Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 31, 2023)
If nothing else, 1929’s The Broadway Melody earns a place in history as the first “talkie” to snare the Best Picture Oscar. Of course, it was just the second Best Picture winner period, as only 1927’s Wings preceded it, so that accomplishment might be less impressive than it sounds.
Songwriter Eddie Kearns (Charles King) 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, as 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.
That said, I also can’t figure out how anyone liked it 94 years ago either. Predictable, poorly made and inane, Melody bombs in virtually every possible way.
Bad acting? Melody features that in spades.
It comes from an era in which the actors continued to adapt to “talkies”, and the transition shows. The actors often fumble for their lines and look like they struggle to remember them.
They tend to yell a lot as well, and King’s Eddie brings 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 occur, 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 feels like a Marx Brothers flick without the Brothers.
Those movies usually feature drippy “straight” characters in prominent roles, all of whom do nothing more than drag down the story. Take those roles and make a movie with just those dull roles 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 many ditties, as we mostly get endless repetitions of the title tune. I didn’t like that song the first time, and it doesn’t become any more endearing with each new performance. The other numbers 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 drags on and on, so the film feels much longer than its 101 minutes, as the lack of interesting characters or intriguing story causes it to plod. Melody ends up as a tepid love triangle with no redeeming value.