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Harriet and Queenie Mahoney, a vaudeville act, come to Broadway, where their friend Eddie Kerns needs them for his number in one of Francis Zanfield's shows. Eddie was in love with Harriet, but when he meets Queenie, he falls in love to her, but she is courted by Jock Warriner, a member of the New Yorker high society. It takes a while till Queenie recognizes, that she is for Jock nothing more than a toy, and it also takes a while till Harriet recognizes, that Eddie is in love with Queenie. Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
MGM's "The Broadway Melody" has often been criticized and lampooned, but the film holds up better than its reputation would suggest and has historical, social, and entertainment value that merit its viewing. This musical from the early days of sound won the second Best Picture Academy award and the first that went to a sound film. While its technical accomplishments may have impressed audiences in 1929, they are important today only as they show the hurdles that faced an industry in transition. The sound is harsh, which can be expected from early recording techniques, and, like the struggling technicians comically demonstrated in "Singin' in the Rain," sound created several problems for filmmakers. The camera in "The Broadway Melody" rarely moves, most of the scenes are in long-shot or mid-shot, and occasionally characters blur when they walk out of the camera's focal range. Thus, observant viewers can spot in this movie many of the real situations that faced the studios and directors during the sound transition period in the late 1920's.
Another interesting aspect of "The Broadway Melody" is social. Like the two fliers in "Wings" from the prior year, the two sisters, who form a stage act that they are attempting to bring to Broadway, openly demonstrate affection in a manner that would raise eyebrows today. The two fliers in "Wings" kissed on the mouth, embraced, and openly showed an affection that could only be interpreted as love, although there was nothing sexual implied. Here too, the two sisters kiss on the mouth, sleep together in each other's arms, and embrace more than even two sisters would be permitted to do within current social norms. Again, there is apparently nothing sexual in their affection, only sibling love. Another changing social norm is the shifting role of gays in film, and a clip from this movie was included in "The Celluloid Closet" to illustrate the change over time. The male dresser in "The Broadway Melody" is a blatant stereotype of the sissy, and the derisive remarks and put downs that he endures from other characters would or should not be tolerated today. However, like the Stepin Fetchit characters that illustrate how African-Americans were once treated on film, the sissy depicted here is a valuable lesson in how minorities were once marginalized and derided in the movies.
However, "The Broadway Melody" is of merit not only for historical and social reasons but also for its entertainment value. While the backstage story has become familiar, the plot retains a certain dated interest and is not boring. Some of the songs are familiar from "Singin' in the Rain," where they were sung and performed as well as they ever will be. But nevertheless, hearing these familiar tunes as they were first performed is fun, even if the voices and sound are lacking all around, and the clumsy dance numbers that are often performed to these songs cry out for Busby Berkeley, although they retain a certain clunky charm. While the film is neither the classic that it should be nor the campy dud that its detractors claim, "The Broadway Melody" is definitely worth a look and makes an excellent double feature with "Singin' in the Rain" as a real example of what was spoofed in that musical classic.
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