Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Broadway Melody (Harry Beaumont) ***

Harry Beaumont

Cast: Anita Page, Bessie Love, Bessie Love

Background: The Broadway Melody would be (as advertised) Hollywood's first all talking musical. Bessie Love and Anita Page were both veterans of the silent era making their sound debut.

Story: Queenie (Page) and Hank (Love) are sisters who take their vaudeville act to New York, hoping to find success on Broadway. However, Queenie begins to find more success than her sister, both on stage and in her romantic life.

Thoughts: This is a film that has a fairly negative reputation, thanks in part to it being considered the inspiration for the silent to sound transition problems played to comic effect in Singin in the Rain. However, the common problems that appeared in early sound films (bad dialogue, awkward line delivery) do not exist in this movie at all. Sure, the camera is stationary, but that's not a drawback for a backstage musical. In fact, the performances really shine here. Anita Page is dazzling, completely owning the screen and infusing her character with winning charm. It's interesting that Bessie Love was such a veteran of silent cinema, because she has a wonderful voice and infuses her line delivery with so much spunk that it's hard to root against her obviously doomed character. This leads to the one major problem the movie has. The plot is so predictable that you can see what's happening every step of the way. There's also an unforunate gay stereotype that is unpleasant to witness. The musical numbers are all very well done, and I enjoyed the elaborate stage decorations. This film may not be as good as it was received in 1929, but it's also not nearly as bad as people make it out to be today.

Postscript: The Broadway Melody was the second winner of the Best Picture Oscar. There were no nominees listed for the Oscars that year, but both Bessie Love and director Harry Beaumont are considered nominees by the Academy today. Anita Page was one of the most popular stars of the era, but announced a sudden retirement in 1934, later stating that she was banned from Hollywood by refusing to bow to sexual favors from Irving Thalberg. She was the last major silent star to pass away, when she died last year at 98 years old. Bessie Love's popualrity dipped in the 30s, but she did make a comeback in the 80s with supporting roles in Ragtime, Reds, and The hunger.

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