THE ROYAL FAMILY OF Broadway is a fascinating snapshot of movie history. The worthy Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman stage play retains its crackling dialogue but is presented in a stilted, amateurish film. After the sound era was ushered in with the blast of THE JAZZ SINGER, the studios dumped many of their writers in the rush to hire playwrights who could write dialogue. Yet, while the Ferber and Kaufman play, adapted for the screen by Herman Mankiewicz, is sturdy and fun, the film seems to have been made right after THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY.
This is interesting. After the sublime beauty and sophisticated techniques of silent films such as SUNRISE, THE CROWD, THE BIG PARADE, even TOL'ABLE David ten years earlier, the medium seems thrust backwards as the filmmakers grapple with sound. Shots are poorly framed, some out of focus; scenes are static with few camera angels as they play out, often in one wide shot. This was George Cukor's third film, still paired as a co-director, but Rouben Mamoulian has already made an inventive and dazzling musical, APPLAUSE, as his first film, and Lubitsch has already demonstrated all one would need to see in how to put together a snappy sound comedy with THE LOVE PARADE.
But this should not deter anyone from seeing THE ROYAL FAMILY, this farcical spoof of the theatrical Barrymore family trying to manage their professional and personal lives. The play still works like a charm and the actors deliver gloriously. Though the great stage actress, Ina Claire, never had much success on film, one wonders why. The movies are the worse for it as she is a very funny and enjoyable comedienne playing the diva torn between her love of adulation and guilt for not settling down. Frederic March displays a flair for comedy, in the John Barrymore role, that I am hard pressed to think he ever equaled. (DESIGN FOR LIVING? NOTHING SACRED? Not quite.) You've rarely been served this much ham, but it is a delectable treat.
All in all, THE ROYAL FAMILY OF Broadway is a very enjoyable comedy and a fascinating look at the movies learning to walk again after the freight train of sound has pulled into the station.
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