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THE BROADWAY MELODY (1929)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2018 by cdascher

Broadway_Melody_posterThis is the story of a pair of sisters who hit the Broadway circuit and attempt to make it big. The film is interesting in that it was pre-Code, and the first sound film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, in 1929. This was also the second year of the Awards. The film features Anita Page as Queenie and Bessie Love as Harriet “Hank” Mahoney. Hank prides herself on her mind for business and her talent; Queenie is lauded for her beauty. This sets up a tension in the relationship, both professionally and personally. Eddie, who is engaged to Hank, starts the film off by telling two chorus girls he’s brought the sisters to New York to perform a vaudeville act with him in the latest revue being produced by Francis Zaneville. The chorus girls seem a little jealous and wish they’d have a shot at the gig, but Eddie in his charm still manages to stay in their good graces.

In the next scene, we see the sisters hanging out together and waiting for Eddie. When he arrives, we realize he has not seen Queenie since she was a girl. This part was a little confusing to me, since he’s engaged to Hank and clearly aware of their act as a sister duo, but I tried to suspend disbelief. He’s very taken with her immediately; so much so that it was rather uncomfortable to watch as a viewer – particularly because I liked Hank and her pluck so much.

The timeline of the characters’ backstory may not be the biggest wrinkle in this movie- but we’ll get to that in time. The Broadway Melody was the first talking picture to win Best Picture, and the second overall. I’m not sure if it was the first-ever feature musical, but it was definitely one of the first, and I’ve very much been looking forward to seeing it. Released sixteen months after The Jazz Singer, it is from a time when talkies were a novel artform. In any survey of film history, the introduction of synchronized sound always gets a mention. The Transition to Talkies has become the stuff of legend in Hollywood lore, with the stories of stars like John Gilbert, Clara Bow and Buster Keaton inspiring later classics like Singin’ in the Rain and Sunset Boulevard. But while those later dramatizations are perennial classics, the actual output from this period is little-seen, making it something of a Hollywood ‘dark ages’. And there is something utterly irresistible about an artifact from a dark age. Continue reading

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