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After 75 years considered lost, "Broadway" directed by Herr Paul Fejos
was found in Hungary, in a very well preserved copy with Hungarian
titles but that European language is not a problem for this German
Count because he remembers very well those Austro-Hungarian old times.
This remarkable discovery gives silent fans the chance to watch the
virtuosity of camera work of a director not very well known. His
obscurity is a complete disgrace because Herr Fejos'surviving silents
are absolutely fascinating.
"Broadway" tells the story of underworld criminals who run the "Paradise Club". In between musical numbers we have crimes and intrigues involving showgirls and special investigators. Passion, strange business and love affairs are all part of the mix too."Broadway" shows characters caught up in dual roles and the turmoil in which feelings come out into the open, the sort of conflicts that Herr Fejos was so fond of.
The most remarkable aspect of this film is the extraordinary camera work, especially Herr Fejos' use of an enormous and amazing camera crane which he himself designed and which scrutinizes every corner of the "Paradise Club", giving a frenzied rhythm to the film with those incredible camera movements. It also highlights with many details and angles, the beautiful and astounding sets that are the backgrounds for the fuss, happy and dangerous night life in the Broadway streets. The second notable aspect of this modern silent film is that it was made before the superb "Lonesome" (1929) and, like that film, it is part of the transition period between silent films and talkies. "Broadway" was an early musical available in both formats, silent and talkie and what's more, the silent version found in Hungary is a complete copy that includes at the end of the film "Technicolor" footage ( faded after so many years ) of the final musical scene number and this so startled this German Count that his monocle popped out from his aristocratic eyes more than once.
And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count must leave vaudeville behind and attend the opera.
Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien http://ferdinandvongalitzien.blogspot.com/
This musical was directed by Paul Fejos at Universal Studios in 1929.
There were so many musical films made in 1929 with the title "Broadway"
in them, thus you might ask - why is this one unique? For one its
director was a Hungarian bacteriologist by trade who dabbled in film
and is famous in particular for two late 20's films - 1928's "Lonesome"
and this film, "Broadway". Fejos made a crane the actual star of the
picture. It was a custom built contraption that allowed the camera to
sweep about the nightclub in which most of the movie was set. Most
early sound films were very static by necessity, and Fejos wanted his
musical to have some of the fluid motion of the late silent era
restored. However, during these sweeping scenes, Fejos had to use
silent film and then dub over it with recorded sound. This gives these
parts of the film a surreal and disembodied quality.
The film is like "Faust" meets "Lights of New York" in that the film opens with a metallic-painted giant stalking about Broadway at night, filling his glass with ale, and gesturing for the residents of Broadway to join him in his debauchery. The film then moves to a nightclub where the story is largely unremarkable. It's basically just another gangster film set in a nightclub punctuated with two-strip Technicolor musical numbers. "Hitting the Ceiling" is the best and most remembered of these moments. My main complaint about this film is that Evelyn Brent looks so bored during most of it. She could and did turn in good performances in the early talkie era, so I'm not sure why with all of the intrigue that is lurking about the Paradise Club her reaction seems to be that it's just in a day's work.
The film was shot both silent and in sound, and has never been on VHS or DVD. The silent version I saw had Technicolor, and the sound version I saw was in black and white. I don't think that a talking version with color still exists. Some people have attempted to dub the speech of the talkie version into the silent version to get the maximum effect of the music and the color, but what I've seen hasn't worked too well. The film's director, Paul Fejos, decided to leave the film industry shortly after "Broadway" was complete due to his dislike of the people running Universal. Instead he embarked on a career in anthropology, where he became a leader in his field. An unusual end to the film career of a man who made very unusual films.
Broadway now exists in two versions - the 88 minute visual silent with
Hungarian subtitles and the 105 minute soundtrack only of the talking
version (inflated for production numbers).
I was most impressed with the cinematography (Hal Mohr) in the scenes that could be filmed silently with soundtrack added later. The tracking and crane shots are amazing for any period, but especially for an early talkie; about an hour into the silent print, a morning after shot reveals the enormous night club set being cleaned by custodians with an almost surrealistically mobile camera. In contrast the scenes including dialogue are filmed rather conventionally with a non-moving camera.
