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Harry Beaumont
Charles King, Anita Page, Bessie Love
Writing Credits:
Edmund Goulding (story), Norman Houston, James Gleason

The pulsating drama of Broadway's bared heart speaks and sings with a voice to stir your soul!

Broadway is auditions, struggle and heartbreak - and the applause that makes it all worthwhile. It's where moxie counts above talent, where the show that wowed 'em in Peoria might go over big and where if you break a shinbone just before opening night ... well, tough luck, kid, the show must go on. Familiar show-business cliches could finally be heard as well as seen in this Academy Award-winning Best Picture. 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 (including Bessie Love's effective Oscar-nominated turn as a hard-luck older sister), the Arthur Freed/Nacio Herb Brown songs became irresistible standard and when all was danced, acted and voh-doy-de-oh-dohed, a new American art form emerged: the movie musical!

Box Office:
$379 thousand.
Domestic Gross
$2.808 million.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English Monaural

Runtime: 100 min.
Price: $19.97
Release Date: 2/1/2005

• “The Dogway Melody” Short
• Five “Metro Movietone Review” Shorts
• “Van and Schenck” Short
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Broadway Melody: Special Edition (1929)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 8, 2005)

Coming into 2005, we still hadn’t seen five flicks that won Best Picture Oscars on DVD. With the release of 1929’s The Broadway Melody and 1937’s The Life of Emile Zola, we can scratch off two more titles from the list. This leaves 1933’s Cavalcade, 1931’s Cimarron and 1927’s Wings as the only missing movies.

At the start of The Broadway Melody, we meet songwriter Eddie Kearns (Charles King). He pens a hot new ditty called “The Broadway Melody” that will appear in the newest Zanfield Revue. Eddie plans to use it to get a spot in the show for the Mahoney Sisters. He’s engaged to Hank (Bessie Love), and we see her come to town with sister Queenie (Anita Page).

When they land an audition, it doesn’t go very well because a performer named Flo (Mary Doran) immediately dislikes Hank and she sabotages things. Despite this flop, Zanfield (Eddie Kane) decides to hire Queenie, the prettier of the pair. Queenie convinces Zanfield to take Hank as well when she proposes that it won’t cost him any extra money.

Eddie sees this altruistic move and it pushes him over the top. We already observed his romantic interest in Queenie when they first met, and her sweetness clearly causes him to fall for her. In the meantime, show rehearsals progress and Zanfield cuts part of the Sisters’ number. Predictably, Hank goes ballistic, but Queenie gets a shot at another part when a performer becomes injured. She fills in and wows everyone with her beauty.

From there romantic concerns occupy most of the story. Showbiz big-shot Jacques Warriner (Kenneth Thomson) pursues Queenie, and she goes along with this despite warnings from Hank and Eddie. Eddie gets jealous and declares his love for Queenie. This leaves Hank out in the cold and she becomes depressed and lonely. The movie follows all these tangled webs to their completion.

Not that you’re likely to care what happens to all these characters. When I watch an old movie like this, I try to view it as part of its era and not penalize it too much for period conventions. However, I do demand that the film remain entertaining. It’s not enough for a flick to be good for its era; it needs to retain some reason for us to watch it today.

In that regard, the silly musical soap opera that is Broadway Melody demonstrates absolutely no value. I can’t imagine how anyone would enjoy this dull, stilted clunker today, though I also can’t figure out how anyone liked it 75 years ago either. Predictable, poorly made and inane, Melody bombs in virtually every possible way.

Bad acting? Melody features that in spades. It came from an era in which the actors continued to adapt to “talkies”, and the transition showed. The actors often fumbled for their lines and looked like they struggled to remember them. They tended to yell a lot as well. King’s Eddie was one of the creepiest characters I’ve ever seen. The scene in which he fawns over Queenie makes him look like he should be in the park wearing nothing but a raincoat. He drools and leers his way into cinema history as one of its ickiest leading men.

The story to Melody couldn’t possibly be more trite. From the second Eddie lays eyes on Queenie, it’s obvious where things will go, logic be damned. Lots of flaws occurred, such as the fact that apparently Eddie hadn’t seen Queenie in years. If he’s engaged to Hank, why’s it been so long since he encountered her sister and close partner? Shouldn’t they spend a lot of time together? This makes no sense, and many other parts of the film follow suit.

If you want funny gags and witty banter, look elsewhere. Melody often felt like a Marx Brothers flick without the Brothers. Those movies usually featured drippy “straight” characters in prominent roles, all of whom did nothing more than drag down the story. Take those roles and make a movie with just them and you’ll get Melody. That’s not a good thing. This is a flick in which a character whose names puns “Jack Warner” is the height of cleverness.

