I would have liked to see the audience of The Broadway Melody on opening night – they probably ran out of the theatre, covering their bleeding ears. No, not because of bad singing or horribly quality but simply because – there is SOUND! And not just a bit but a lot! Right in the first scene, the movie makers throw sound at the audience from all directions. It’s an agency and there are people talking, singing, making noise, playing music instruments – so that even the last row of the theatre will get it.
Okay, now let’s get serious. The Broadway Melody gained its place in movie history by being the first talkie, the first musical and the second movie overall to win the top prize from the Academy. And the question is: why?
I won’t lie to you – I was entertained by The Broadway Melody. In parts. Bessie Love gives a surprisingly modern and fresh performance and her sassy characterization made me chuckle more than once – now, if she only had had a better part because The Broadway Melody surely doesn’t allow her to go too far.
The Broadway Melody is mostly proclaimed as a musical even though musical numbers are rare – and very often it’s just the same song, repeated over and over again. It combines the classic ‘backstage-story’ of newcomers trying to find success in show business and an obligatory love triangle which feels very dated today. Both aspects of the story have its share of problems.
The backstage-story most of all suffers from a gigantic problem which, for some reason, nobody ever brings up – the fact that the Mahoney-sisters are awful. Their number 'Boy Friend' which they repeat again and again and walk across the stage awkwardly makes you wish for the good ol’ times when movies were silent. Most other musical numbers also lack live and creativity but the number 'Wedding of the Painted Doll' is actually really good. During the second half of the story, the musical sequences become rare as the movie begins to focus on the love triangle between the two sisters Hank and Queenie and Eddie, played by Charles King. Unfortunately, the story soon loses luster – mostly because of the dislikeable characters. Eddie is engaged to Hank but spends the whole movie lusting over her younger sister Queenie without ever feeling bad about it. Queenie on the other hand is clearly attracted to him, too, but doesn’t want to ruin her sister’s life and so begins an affair with an older business man. From this moment on, Hank and Eddie spend the rest of the whole movie being angry at Queenie while she is angry at them. This all results in the same conversations again and again, repeated just as often the main musical numbers.
Considering that this is a movie that wants to show all the hard work that goes into being a star, the movie takes a rather perplexing attitude towards Queenie who becomes a star in her first number by standing motionless on the stage. When all the others tell her how great she was, it does feel a bit…weird.
The most amusing aspect of the movie are probably the clearly gay costume designer and his fight with the clearly lesbian woman backstage. Okay, maybe not amusing but rather…surreal?
Overall, The Broadway Melody does provide some entertaining moments and performances – if only the story itself had been more captivating. The ending is actually very surprising for the time but this doesn’t stop the fact that, overall, The Broadway Melody has not aged too well.