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Broadway Melody


Well, keep your head high, sometimes they give out Oscars to movies that suck.


Yeah, like Titanic.


Or Gladiator, or Gone With The Wind.


Or Broadway Melody of 1929.

(They give him another weird look.)


What? That movie was worse than Cimarron.

-Not the Fat One


So was I right? Is 1929’s best picture winner Broadway Melody really worse than Cimarron, or will we have to do a rewrite?

It begins impressively enough, with an aerial shot of New York, a shot that has been repeated many times since then, and was even a good way to open a movie in 1929. We follow that with a medley of songwriters singing their new numbers in an effort to fine tune them. Songwriter Eddie Kearns shows off a song called Broadway Melody, and brags that he’s sold it to producer Francis Zanfield (obviously a fictionalized Florenz Ziegfeld) for a new review that will feature his fiancé Hank (a woman, don’t get any ideas) and her sister Queenie, the act that has taken the west by storm, the Mahoney Sisters.

When we meet the Mahoneys we find that Hank is the brains of the operation and Queenie is there for her looks. Kearns gets them a tryout with Zanfield, and he likes Queenie, but not Hank who nearly starts a fight with another dancer. Queenie eventually convinces Zanfield to bring her sister on as well, but there is a problem. Eddie is clearly falling for Queenie.

But he’s not alone. At a dress rehearsal, Queenie catches the eye of Jock Warriner, obviously supposed to be Jack Warner. The big shot producer and the lowly songwriter vie for Queenie’s affections, while Hank never realizes what’s going on. On Queenie’s birthday Hank sits in bed waiting until 5 a.m. For her drunken sister to come home from gallivanting around with Warriner. Backstage at a show later on, Eddie gets upset that Queenie seems to be choosing Jock. When she storms out, Eddie’s reaction clues Hank in that something is going on behind her back. Queenie goes to Warriner, but he’s a bit rough with her and it’s Eddie to the rescue, and the next thing you know, Eddie and Queenie are married, and Hank is taking it remarkably well. While her sister is retiring to be a wife, Hank sets out to tour the midwest with a new act.

This was the first talkie MGM released, and they did remarkably well. That same year they released Hollywood Revue of 1929 which was remarkably horrific. Broadway Melody offers up another first. Censors though the choreography for one of the dance numbers was too obscene, so they wanted it reshot. MGM didn’t want to pay to bring in the orchestra for the reshoot, so they just had the dancers perform to the audio playback of the previous take. It was the first time any production had ever done that.

This is not a great movie. The second half seems to drag by, you see the Eddie-Queenie relationship coming from a mile away, and I am very pissed off that Hank just sits back and takes it. I wanted her to grow a pair and tell her sister where she can shove it.

But this is a good movie. The production numbers are on par with The Great Ziegfeld, and the acting, especially from Bessie Love as Hank and Anita Page as Queenie, is very good. I was not as impressed with the acting of Charles King as Eddie, and producers weren’t either. He ended up appearing in only seven movies in his entire career.

A lot of the scripting is quite good, and the first five minutes are very good, but the over-reliance on two dimensional supporting characters gets old, especially an obviously gay costume designer and the Mahoney’s uncle who stutters out career advice. The only one that works is a permanently drunk member of Warriner’s entourage referred to as Mr. Unconscious who only appears in two scenes and therefore never has the chance to wear thin.

The Academy didn’t release a list of other nominees in 1929, and glancing through a list of other films released that year, there seems to be nothing that quite compares to this one. Notable films that year include The Virginian staring Gary Cooper, The Patriot staring Emil Jannings, a film of which no copies remain, In Old Arizona, which stars no one you’ve ever heard of, and Bridge of San Luis Rey based on a Thornton Wilder novel. Broadway Melody seems like the best choice here. So we have an upset, the best picture winner of 1929 actually was the best picture that year, and a fairly good one too. And it is far, far better than Cimarron, so Not the Fat One needs a bit of a rewrite.

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