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The Broadway Melody Review


RATING:
(2 STARS)

“The Broadway Melody” won the Best Picture award at the second Oscar ceremony all the way back in 1930. It’s generally regarded as one of the worst films to take home that prize, and I can’t quibble with that sentiment. It’s easy to see why people would like this picture eighty years ago. After all, it was one of the first “talkie” musicals. But it doesn’t hold up whatsoever today. The film is clichéd from beginning to end. The acting is poor. The comedy is lame. And the music (with one exception—the catchy title song) is uninspired and forgettable. There’s really no reason for anyone to see this unless they’re curious, like me, about the history of the Academy Awards.

Eddie Kearns (Charles King) is a middling song-and-dance man in contemporary New York. He’s talented, but he hasn’t yet earned the respect of his peers. His new song, “The Broadway Melody” could change that, and Eddie wants to make sure only the best talent out there gets to perform it. So he brings in his girlfriend and her sister, Hank (Bessie Love) and Queenie (Anita Page), from the Midwest to breakthrough with this potential hit song. They audition for the Zanfield Follies, the show Eddie is a part of, but only Queenie receives notice from the show’s director. She’s picked up, while Hank is kicked to the curb. And slowly but surely, the pressures of fame threaten the sisters’ relationship and that of Eddie and Hank, for Eddie finds himself head-over-heels for his co-star (and girlfriend’s sister).

Almost nothing works in “The Broadway Melody,” yet none of it is bad or painful enough that is was difficult to sit through. With the exception of the toe-tapping “Broadway Melody,” the songs are ordinary. The story is nothing we haven’t seen before. And the line between comedy and drama is walked very clumsily. The tone shifts very rapidly, and it never has its foot in one long enough to make something work. Just when you think a dramatic moment will expand into something more, the film takes an abrupt turn toward slapstick. That might have been fine for audience back then, but we’ve seen too many films walk that line perfectly to give this film passing marks.

In terms of acting, none of the leads is memorable, although Bessie Love gives the film’s most solid performance. She was the only one nominated on Oscar night, and while she didn’t take home the top prize, she does her best to stand out in an otherwise forgettable picture with her work as the forgotten sister. Abandoned by Queenie, the producers and director of the show, and eventually, her man, Hank isn’t the stereotypical strong woman that can rebound. She tries to keep it together, but can’t quite muster it, showing us a very vulnerable woman toward the end of the film. I found this particular scene the film’s strongest, but it wasn’t quite strong enough to elevate the material, and it wasn’t quite long enough to truly say Love deserved an Oscar nomination.

The other two leads, however, are much worse. Anita Page is annoying throughout. She plays the star, but there’s nothing in the film to indicate she is anything more than a diva—so caught up in herself that she’ll abandon anyone and everyone who ever loved her. Perhaps it’s the fault of the clumsy screenplay, but I have to think there was something more there for Page to work with than what we see. Charles King, while a good singer, can’t act his way out of a paper bag. Besides the singing, he recites lines and looks nice. That’s it.

It’s not hard to see why “The Broadway Melody” was popular. Besides winning Best Picture, it spawned a number of sequels (although none feature the same characters). For today’s audience, there’s no reason to seek this out. It’s a film that was important way back when, but isn’t really worth your time today.

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