81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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Broadway Melody, The

August 21st, 2009 · 1 Comment · 1928-1929, Black and White, Broadway Melody, The, Clara Bow, M-G-M Studios, Musical, Original Screenplay, Stuttering, The 1920s, Unofficial Academy Award Nomination

Broadway MelodyMy hopes aren’t very high for this movie. According to most of the books I consulted, The Broadway Melody is just not that hot of a film. Charles Matthews in his book Oscar A to Z: A Complete Guide to More Than 2,400 Movies Nominated For Academy Awards writes,

The years have not been kind to the movie, with its chubby, clunky chorus girls and nailed-to-the-floor camera work, but it’s place in the record books assures it a continued, if sometimes derisive, audience. It was the first musical to win an Oscar for best picture. The movie triumphed over lackluster competition…

Peter H. Brown, in his book The Real Oscar: The Story behind The Academy Awards, isn’t much kinder:

Hollywood directors screamed liked Aunt Paddie’s Pig over [director King] Vidor’s loss, so the Academy dropped the cozy little committees that decided the winners during the first two years. But not before the bosses made sure that Mary Pickford got an Oscar for Coquette and MGM took home a best picture award for its choppy, moderately successful Broadway Melody.

Another out-of-print book I found – History of the Academy Award Winners by Nathalie Frederik and Auriel Douglas – was gentler. But only marginally so:

By today’s standards, The Broadway Melody, the first musical to receive an Oscar, lacked much. But it was a milestone in its day. Sound was new, and every studio rushed onto the musical band wagon. M-G-M threw all its vast resources into the biggest musical of them all – The Broadway Melody.

Regardless, the public – and, more importantly, the studio – loved it.

The Broadway Melody, which cost less than a half-million dollars to make, brought the public flocking to New York’s Capital Theatre, where it was first shown, writes Frederik and Douglas in History of the Academy Award Winners.

Emanuel Levy, in his book Oscar Fever: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards (an extremely comprehensive tome that provides all the rules, procedures, and by-laws of the Academy), writes:

The Broadway Melody was such a hit that MGM made three more Broadway Melody films, of which Broadway Melody of 1936, released in 1935, is considered to be the best. It is also one of the few sequels to be nominated for Best Picture.

So, there you have it.

And now, without further ado (I always hate it when people say that), I’m going to watch The Broadway Melody.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Presents
THE BROADWAY MELODY
with
Charles King
Anita Page………Bessie Love
Story by
Edmund Goulding
Continuity by
Sarah Y. Mason
Lyrics by
Arthur Reed
Dialogue by
Norman Houston and James Gleason
Directed
by

HARRY BEAUMONT

100 minutes

Well, I watched it.

Scene by painful scene.

Here are my thoughts:

1. The scenes, as Andy Griffith might say, were way yonder too long. I counted about 60-70 scenes. And that may be generous. The average scene length was probably 3-4 minutes. A couple of scenes lasted over six minutes! By way of comparison, the recently released movie (500) Days of Summer contained between 120-140 scenes, the longest of which was around five minutes and it occurred at the end of the movie. The average scene length in (500) Days was less than a minute.

Long scenes either have to be brilliantly acted, brilliantly directed, brilliantly lit, or brilliantly choreographed. If they aren’t they drag. (Consider My Dinner With Andre which is, essentially, a two-hour scene. Yet, it’s one of the most riveting movies I’ve ever seen in my life.)

Nothing about The Broadway Melody was brilliant. You do the math.

2. The acting was cringe-worthy, the dialog just plain boring.

3. They must have sung the song “Broadway Melody” a half dozen times. For a musical, this movie was bereft of music. I don’t think there were more than 4-5 songs performed in the whole film, with the title song sang or played as background music by orchestras at dances, at least 6-7 times.

4. The plot was tired even in the late 1920s: Song and dance man Eddie Kearns (Charles King) started the movie in love with Hank Mahoney (Bessie Love), one half of a not-very-good singing/dancing sister act. But somewhere along the way he fell for Hank’s sister, Queenie Mahoney (Anita Page). Queenie didn’t want to hurt her sister’s feelings. So she allowed herself to be courted by a playboy named Jacques Warriner (Kenneth Thomson). Eddie couldn’t take it any longer and, near the end of the movie, he finally told Hank and went after Queenie. Eddie arrived in the nick of time and wrestled Queenie out of Jacques’ arms. The movie ended with everyone happy – and Queenie and Eddie married. Well, nearly everyone was happy. Hank (a strange name for a girl) was last seen in the back of a cab on the way to start her tour. She was with her stuttering uncle and a new blonde for the act. Hank didn’t look happy. (And what’s with the stuttering uncle, any way? Was stuttering humorous back then?)

5. The staging/choreography was uninspired, almost tired.

6. They used on-screen title cards to denote scene changes, even though this wasn’t a silent movie and title cards weren’t necessary.

7. The musicians and singers seemed to be playing and singing live, not overdubbed. That was interesting. But it would have been truly wonderful if the songs they played and sang were any good.

8. Three of the songs in this movie appeared 20 years later – in a vastly superior format – in the 1952 movie Singin’ In the Rain, a movie that was loosely based on The Broadway Melody.

9. I haven’t a clue how a movie this bad could have won an Academy Award.

Because I like to know such things, the ages of the actors were as follows: Anita Page (Queenie Mahoney) was 19, Charles King (Eddie Kearns) was 40, Bessie Love (Hank Mahoney) was 21. Everyone in the movie is no longer alive, a sad fact I can’t help but think every time I watch old movies. Anita Page lived the longest, dying just last year (2008) at the age of 98.

The Broadway Melody wasn’t a total waste of a good-size chunk of my day today. I learned a valuable lesson about screenwriting: The average scene length should be under one minute. If you have to write longer scenes, do so. But try not to do so. Clara Bow

So, as a precautionary tale, The Broadway Melody was superb. It showed me how not to write a movie.

I’m not sure even Clara Bow could have saved this picture.

But the brave lass would have given her all tryin’.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Lisa

    Amen brother!

    I have two kids under 6, a full time job and I do watch TV so I cannot do the 81 days thing, but I am also trying to watch all the Best Picture winners, although not in order and skipping over ones I saw and a) hated like “American Beauty” or b) saw and remembered enough about it unless I want to watch it again.

    I did not start with “Broadway Melody” but my GOD it was painful. I love old films I really do. Like you I get sad thinking how many of these actors have passed away – I just went on IMDb to try to see if any from “Western Front” were still alive. Sad eh?

    Anyway, I tried to remember that it was one of the first talkies and that overacting was normal in silent films. I could not get it! The storyline was lame and, like you, I wondered how this was a musical. UGH!

    If you do not mind, as I watch a film, I may come back here to read and comment. Only after watching though!

    Good luck!

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