Movies I Need To See Before I Die: THE BROADWAY MELODY (1929)


(This is a column where I review movies that I have never seen, but SHOULD have.  Being a film Geek, I have seen a ton of films.  But life is also very short, and for one reason or another, there are quite a few flicks that I have never got to.  Sure, it probably doesn’t matter if I ever see a movie like PARENTAL GUIDANCE, but a movie like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA…. well, I should have seen that already.  I’m a film geek for God’s sake!  I have now decided that I should get on that before I get too old.  I have compiled a list of films that I WANT or NEED to watch, and am going to start watching them when I have spare time.  So I will randomly be posting reviews of movies that I have always wanted or needed to see.  Enjoy!)

This was the first talkie, and the first musical to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture.  In fact, this was only the second movie to win Best Picture.  So historically, this is a pretty important movie.  Since I love musicals and have the need to see every acclaimed film ever made, this one was pretty high on my list to see.  I’ve seen (and loved) BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 and 42ND ST., so I was expecting this to be similar to those.

The story is pretty simple.  It’s about a guy named Eddie who works as a writer/performer for a major theater company on Broadway.  He doesn’t have any leadership yet, but he’s on his way.  Then there are 2 sisters, Hank and Queenie Mahoney, who have their own act that has been successful on the midwest.  They now want to hit the big time, so they moved to New York, where Hank’s boyfriend (who happens to be Eddie) lives.  He gets them both a job at his company as chorus girls.  But before you know it, the shy and innocent Queenie gets noticed among all the girls and becomes a star.  This causes friction between the sisters.

Okay, before I go on with the rest of the plot, I just have to say something.  What I just described is about the first 40 minutes of the movie.  To this point, I was kind of enjoying myself.  It was a little melodramatic, but I found the characters to be fun and the music is nice.  My favorite scene in the entire movie, though, is the opening one.  It shows the offices of the company, and people in every room are trying to come up with a new song.  I thought this was really cool as the songs and dialogue overlapped each other.  It felt real and alive.  Definitely gave the opening a certain manic energy, showing how crazy showbiz could be.  It felt like something Robert Altman would have done back then.  So yeah, I was on board.

But then, completely out of the blue, the movie takes a dramatic turn.  Eddie decides that he loves Queenie.  But she is hanging out with an aristocrat named Jock, whom everyone hates (for no particular reason).  This is where I began having problems.  I’m pretty sure we were meant to like these characters, but it was very hard to when they were doing such terrible things to one another.  Eddie totally leads Hank on, giving her no indication that he wants to leave her.  He is very aggressive with Queenie, practically forcing himself on her.  He even writes a song (“you were meant for me”) just for her, saying “I wrote it thinking of you!”.  I think this was meant to be romantic, but instead, I just ended up thinking that Eddie was such a womanizing flake.  Queenie is pretty resistant to him, but then out of nowhere, she confesses her love for him too.  It makes zero sense.  Speaking of making zero sense, there’s the inevitable moment when Hank finds out about Eddie’s feelings, and her reaction is completely ludicrous and borderline offensive.  I know that this film was made during more chauvinistic times, but this was just outrageous.

The acting isn’t all that bad.  I will admit that Charles King as Eddie was a pud.  He sings all right, but he’s not that great of an actor.  Anita Page as Queenie is an attractive woman and is pretty likable.  But it’s Bessie Love as Hank who steals the movie.  She’s loud, brass, and full of spirit.  I love a scene early on when she starts a cat fight with another dancer in the company.  Unfortunately, there aren’t many moments in the movie like that.  Instead it goes for this completely unbelievable, unappealing melodramatic love triangle.  The direction isn’t much better.  Since this was one of the first sound films, the movie is definitely technically rough around the edges.  I understand that filmmakers were still experimenting with what the standard style should be.  But some of the oddly paced edits, and flat photography make the film fall flat.

I did like some of the music.  A few numbers had some good staging, but frankly, there wasn’t enough of it.  Instead, it wanted to focus on Eddie trying to two-time on his girlfriend.  It left a bad taste in my mouth.  Now, if the filmmakers were trying to go for a darker movie focusing on the consequences of cheating on your girlfriend, then that would have been okay.  But no.  We are meant to cheer for Eddie and Queenie to get together.  Maybe if Hank was a bitch I could’ve rooted for them, but she was a sweetheart.  I can’t believe the filmmakers thought that having a bigamist as the “likeable” lead character was okay.

Despite some good music and a prosing opening, this movie just does not work.  The characters are downright rotten, the direction is uninspired, and the melodramatic elements borderlines on the offensive.  I love musicals, and I’m glad I saw this one because it’s historically important (which is the only thing this movie really has going for it).  It was just not very fun and the characters royally pissed me off.  If you want to see a good musical from this era, I would recommend 42ND ST.  That has a similar plot and is a well made movie with likable characters, unlike this one.  ★½ (out of ★★★★)

– Not rated but contains thematic elements and mild suggestive material.  MPAA would probably give it a PG today. 

– Running time: 1hr 40min.

(THE BROADWAY MELODY is available to rent on DVD from Netflix)


Categories: Austin Kennedy, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Movies I Need To See Before I Die, Reviews

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