The number "Wedding of the Painted Doll", 307 feet in length, was filmed in two-color Technicolor, but except for a 16-second Technicolor fragment with the beginning of the number, preserved at George Eastman House, it survives only in black and white. The original choreography was rejected, and the number had to be refilmed. Rather than have a live orchestra perform the music, the new choreography was filmed during a playback of the original take, making this the first film sequence filmed during a playback of pre-recorded music.
Eddie Kane starred as a big shot Broadway producer named Francis Zanfield, which is an obvious take on Broadway legend Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.. Meanwhile, the character name Jock Warriner (played by Kenneth Thomson) was meant to sound like Jack L. Warner, who was the head of Warner Bros. Studio, the main rival of MGM studio at that time.
The first musical to win an Academy Award for Best Picture; however, at this time, this award was given by season, not by calendar year, so, technically, the award was for Best Picture of the 1928-1929 season, which ran from September 1928 to August 1929. Other important productions of that calendar year were released between September and December 1929, and so would have been in competition the following "season" which ran from September 1929 through August 1930.
The first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The category of Best Picture was introduced in the second annual Academy Awards in 1930, whereas the first in 1929 had two similar categories, "Best Picture, Production" (awarded to Wings (1927)) and "Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production" (awarded to Sunrise (1927)).
The film was originally planned for Vaudeville stars Rosetta Duncan and Vivian Duncan (aka the Duncan Sisters), but they were unavailable, so Bessie Love and Anita Page won the roles of the Mahoney Sisters. MGM went on to showcase the Duncan Sisters later that year in It's a Great Life (1929), but their act appeared outsized and grotesque on screen, and the vehicle, their only feature film, quickly flopped.
There are three versions of this film in circulation. The original sound-on-disc release has no underscoring under the MGM logo, and the song "Give My Regards to Broadway" begins after the credits fade. The left side of the screen is partially missing to compensate for the sound-on-disc track. This version is available on the long out-of-print MGM/UA "Dawn of Sound" laserdisc set. For the film's 1939 reissue to theaters, MGM supplanted the original opening logo with a then-up-to-date Leo the Lion logo, perhaps in an effort to make the film look less dated. The song "Give My Regards to Broadway" begins midway through the credits. This was the print used for the 2006 Warner Home Video DVD release. The third version, silent and distributed to theaters not yet rigged for sound production, has yet to surface for modern day audiences.
In addition to its many historical firsts, The Broadway Melody (1929) is a full-throttle pre-Code film, its backstage milieu featuring scantily clad chorines, an overtly gay costume designer and an unmistakably lesbian wardrobe mistress.
Uncle Jed is played by MGM stock player Jed Prouty. The character's pronounced stutter was a popular comic theme of the era, based on the premise of a comic struggling to find a word and ultimately settling for an easier-to-pronounce synonym. Prouty's portrayal was so well received - stuttering being yet another innovative example of sound on film - that many of the early talkies went on to feature a male character who stutters.
MGM was banking on movie stardom for Charles King, giving him star billing over both Bessie Love and Anita Page, despite the fact that both actresses had been silent stars and this was King's film debut. Based on their success as a team in The Broadway Melody (1929), he and Bessie Love were immediately reteamed in Chasing Rainbows (1930), which failed to click with audiences. From that point on, King was quickly relegated to supporting roles, making just a handful of screen appearances before heading back to the stage.
The Gleason Music Publishing Company was named for veteran character actor James Gleason, who appears as its proprietor. The pianist accompanying Charles King in this scene is none other than the film's composer, Nacio Herb Brown.
Just as the first CinemaScope movies of the 1950s featured extended opening sequences to exploit the wonders of widescreen technology, The Broadway Melody (1929) opens with a chaotic sampling of sounds in a music publisher's office, vacillating between sharp cuts of music heard close at range and from a distance, seemingly as a means of readying the audience's ears for two hours of ongoing stimulation.
Leading man Charles King was imported from the New York stage, as were many other theater actors once the dawn of sound rocked Hollywood. King had achieved success on Broadway as far back as 1908, most recently in "Hit the Deck" (1927) and "Present Arms" (1928).
This was not planned as MGM's initial foray into talking pictures. That distinction was earmarked for a film version of the popular stage musical "The Five O'Clock Girl," which was co-produced by MGM and William Randolph Hearst as a vehicle for Marion Davies. But Davies had never spoken on film, let alone sung and danced, and the sound-on-disc technology was not yet perfected. The resulting footage led to a fatal clash of wills between the studio and Hearst, who shelved the film in 1928, thus leading MGM to put its weight behind The Broadway Melody (1929). Ironically, Charles King was brought to MGM from New York expressly to partner Davies in The Five O'Clock Girl (1928), and he was immediately transferred over to The Broadway Melody (1929) once the Davies vehicle was aborted.
