“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.
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
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 Broadway Melody
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.
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 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)
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 &
Two men, also featured in the Revues, treat us to two more songs.
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
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.