July 26, 2015

The Broadway Melody

To beat up on The Broadway Melody is to be a bit of a bully. After all, one could argue that its victory represents a symbolic celebration of a new technology that would forever change movies as we knew it. 

But it’s so, so hard to give The Broadway Melody the benefit of the doubt because it is such a messy picture. It’s obvious while watching the movie that everyone involved was much more focused on showcasing SOUND! more so than anything else. And with that, the picture suffers from really awkward transitions and loads of narrative holes. 

There is a twisted and compromised love triangle wherein the fiancĂ©e of one sister falls in love with the other sister in a manner that reads as almost pedophillic, and we’re all led on to believe that this is acceptable for all characters involved. One sister tries to offset the love triangle by going for the character of Jock, who is pronounced as sleazy, but you wouldn’t be able to tell because there’s no character development here. The Mahoney sisters are exclaimed as possessing such great performing talents but…it is never really shown convincingly, neither are really all that good at singing, and their act seems to be of the two standing one-behind-the-other and swaying back and forth. Major music and dances numbers are abhorrently lethargic (was that how Broadway was like back then?). Neither sister gets it big in show-business, providing a rather tragic and offbeat ending to a quirky and happy flick. 

Obviously, the goal here was to make a sort of spectacle for which we can watch and be in awe. Unabashed sequences (the opener where there’s nothing but cacophonous noise) and devices (the stuttering uncle) are jammed into the movie for us to go, “Wow!” And perhaps that was the case way back when, but in the nearly 90 years that have passed, much of the movie is severely dated and tired. Unfortunately, this is a film that misses the mark as a cohesive film and as well as a means of any sort of entertainment. 


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  2. It's the only known instance of anything resembling a spat between Irving Thalberg and wife Norma Shearer:

    Apparently, on Broadway Melody's successful release and reception, Irving sent some congratulatory, expensive roses to Bessie Love. Whether it was the roses themselves, or the fact that the gesture became too openly known, Mrs. Thalberg took a disliking enough to move home to mother for a week or so, before the couple happily reconciled.

    I haven't watched this in much too long to foster any argument, and the fact that it doesn't summon me for repeated viewings bolsters your point of view. (Sunrise it's not!)

    But let it be stated for the record, that this was Irving's first of three Best Picture Oscars as producer in only seven years. I'm not sure if any other has matched or exceeded that. Norma's brother Douglas would increasingly get much better - a legend, in fact - running MGM's sound department, and Irving of course, had astonishingly greater achievements ahead too.

    Irving never allowed his own name on MGM credits, stating "credit you give yourself isn't worth having." (And yes, in this instance, you might suppose other reasons.) Some of his contemporaries in the business, the jealous ones, decided this was arrogance, alleging Irving thinking himself too good for a credit line.
    - Dave