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The Broadway Melody (1929) movie poster The Broadway Melody

Theatrical Release: February 1, 1929 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Harry Beaumont / Writers: Edmund Goulding (story); Norman Houston, James Gleason (dialogue); Sarah Y. Mason (continuity)

Cast: Charles King (Eddie Kearns), Anita Page (Queenie Mahoney), Bessie Love (Hank Mahoney), Jed Prouty (Uncle Jed), Kenneth Thomson (Jock Warriner), Edward Dillon (Stage Manager), Mary Doran (Flo), Eddie Kane (Francis Zanfield), J. Emmett Beck (Babe Hatrick), Marshall Ruth (Mr. Zanfield's Assistant Stew), Drew Demorest (Turpe the Costumer)

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- Viewed January 31, 2010

The Broadway Melody tells the story of two sisters looking to make it on the stages of Manhattan. Younger, prettier Queenie (Anita Page) attracts some interest from producers, while her older sister Hank (Bessie Love) does not. As if that wasn't bad enough,
Hank's showman beau Eddie (Charles King), begins falling for Queenie as well. The ensuing love triangle, which Queenie tries to deflect, plays out in between a variety of song and dance numbers.

This 1929 MGM film is considered the first full-fledged movie musical, coming on the heels of sound song sequences of 1927's innovative The Jazz Singer. Alas, that distinction does about as much for Melody as Jazz Singer's does for it, which is little beyond securing some historical value. This is an utterly unremarkable film that doesn't stand up to scrutiny as a piece of storytelling.

But then, it didn't need to back in 1929, when its broad stylings were true to film's vaudevilian roots. Broadway Melody was a hit with audiences. Eager to enjoy all-talking shows in theaters, the people made this the year's top-grossing picture. While it's become pretty rare for a film to both win over the public and earn Best Picture, the Academy had no such expectations to live up to in its second ceremony. In fact, this set of Oscar awards, covering films released from August 1928 to July 1929, didn't even announce nominees beforehand. (Later research revealed de facto nominations based on what the judges evaluated.)

The title logo for "The Broadway Melody", the MGM musical that won 1928-29's Best Picture Oscar. Queenie (Anita Page, left) and Hank (a.k.a. Harriet, Bessie Love) have taken their vaudeville sister act around the nation. Now, they want to be on Broadway stages.

It's tempting to call The Broadway Melody an undeserving winner, but a look at its unknown competition reveals no worthier victor. No year since 1929 has been so void of enduring output. Some of the best-remembered releases are shorts (Walt Disney's Silly Symphony The Skeleton Dance, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí's Un Chien Andalou) or documentaries (Dziga Vertov's Chelovek s kino-apparatom, a.k.a. Man with the Movie Camera). Also qualifying as less obscure than Broadway Melody are another early Hitchcock thriller (Blackmail), the Marx Brothers' musical comedy The Cocoanuts, and Georg Wilhelm Pabst's silent Pandora's Box. The invention of synchronized sound seems to have briefly stymied cinema's creativity, but better movies were soon to come.

Having this be the first film I watched for this year-long Best Picture project was somewhat a of mixed blessing. While it set the bar discouragingly low, I have yet to encounter a less impressive winner.

Eddie Kearns (top-billed Charles King) may be engaged to Hank, but he is suddenly more interested in her younger sister, Queenie (Anita Page). The Mahoney sisters' stuttering agent uncle (Jed Prouty) is one of the film's biggest sources of comedy.

Interesting supporting character: The Mahoney sisters come to Broadway on the referral of Jed (Jed Prouty), their stammering uncle. The film mines the agent's stutter extensively and basically lays the groundwork for the vocal comedy of Porky Pig. Along with some "clever" plays on names (Jack Warner becomes Jock Warriner, Florenz Ziegfeld becomes Francis Zanfield),
Uncle Jed is one of the few things you might remember about this.

The film's title is sometimes elongated to The Broadway Melody of 1929. That distinguishes it from Broadway Melody of 1936, Broadway Melody of 1938, and Broadway Melody of 1940, basically unrelated films with similar interests in stage acts and behind-the-scenes comedy. The original Melody was remade in 1940's Two Girls on Broadway starring Lana Turner and Joan Blondell.

The original Broadway Melody was also produced in a silent version, enabling it to be played in theaters not yet equipped for sound. In addition, the film originally provided one of its musical sequences ("Wedding of the Painted Doll") in red-and-green Technicolor. The color number is apparently lost and thus the Warner DVD presents the entire film in black and white. The DVD, dubbed a Special Edition, includes trailers for the aforementioned similarly-titled not-quite-sequels plus a couple of shorts. The more interesting of them, 1930's The Dogway Melody, remakes the film with costumed dogs primarily seen standing on their hind legs. The DVD also contains a handful of lengthy Metro Movietune Revues, musical performances that are even more likely to test your patience than the feature film they accompany.

The Broadway Melody rating: 5 out of 10 - Buy from

Previous: Wings (1927) / Next: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Related Reviews:
Walt Disney Treasures: Silly SymphoniesWalt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies
Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black and WhiteThe Esther Williams Collection

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Published April 14, 2010.

Text copyright 2010 Images copyright 1929 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 2005 Warner Home Video.