This movie hasn't aged very well, but when it debuted it was a heck of a film--sparking many sequels as well as an entirely new genre of films, such as 42ND STREET, FOOTLIGHT PARADE and DANCING LADY. Because of this, even in spite of its many shortcomings, it's an important film historically speaking. The film may at times look like a bunch of clichés, but you should remember that although many of the plot elements would become clichéd over time, here they were quite original. It was also the first all singing/all talking musical (winning the Oscar for Best Picture), so it deserves to be remembered.
Hank and Queenie are sisters who have come to Broadway to make it big. Hank knows they will become stars as a team and doesn't seem willing to consider any other option. Frankly, as I watched their act, I couldn't help but think that these two women had practically no chemistry as a team-- they couldn't sing or dance all that well together. Well, despite Hank's confidence, Mr. Zanfield (a takeoff on Flo Ziegfeld) wasn't interested in the team--just Queenie. Queenie was not only much prettier but she also wasn't a giant pain in the neck and would take direction! Hank was too self-confident as well as pushy and obnoxious. Her only experience had been dancing in small venues but she tried to lecture the great Zanfield on how to put on a show! Despite Hank's general unlikability (to some she had "pluck and determination", to me she needed a rap in the mouth), she was still given a small part thanks to Queenie and Eddie's intervention. Hank, by the way, was the show's star and Hank's fiancé--that does sound a bit weird, huh?
The problem is that after a while, Eddie starts to realize that Hank's little sister, Queenie, is prettier and a nicer person. It's obvious that he is falling in love with her and vice-versa. However, both Eddie and Queenie love Hank and can't hurt her, so Queenie begins dating Jock--a rich guy. Now up until the very end, we really DON'T know Jock is no-good, but the instant Queenie shows interest in Jock, Hank interferes and tries to split them up. This isn't a good idea, as Queenie is only dating Jock in order to get Eddie out of her system. However, the longer the film goes, the more Hank rides Queenie for dating Jock. Eventually, Queenie can't take Hank's bullying any more and runs off to the arms of Jock. Fortunately, at that moment Hank figures out the score and tells Eddie their engagement is over and encourages him to marry Queenie. Eddie confronts Jock and gets punched in the kisser. Queenie runs to him and pledges her undying love, as he was willing to stand up and fight to protect her honor. Now at this point, you assume the film is over but it goes on needlessly for about 15 more minutes.
The film had a lot of energy and was unique--a truly innovative film. There were a few cute supporting characters I liked, such as the extremely flamboyant costumer as well as the three "yes-men". They added some nice color to the film. Oh, and speaking of color, while the color has vanished over time (a common problem with Two-Color Technicolor), many of the big production numbers were shot in a primitive form of color. Also, the title song ("Broadway Melody") was pretty good, but they sang it about six times during the film and four times in a row! I chalk this up not to lousy production values but to the fact this was the first musical extravaganza. Another minor problem that for me was not really a problem was the extensive use of inter-title cards. Considering this was such an early talkie, it's not surprising that they relied a bit too much on these cards to connect scenes.
Let's address rest of the people in the film. The character "Uncle Jed" was annoying and insensitive. His schtick was stuttering like Porky Pig and this got old very quickly. Also, if you haven't guessed from my above comments, Hank was just too darn unlikable and you wanted Eddie to dump her. Had she been softened up a bit (less pushy, controlling and rude), then the audience would have cared more for her plight. Also, when she and Queenie have their showdown, it's one of the shrillest scenes in movie history and should have been toned down a bit.
Now there are also many technical problems with the film. Many of the edits are very sloppy--either being edited too soon or allowing pointless footage to remain that should have been shortened. Frankly, it's editing is just awful--especially in one very long and protracted scene where Queenie just stares off in space towards the end. Also, while "Melody of Broadway" is pretty good, the rest of the songs aren't. In fact, during one song that was being sung by a guy dressed as a Roman soldier, the sound and singing was so bad I couldn't understand any of the song. This wasn't just me, either, as the film featured excellent Closed Captioning when shown on Turner Classic Movies but when it came to this song, the captioning stopped--obviously they couldn't figure it out as well! Also, while for 1929 the dance numbers were big and impressive, but about 1932 or 1933, these numbers looked amazingly small, poorly choreographed and flat--needing a strong injection of the Busby Berkely touch.
An important but flawed film.
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