Even before the first--and, ahem, only*--silent film won Best Picture, Hollywood was making the transition to talkies. If you've seen Sunset Boulevard (1950), Singing in the Rain (1952), or, heh heh heh, The Artist (2011) then you know what a BFD this was not only for the sheer technical advancement, but also for the actors of the silent era. I won't retread familiar ground. I bring this up only because it's important to realize how The Broadway Melody, BP #2, represents a film from this shaky-as-fuck transitional period.
As far as story is concerned, "the first MGM musical" is pretty weak sauce. The Mahoney Sisters--wiry and business savvy big sis Hank (Bessie Love) and ditzy and beautiful lil' sis Queenie (Anita Page)--move to New York City in search of fame on the Great White Way. Hank's songwriter boyfriend Eddie Kearns (Charles King) personally works for Francis Zanfield (a cheaply veiled representation of famed Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld...ugh, more about him later) and gets the girls an audition. But because Queenie is far more beautiful, she becomes something of an It Girl, attracting the attention of not only smarmy playboy Jock Warriner (Kenneth Thomson) but also that of Hank's beau, Eddie.
And that's pretty much it. How did they manage to fit all that into 1 hour and 51 minutes? Why, by padding it with crappy musical numbers that do nothing to advance the plot in any way, shape or form, of course; something every musical ever is guilty of. It doesn't help matters that the protagonists are pretty much talentless, intentionally or not. The Mahoneys' particular brand of singing & dancing can only be compared to watching the "okay singers" early in an American Idol season; they're not William Hung bad, but they are so tragically mediocre that nothing can really happen for them.
What could have easily become a film about two sisters cat fighting for the limelight and love, putters into a story of two sisters and one big asshole. After the Mahoneys arrive in NYC, Eddie is immediately drawn to Queenie, who is Helen of Troy and Venus wrapped into one as we are told time and time again. He spends the rest of the movie pursuing her behind Hank's back. As all women do at one point or another, Queenie falls for the prick. But her loyalty to her sister keeps her from acting on her desires.
I think I'm making it sound more interesting than it is. Don't believe it. While a story like this could be compelling if done right, it ain't done right here. The Broadway Melody is movie full of unlikable characters. Hank garners some sympathy because she is constantly maligned for her little sister and always has her best interest at heart. Bessie Love over-acts throughout most of the film, but there are brief, brief moments where she walks the fine line between playing a plucky career woman and a vulnerable girl. If someone had to get an Oscar nomination out of this, it's her.
Technically speaking, The Broadway Melody looks and sounds like shit. I'll forgive the sound stuff but the visuals are just awful! There are long takes almost as if the actors couldn't find anyone to run the camera so they just set it on a dresser and let it record. Things go in and out of focus, people are half in frame...Jesus, you know it's bad when I take the time to mention the cinematography.
The Broadway Melody is sure to go down in history as one of the worst Best Picture winners. I can't really argue because it's a sloppy film with lame musical numbers, shit cinematography and editing, and poor acting. However, it's not like there's some "Citizen Kane" that didn't win because of The Broadway Melody's success.
Impressions circa 2004
Mostly positive. I remember it as a cheap, stupid musical but enjoying it because I had been steeped MAN MOVIE Best Pictures for a while. I needed something mindless. This is about as mindless as it gets when it comes to BP's.
Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)
- Best Director - Harry Beaumont
- Best Actress - Bessie Love
1928-29 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen)
- Hollywood Revue
- In Old Arizona
- The Patriot
What I Learned From...The Broadway Melody
When your boyfriend tries to score with your sister, let her have him.