Plot: What’s it about?
Eddie Kearns (Charles King) thinks he has a potential smash hit musical number, but as he is just a small time writer, he can’t put the number to use himself. His goal is to show his creation to Mr, Zanfield, who has been behind some of the best musical productions. If he can show off his number, he is sure Zanfield will love it and in the process, he will become a hit songwriter. He lands an audition and wrangles his girlfriend Hank (Bessie Love) and her sister Queenie (Anita Page) to perform the musical number. When the performance earns approval, Eddie is sure his path to fame and fortune has been cleared. After all, he wrote the number and Zanfield loved the number, or at least so it would seem. The truth however is that Zanfield didn’t love the number as much as he loved Queenie. So he took on the performance in order to get closer to her, all while Eddie sees stars and thinks he is a musical genius. But soon the situation grows even more dire, as Queenie and Eddie begin to realize that a bond has formed. The two have fallen in love and since Queenie is Hank’s own sister, that puts all three in a very precarious situation. With fame, fortune, and romance in the background, the show must go on, but what will become of the once happy trio?
I’ll make an admission to start off this review, I would rank musicals as perhaps my least favorite genre, or at least the one I watch the least. I just can’t get motivated to watch a musical very often, even ones that come with an acclaimed pedigree. The genre has been revived in more recent times, with such films as Moulin Rouge and Chicago garnering immense praise and profit. In the case of The Broadway Melody, the film did impressive box office at the time and was liked by critics. But those weren’t the only laurels piled on, as The Broadway Melody also won Best Picture in 1929. At the time, this movie was a landmark, the first musical extravaganza and the audiences loved the experience. The musical numbers are well done, with great songs and dance moves, just as you’d expect. The cast is wonderful too, a group of energetic and talented workers who put forth the best turns they can. The downside is that the movie seems more like a filmed stage production, thanks to low production values across the board. The sets seem one dimensional and the direction is flat, flaws which detract from the high quality performances. The movie is of interest to musical buffs above all, but also anyone who wants to see what one of the earliest musicals was like. Warner’s disc is a rushed, bare bones treatment however, so unless you’re obsessed with the movie, a rental will suffice.
Video: How does it look?
The Broadway Melody is presented in full frame, as intended. This was a 1929 release and as you might expect, time has taken a toll on the elements. But given the film’s Best Picture status, you might also expect that some restoration work would have been in order. Warner has neglected to spruce up the print however, leaving us with a worn, soft visual presentation. I wouldn’t say the print is in terrible condition, but this should be better cared for, I think. The print has nicks and grain, though few instances of serious debris, but there is a softness evident and that lessens the visuals a touch. But the image still looks passable, with stable contrast and decent detail level, so this is not a total loss.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included mono option seems to have been cleaned up a little, as the audio is crisper than on the old laserdisc release. Not enough to roll out the red carpet for, but enough to make a difference, without taking away from the original sound design. So the audio doesn’t have a false polish, just fewer pops and less unwanted noise to lessen the experience. This is a musical and with a mono soundtrack, that means the musical numbers don’t have much presence. But this is about as good as a musical from 1929 can sound without a total overhaul and in truth, I’d prefer this original soundtrack to a surround remix. This disc also includes subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This release is labeled as a Special Edition, but that is an outright fabrication, as no supplements are here that pertain to the feature presentation. A selection of musical shorts have been included, but its a shame no extras specific to the film could have been produced. This was a unique movie at the time and as a Best Picture winner, it deserves better than this.