The Broadway Melody

The Broadway Melody (1929)  Director: Harry Beaumont

★★★☆☆

The Broadway Melody was the first “talkie” to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and it was also the first musical to be released by MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).

The film is hardly memorable except on several key points: its novelty as the first “talkie” to win the highest Academy Award, its technical cinematography achievements, and its narrative which conveys a notable underlying skepticism toward the glitz and glamor of Broadway. Perhaps small-town skepticism toward Broadway and Hollywood are as old as the institutions themselves. The Broadway Melody tells the story of two sisters who flee their small town in pursuit of celebrity on Broadway. After watching the film I was left to wonder if the characters would not have been better off if they had simply remained in their hometown all along.

broadway

It tells the story of two poor women, the “Mahoney sisters” from a small town who travel to New York to pursue their dreams on Broadway. Harriet or “Hank” (played by Bessie Love who delivers a terrific and fiery performance for which she was nominated for Best Actress) and Queenie Mahoney (played by Anita Page) enter the city wide-eyed only to quickly find their dreams dashed. They form a duet routine but Queenie becomes the favorite new girl on Broadway, and even Hank’s fiancee Eddie falls in love with her. Queenie and Hank’s duet is then dashed by a young blond woman who sabotages their audition. Queenie is chosen to be the central performer instead of Hank. Eventually Queenie is pursued by a wealthy philanthropist and theatre sponsor, until she realizes how possessive he is and she is rescued by Eddie. She and Eddie get married, straining the relationship between the sisters.

In the end, Queenie joins a duet performance with the young blond who initially sabotaged their original audition. The film closes with a distraught Hank at the train station as her younger sister has stolen her dreams and her fiancee. It is an odd ending to a somewhat forgettable winner of the second Academy Award for Best Picture. There are a few great aerial shots of Manhattan, though for being a movie about musical numbers there are surprisingly few song-and-dance routines in The Broadway Melody.

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