I’ve heard it said numerous times from numerous people that 1929’s The Broadway Melody is the worst film to ever win Best Picture at the Oscars. Well, my first impression upon starting this film, especially coming off the last film I watched for this blog, was one of pleasant refreshment; here, at least, was a film that knew what it was doing, and knew how to be a film and to use the resources it had at its disposal. The Broadway Melody was the first musical to win Best Picture, a fact that is trumpeted a little more than it should be, given it was only the second ever winner of the award at all. I’ve seen a lot of discussion about this film, especially about how it’s not worth the award it was given, and after having seen it, I can see what these people are talking about. I, however, didn’t hate the film nearly as much as it seemed like I should’ve, and it was for a number of reasons why.
One of the headliners of a Broadway act, Eddie Kearns, has a new musical number he’s sure will knock the socks off of any crowd, and so he takes the opportunity to bring in his gal Harriet “Hank” Mahoney and her younger sister Queenie to be in the number with him. Only thing is, he hadn’t seen Queenie since she was small, and he falls for her almost the instant he sees her for the first time again, which is made even more complicated when Queenie gets another admirer after replacing an injured showgirl in another number. The love triangles are tested against existing friendships and relationships, all against the backdrop of a make-it-or-break-it Broadway act for all involved. In case it wasn’t readily apparent from that summary, the film uses a similar (if not the same) storytelling device as later films like 42nd Street and All That Jazz, taking place behind the scenes and during the development of a Broadway show, a revue to be exact, so expect plenty of dapper songs and modest numbers. Only thing is, when this so-called musical does get around to the numbers, they’re only okay at best, and time-draining at worst. The title track, at the very least, is a toe-tapper, though the film seems to know this a little too well and decides to do the number a few more times than it really should’ve. I was also a fan of the production itself; while it wasn’t anything to wow at, it was very thrifty, knowing where to use certain assets and where to put the talent to good use, especially for a film at the dawn of the sound era. Apparently this was a convert from a silent picture to a sound one, and I watched the film with this knowledge in mind, and I couldn’t tell the difference at all, which should earn the film some bonus points considering when it was made.
I’ve seen a lot of discussion about the merits of this film, like how it’s billed as a musical and ends up spending most of its running time not singing and dancing, or how most of the conflict for the two lead females revolves around their guy troubles. But you know what? I liked this. And what’s more, I seemed to like it for many of the same merits that others had questions about. Sure, the film focuses almost entirely on relationship issues, is often a tad melodramatic, and doesn’t focus enough on the songs. But because of that, scenes like Hank’s climactic blowup at Eddie end up working way more than they should’ve given when the film was made, and when the film does focus on the music, it ends up faltering, so to end up not focusing on the music and focus on the relationships is what ultimately makes the film succeed overall. I guess the best way I can sum up my feelings about The Broadway Melody is: what should’ve won Best Picture in its place? Having watched Alibi and seen what that had to offer, films like The Broadway Melody end up shining that much brighter, and while it doesn’t give me enough hope for the rest of the year’s offerings to offset what Alibi gave me, if I put myself in the year that this was released, I can definitely see how it ended up winning the big one.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10