The Broadway Melody

Gasser

The Broadway Melody (1929)

The Broadway Melody (1929)

Looking again to a movie that earned Hollywood’s top award but fails to shine against most flicks given that prestige, I bring you The Broadway Melody. Taking one of the early Oscars for Best Picture, the musical contended with a handful of movies that for the most part have failed to maintain their place in history. Had 1929 been a year with a better stock of movies to choose from, The Broadway Melody would not have stood a chance to win.

The movie tells a story that became too common a plot in the years that followed. We meet a performing team who come to New York hoping to make it big on Broadway. One of the set does make a splash but more so with wealthy members of the audience than with general stardom. Falling into the role of a showgirl mistress drives concern and conflict with the remaining member(s) of the troop.

So goes The Broadway Melody. Queenie (Anita Page) is the prettier, bustier and blonder of the sister duo, the remainder of which is occupied by the talented “Hank” (Bessie Love). The sisters have been travelling the country with their song-and-dance show and have landed in New York where Hank’s boyfriend Eddie (Charles King) is prepared to help them make it big with the use of a song he has written: “The Broadway Melody”.

Eddie is immediately spellbound with Queenie even though he is fairly devoted to Hank. He helps the girls get into a show produced by big shot Zanfield (Eddie Zane). As the show opens to audiences, Queenie garners the attention of one of Zanfield’s backers, Jacques Warraner (Kenneth Thomson), who takes her to fancy dinners and gives her expensive gifts. Queenie is moderately resistant to his advances but enjoys the lavish lifestyle. Meanwhile, Hank cannot stand to see the life her sister is leading.

Once Jacques sets Queenie up in her own apartment, the tensions get high among the players and both Hank and Eddie argue to keep the blonde from running off to such an unsavory lifestyle. During these arguments, Hank notices how Eddie feels about Queenie and casts him aside so that he feels free to run after the sister. The two wed, leaving Hank glad she has saved her sister but solemn for her own romantic prospects.

Bessie Love gives one hell of a performance, but nothing so kind can be said for the rest of the cast. Although Love gives appropriately dramatic and heartfelt displays, Anita Page leaves us wondering if she is acting at all, or just delivering lines. Charles King make a decent, friendly man to root for, but he offers nothing special. None can be commended for his or her singing talent.

The Broadway Melody really fails to produce a satisfactory conclusion. Love’s performance has us rooting for her to have a happy ending with her man, and her dramatic display upon giving him up makes us think that any other coupling would be cruel. Page equally fails to convince us Queenie deserves Eddie or that she has anything to offer besides her supposedly good looks. She has an upleasant personality and nearly no talent, so it is a wonder why Eddie want to be with her in the first place. Queenie is such a brat throughout the story that one almost wishes she would get what she deserves from her unsavory relationship with Jacques.

Although some of the costuming is splendid in terms of Hank and Queenie’s stage attire, the production crew really dropped the ball on Queenie’s other aesthetic appeal. She is meant to be shades more beautiful than her sister, but she is nothing special. Her hair often looks more like bed head than an attempt at a fashionable finger wave, and her whole character comes off as sloppy.

The future certainly held much better incarnations of the corrupted-then-redeemed Broadway star story, so there is no sense wasting time on The Broadway Melody even if it is a Best Picture winner.

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Our Blushing Brides

Dullsville

Our Blushing Brides (1930)

     Perhaps such a low rating is not the best way to commence the critiques on this blog, but it happened to be the first I consumed after deciding to go ahead with  this endeavor. It also is appropriately reflective of my film focus as of late.

 
     I have been (for lack of a better word) obsessed with Robert Montgomery for the better part of a year now in an affair that started with Alfred Hitchcock’s only straight comedy Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Joan Crawford, on the other hand, I’ve been pursuing just because of some unfounded fascination–I know she was an absolute terror in person, but she’s so gorgeous!
 
     Like many Crawford movies, however, and even more so than those of Montgomery, Our Blushing Brides was a pale effort at drama, romance and cashing in on the former’s “box office gold” status. The picture is the third in a series of Crawford movies, including Our Dancing Daughters (which really established her stardom) and Our Modern Maidens. Brides came just after Crawford married her first husband Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who was a costar in Maidens and the partnership with whom launched Crawford to Hollywood high society.
 
     It chronicles three roommates who work in different areas of a major New York department store. Crawford is a model and Montgomery is the store owner’s oldest son who tries to catch her eye. In his efforts to do so, however, we are faced with an exceedingly uncomfortable scene when the man oggles the lingerie-clad model.
 
     Now this film came out in 1930 right on the cusp of the Motion Picture Production Code, or Hayes Code, instituted that same year, which set moral standards for what could and (primarily) could not be shown in a film. The code was very vague but I am confident in saying that a woman in brassiere and panties standing in front of a man with …uh… interest in his eyes would not have made it to theaters had it been filmed a year later. The discomfort is heightened for the viewer as Crawford’s expression illustrates her displeasure with flashing the goods before a potential suitor.
 
     Some sloppy acting moments toward the beginning of the film fade as the picture moves along – one friend marryies a wealthy man only to find he’s a crook, the other is willing to accept an apartment and gifts in lieu of marriage from a man who ultimately weds another.
 
     The inevitable happy ending between Crawford and Montgomery is severely loose in its foundation and leads to a quick cut to “the end” that has the viewer feeling jipped.
 
Sources: Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine
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