Another film to frequently appear towards the tail end of great best picture winners is this, the second ever winner of the award, and the first to be filmed in sound. ‘The Broadway Melody of 1929’ (not to be confused with any of the several other Broadway Melody films that followed) is a delightful example of an early Hollywood musical, and should be watched by anybody interested in the history of musicals, but really does have very little appeal for anybody else.
Anita Page and Bessie Love play sisters who move to New York in order to become a vaudeville act on Broadway for Francis Zanfield (not Florenz Ziegfeld!). There are two men in their new life, Eddie, a family friend, confused about which sister he loves, and Jock, who is, to be honest, a bit of a cad.
All films should be judged against other films of their era, and I can think of no truer example than with ‘Broadway Melody’. It is a transition film, from silent to talkie, and it really shows: title cards appear throughout the film and shots with no talking are silent with no background noise, which makes for slightly disconcerting, if charming, viewing. That’s not to say that the film is not without its qualities: the acting (especially from the two women) is strong and it is responsible for the Broadway Melody song (made famous in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’), and the film offers an easy viewing experience with some charming scenes.
Personally, as a lover of great musicals, I would love to rank this film higher in my list. Without this film, ‘Top Hat’ would never have been made, and this film is clearly the inspiration for ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, another classic musical film. ‘The Broadway Melody’ was the blueprint for musicals to come: a simple plot, enhanced with music, dancing and costumes.
Unfortunately, I cannot justify increasing the ranking: the cinematography is largely uninspiring (there are plenty of films previous to this which have excellent cinematography, yet the camera barely moves during this film), and the supporting acting is largely wooden. This is a film that I wish could have been great: it is one of the most important films ever made, especially in the context of musicals, and unfortunately it isn’t, but it is a film that I can watch with fondness and respect: a landmark in the world of cinema.