The Broadway Melody (1929) Director: Harry Beaumont
The Broadway Melody was the first “talkie” to win Best Picture and it was also the first musical to be released by MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), a studio which later became synonymous with spearheading extravagant Hollywood musicals. Notably, there is also a brief scene of technicolor in the film –an extraordinary moment that helped ignite the color revolution (unfortunately, this scene survives today only in black and white).
The Broadway Melody is hardly memorable today except on several key points: namely its novelty as the first “talkie” to win Best Picture, its technical cinematography, and its narrative which conveys a notable tone of 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 town in pursuit of celebrity stardom on Broadway. After watching the film I was left to wonder if the characters should have simply remained in their hometown all along.
The Broadway Melody tells the story of two poor women, the “Mahoney sisters” from a proverbial 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 with wide-eyes only to quickly find their dreams dashed. They gain minor success performing a vaudeville duet routine but Queenie becomes the favored girl of the month on Broadway, and even Hank’s fiancee Eddie (played by Charles King) falls in love with her. Queenie and Hank’s duet is then dashed by a young blonde 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 eventually rescued by Eddie. She and Eddie get married, further 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 (Director Harry Beaumont was also nominated for Best Director). The award was given at the second Academy Awards ceremony held at the Ambassador Hotel at its renowned Cocoanut Grove nightclub (the hotel was later the site of the RFK assassination and today it is owned by the Los Angeles Unified School District to develop a school site). The ceremony was hosted by William C. DeMille (an old Hollywood screenwriter and brother of Cecil B. DeMille). At any rate in The Broadway Melody, there are a few great aerial shots of Manhattan, and some terrific little musical numbers such as “Give My Regards to Broadway,” though for being a movie about musical numbers there are surprisingly few song-and-dance routines. It was Director Harry Beaumont’s most notable film (he was mainly active during the silent era).