The night club set is a stunner - looks like it took up an entire sound stage - kudos to Art Director Charles D. Hall. There are only a handful of other sets, mostly small backstage interiors.
The plot is very simplistic. I won't reveal any details as I don't want to provide spoilers. However, I can reveal this. There are two parallel plot lines - one involving a hoofer and his romance with one of the chorus girls, and the other a reel one murder involving management and bootlegging that relies on feelings of guilt and paranoia to bring the guilty party to heel.
Glenn Tryon is a lousy singer, but Evelyn Brent's superb performance as Pearl carries the film.
As a piece of cinematic history, it's a treasure to find. Now if the talking version pictorial elements surface, we'll be able to really compare the two.
The Film Forum in NYC screened the sound version of this film on July 24,2012. The Technicolor last reel of course is lost but the rest of the film was complete and ran about 108 minutes. Will not give away the plot but is worth viewing just to see the innovative use of a giant camera crane to film the Night-Club scenes. Really amazing for a film made in 1929. I must say that the acting is really not that great for a film listed as a Universal "Super Production" in the opening credits.Glenn Tryon is passable playing the role of the comedian but you have to wonder how much better the film would have been if Lee Tracy, who played the same role in the Broadway Musical that the film was based on had appeared in the film also.
If you take away director Paul Fejos's flashy crane shots and stunning opening sequence set to the music of Ferde Grofe's "Metropolis," there isn't much left to "Broadway," an otherwise static transfer of a stage play to the screen in the early talking era. The quality of the sound is superior to most talkies made in 1929 and the camera set ups and actor blocking are slightly less moribund, but there are still too many long sequences of posed bodies mouthing dull dialogue. Glenn Tryon, the appealing vaudevillian from Fejos's "Lonesome" the year before, is fine as the hoofer who dreams of getting out of Club Paradise and hitting it big. And Evelyn Brent, in what amounts to a supporting role, dominates the screen with her smoldering presence whenever she appears. Problem is, in order to make this routine play about backstage intrigue involving showgirls and bootleggers interesting as cinema, Fejos chose to make liberal use of innovative, ambitious crane shots, requiring an inflation of the nightclub setting to such gargantuan proportions that the main character's ambitions seem questionable; isn't he already headlining in the biggest show place on earth outside a football field? Rather than a small-time venue, we get something more like a surrealist-cubist airplane hangar and it soon becomes clear that the movie is simply an excuse for Fejos to experiment with a new toy. The sweeping camera draws attention to itself, whereas the liberal use of superimpositions in "Lonesome" a year earlier revealed truths about modern mechanized drudgery and the nature of urban crowds. Most of the songs by Con Conrad, Sidney D. Mitchell and Archie Gottler are cut off before they can get much beyond their introductions, their purpose reduced to another means of showing off the gigantic stage set. At well over 90 minutes, "Broadway" outstays its welcome. The much-touted finale, synced to a reprise of the film's best song, "Hittin' the Ceiling," looks like a jerkily animated third-generation color photocopy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I know that the talking version without the Technicolor final exist and the silent version with the subtitle exist.I had assumed one day a copy of talking version would be edited to the final,form the silent version, with substitute sound affects,to make a complete print ,wrong!What the company did is that they took the silent version, shorten and edited it, to sound only with the sound version track only.This was stupid .Now the incomplete talking version is still not available.The company obviously could not afford it or may be their was a copy right problem with the incomplete film .It sounded and looked stupid.But it was better than nothing.Evelyn Brent plays a hard boil chorus girl.Glenn Tyrone an ambitious dancer who want to team with Myrna Kennedy.But she is going out with a mobster,played by Thomas E Jack son,I think,who just killed a bootlegger.In spite of the attempt's to syn the sound with silent, the story was clear..The color ending is faded and could be restored through recreating the color through creating separation from the main print on a computer.It's probably too expensive too.04/14/12. Criterion has just released the restored talking version of Broadway,Part of Pal Fejos collection,Lonesome.It is the talking print.Although the ending is lost it uses the silent version as a substitute with the beginning of the sound track of the sound track of the talking version.This print makes more sense and it's excellent too.09/21/12
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