At least Melody features some memorable songs, right? Wrong again. Actually, it doesn’t present very many ditties, as we mostly get endless repetitions of the title tune. I didn’t like it the first time, and it didn’t become any more endearing with each new performance. The other songs don’t fare any better.

The Broadway Melody also features awkward staging, slow pacing, and choppy editing. We see plenty of odd one-shots of characters as they stand still and look at nothing in particular. In addition, it just dragged on and on. It felt much longer than its 100 minutes, as the lack of interesting characters or intriguing story made it plod. Melody ends up as a tepid love triangle with no redeeming value.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+

The Broadway Melody appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. For a more than 75-year-old flick, Melody looked relatively strong.

As one might expect, source concerns created the majority of the problems. Moderate amounts of grain appeared, and I also saw more than a few examples of specks and grit. Occasional streaks, lines and marks also occurred. However, these remained quite subdued given the film’s vintage, as I expected heavier signs of flaws. Some flickering also caused a few distractions, but I didn’t have any substantial complaints about dirtiness due to the movie’s age.

Actually, one notable exception occurred. Around the 50-minute mark, we got a scene that displayed many more problems than during the rest of the flick. It showed heavy scratches, spots and marks. It cleared up before long but stood out when compared to everything else.

Sharpness usually fared well. A few shots came across as a little ill-defined, and the movie’s grain made things look a bit murky at times. Nonetheless, the image stayed reasonably distinctive and concise. I saw no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, and only a little edge enhancement seemed apparent.

One distraction came from contrast problems. Significant portions of the film looked blown out and too bright. These weren’t a constant concern, and much of the flick demonstrated nice blacks and good delineation of low-light shots. Whites simply dominated a bit too much of the time. Despite the variety of issues, I still felt pretty satisfied with the image of Melody, as it looked a bit better than I expected.

Similar thoughts greeted the monaural soundtrack of The Broadway Melody. It never stood out as great, but it was more than acceptable when I considered its age. Speech worked best. The lines were surprisingly natural and not as tinny or rough as I anticipated. No edginess marred the dialogue, though the pieces were moderately thin and reedy.

Effects played a minor role in the proceedings. Dialogue and music dominated the film, so it didn’t use a lot of effects other than for minor ambient information. Those elements sounded meek and feeble but remained well within the realm of acceptability. Music followed suit. The songs were too bright and lacked much dynamic range, but they seemed perfectly fine when I factored in their age.

Some light background noise appeared through the flick, though not enough to create consistent distractions. As with the source flaws, some exceptions occurred. Around the 61-minute mark, some serious noise marred the production and made it sound like the characters were in the middle of a storm. The performance of “The Wedding of the Painted Doll” also showed a lot of hiss. Nonetheless, “talkies” were in their infancy when they made Melody, so its soundtrack held up well over the years.

When we look at the extras, we get an interesting roster of era-related materials. We start with a live-action spoof called The Dogway Melody. This 16-minute and 25-second short from 1930 casts dogs in all the roles and dubs in dialogue for them. The gag gets old pretty quickly, though it’s more entertaining - and probably better-acted - than its inspiration.

A long collection of Metro Movietone Reviews follows. We get five of these flicks; taken together via the “Play All” option, they run 71 minutes and 38 seconds. Each presents a number of short musical performances from a mix of artists. These vary from moderately likable to truly bizarre to genuinely creepy - does Harry Rose scare anyone else. There’s more of the disturbing performers than anything else, unfortunately. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to get a glimpse of what passed for entertainment 75 years ago, so this is a cool archival feature.

Another short called Van and Schenck appears next. Similar to the “Metro Movietone Reviews”, this is just a musical performance from the title act. Honestly, did people enjoy this freaky stuff? Van and Schenck sing with odd inflections and just give me the heebie-jeebies. I may get nightmares from this four-minute and 57-second clip.

Lastly, we discover a Broadway Trailer Gallery. This includes previews for four movies with a thematic connection to this one: Broadway Melody of 1936, Broadway Melody of 1938, Broadway Melody of 1940 and Broadway Rhythm. I hope they’re better movies than the 1929 flick.

Since I haven’t seen every Best Picture winner, I can’t state for a fact that 1929’s The Broadway Melody is the worst of the bunch. However, I can’t imagine the remaining four I’ve not watched can be inferior to this clunker. It’s a slow, dull and pointless affair with nothing to make it entertaining or interesting. The DVD features relatively good picture and audio. As for the extras, they mostly offer creepy shorts that I appreciated for historical value. Unless you feel the need to see every Best Picture winner, skip this atrocious melodrama.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 21
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