Because of the dearth of singing and dancing talent in silent Hollywood, MGM was flummoxed in casting this film. Broadway leading man Charles King was already on the lot filming The Five O'Clock Girl (1928), but there were no usual suspects on the studio roster to fill the roles of the Mahoney Sisters. With most of the film's astronomical budget apportioned to the sound technology and musical numbers, MGM ultimately cast contractee Anita Page and silent screen actress Bessie Love. The fact that neither actress could sing nor dance lends an unintentionally humorous aspect to their game efforts to portray a vaudeville sister act, particularly their excruciating renditions of "Harmony Babies" and "The Boy Friend."
Bessie Love won the role of Hank not on the basis of her silent screen appearances dating back to 1915, but on the strength of her Vaudeville act, in which she played a ukulele. Fueled by her character's fanatical devotion to her sister, which borders on the incestuous, Love found pathos in an otherwise threadbare plot, and her deeply felt, painfully etched dressing room scene clinched both a Best Actress Oscar nomination and an MGM contract. Ironically, she drifted into supporting roles soon after her greatest success and spent the remainder of her long career in bit parts, most of which were uncredited.
Prior to this film, silent star Anita Page had never spoken, sung or danced professionally, and the strain understandably shows in her often ungainly performance. There is also a widespread improvisational quality to all of the performances in the film. It is this raw quality of experimentation that endears The Broadway Melody (1929) to modern-day audiences.
This film was first telecast in Altoona PA Sunday 7 April 1957 on WFBG (Channel 10), in Portland OR 23 May 1957 on KGW (Channel 8), in Seattle 16 August 1957 on KING (Channel 5), in Cleveland 25 November 1957 on KYW (Channel 3), in Miami 8 February 1958 on WCKT (Channel 7), in Spokane 28 April 1958 on KHQ (Channel 6), in Salt Lake City 31 May 1958 on KTVT (Channel 4), in San Francisco 22 June 1958 on KGO (Channel 7), in Norfolk VA 30 June 1958 on WTAR (Channel 3) and in Phoenix 7 September 1958 on KPHO (Channel 5). Major market telecasts were otherwise few and far between at this time, because of its age, and the relative obscurity of its leading players, as a result of strong resistance by sponsors who looked upon it simply as an outdated curiosity from a bygone era. Today it's in the TCM library and enjoys an occasional airing on cable TV on Turner Classic Movies based primarily on its historical status, now looked upon with and reverence and fascination by new generations of vintage film enthusiasts.
The first-ever Best Picture Oscar winner to be remade, and the first to spawn multiple sequels. The remake, Two Girls on Broadway (1940) starred George Murphy, Lana Turner and Joan Blondell in the roles originally played by Charles King, Anita Page and Bessie Love. The sequels all bore the title of the original, and were released in 1935, 1937 and 1940.
The initial overhead shots of Manhattan appear to have been a strong influence on director Robert Wise when he filmed the prologue to West Side Story (1961). Both musicals won the Academy Award for Best Picture in their respective years.
In a classic pre-Code moment, the drunken Zanfield 'yes man' referred to as Unconscious begins to trail lasciviously in the direction of the effeminate costume designer before his cohort stops him from following the impulse.
While the average film musical would ultimately include between eight and twelve songs, The Broadway Melody (1929) featured only five original numbers, and the title song was performed four times: in the music publisher's office, in the Mahoney sisters' apartment, at an early rehearsal and, finally, in full costume during the dress rehearsal. It was the latter sequence, with its iconic set design, that was featured in That's Entertainment! (1974).
MGM production chief Irving Thalberg's decision to make the first all-talking picture a musical was based on his shrewd observation that audiences of Warner Bros.' two successful part-talkies, The Jazz Singer (1927) and The Singing Fool (1928) had responded most enthusiastically to the musical numbers.
In the wake of this film's success, nearly seventy-five musicals were made in 1929-30. As sound technology improved, every one of those films would eclipse the primitive effects of The Broadway Melody (1929), specifically Ernst Lubitsch's The Love Parade (1929) and Rouben Mamoulian's Applause (1929). However, when Oscar season came along, there was no doubt that the Best Picture award would go to the film that started it all.
The first ever Best Picture Oscar winner to have the name of a place in the title, and was one of three Best Picture nominees that year to have place names in the title, along with: In Old Arizona (1928) and The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929)
Jock Warriner, played by Kenneth Thomson, shows his calling card to Queenie twice, of which there is a close-up insert (starting at 0:50:25 on the Warner Home Video DVD, and at 1:22:36). That card has his name imprinted as Jacques Warriner. That French first name translates correctly to James, not Jack. That lessens a claim that the character name refers to studio competitor, Jack Warner. Of course, "Jacques" sounds a lot more like "Jack" than "Jean" does...