  The bonus material offers a rare look at the common entertainment of the day, and it is interesting to see.

 

VERDICT: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

Home | Back to Top

 

:: The Disc

 

:: Disc Ratings

 

THE MOVIE

9

THE VIDEO

8

THE AUDIO

7

THE EXTRAS

9

OVERALL

9

 

:: Merchandise

 

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