AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Broadway Melody
Director: Harry Beaumont (Dir)
Release Date:   6 Jun 1929
Premiere Information:   Los Angeles opening: 1 Feb 1929; New York opening: 8 Feb 1929
Duration (in feet):   9,372
Duration (in reels):   110
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Cast:   Anita Page (Queenie Mahoney)  
    Bessie Love (Harriet "Hank" Mahoney)  
    Charles King (Eddie Kearns)  
    Jed Prouty (Uncle Jed)  
    Kenneth Thomson (Jock)  
    Edward Dillon (Stage manager)  
    Mary Doran (Flo, the blonde)  
    Eddie Kane (Zanfield)  
    J. Emmett Beck (Babe Hatrick)  
    Marshall Ruth (Stew)  
    Drew Demarest (Turpe)  

Summary: Eddie Kearns, a smalltime vaudeville hoofer, writes songs that win the attention of Broadway producer, Zanfield. After he is hired by Zanfield, Eddie hopes he can convince the impresario to cast Harriet “Hank” Mahoney, his hometown girlfriend, to perform his songs. Hank, who is talented and ambitious, and her beautiful sister Queenie, have a moderately successful vaudeville act, The Mahoney Sisters, which has been touring out West. Full of dreams but lacking money, the sisters arrive in New York City and take an apartment in the same 46th Street theatrical hotel in which Eddie lives. The sisters’ first guest is their agent, the tongue-tied Uncle Jed, who warns Hank that more “sister acts” wait tables in New York than perform. He offers them a thirty-week booking on the road, but Hank is certain that the time is right to try their luck on Broadway. When Eddie visits, he is struck by the realization that Queenie, the little sister Hank has always mothered, is now grown up. Eddie asks Hank to marry him, but she says she wants to wait until Queenie gets her “big break.” Although Eddie claims that he can get them a job in Zanfield’s revue, when the sisters arrive to audition during a rehearsal of the show, Zanfield is reluctant to listen to them. While Eddie convinces Zanfield to give the girls a chance, Flo, a spiteful blonde chorus girl, makes wise cracks about the sisters, prompting Hank to snap back. In retaliation, Flo sabotages their audition by placing a purse inside the cabinet of the rehearsal piano, causing their tune to go sour. Zanfield loses interest in their act, but tells Eddie that he can use Queenie, because of her stunning looks. Although Hank is unaware of being rejected, Queenie overhears and confidentially asks Zanfield to hire both of them for the same price, to which he agrees. Eddie is touched by Queenie’s secret kindness to her sister and says he could kiss her, prompting her to back away quickly and explain that she could never allow anything to hurt Hank, who has always protected her. Weeks later, during the final dress rehearsal of Zanfield’s revue, one of the performers injures herself by falling from an onstage pedestal. When Zanfield orders Queenie to replace her, everyone is happy, but Hank is troubled, because she had been proud that they succeeded through talent, not by showing their legs. Queenie receives many compliments after her brief performance posing on a pedestal during a musical number, and catches the eye of one of the producers, Jock Warner. Warner soon pursues Queenie, who tries to dissuade him, but when she becomes aware of her growing attraction to Eddie, she tries to distance herself by agreeing to go out with the producer. Unaware of her reason, but knowing that Warner is a cad, both Hank and Eddie try to warn Queenie, who responds to them with belligerence. After a quarrel with Eddie, who is increasingly jealous, Queenie agrees to attend a party that Warner is hosting. Because Hank’s role in the revue is small, Jed offers to book her with another performer, a blonde who can take Queenie’s place in The Mahoney Sisters act. However, Hank declines, as she is confused by Queenie’s recent behavior and wants to remain to protect her. Jed suggests that Queenie needs to see that her sister is happy, and advises Hank to marry Eddie. Later, when friends gather at the apartment for a surprise party to celebrate Queenie's birthday, she is attending a party hosted by Warner. Knowing that Hank is worried, Eddie invites everyone to his apartment, then returns alone to Hank, to find her praying for Queenie. She embraces Eddie and expresses gratitude that she still has him. Meanwhile, at the party across town, Warner toasts the slightly inebriated Queenie and maneuvers to get her alone. He presents her with a diamond bracelet and claims he would like to do more, such as give her an apartment and a car. At five the next morning, Queenie returns home, drunk, and shows her bracelet to Hank, who has been up all night worrying. Although Hank pleads with Queenie to find someone worthy of her, Queenie talks about “class,” and Warner's promise that she will have a Rolls Royce, an apartment on Park Avenue and everything that goes with them. She declares that she will have everything in the world, and Hank will have Eddie. Later, backstage during another performance, the sisters fight again about Queenie’s involvement with Warner. Hank claims that her meddling is for Queenie’s own good, and Queenie stops just short of saying that she is doing it for Hank. Later, while trying to talk “sense” to Queenie, Eddie claims that he is doing it because he loves her, causing her to cry out that he is the reason she is dating Warner. Some time later, a mink coat from Warner is delivered to Queenie, prompting Hank to warn her that Warner will never marry her. Queenie counters that she is old enough to make her own decisions, then inadvertently pushes Hank to the floor as they quarrel. Just then, Eddie enters and says that he will kill the guy that has made him suffer, prompting Queenie to yell that she hates him. Hank, who is watching them from the other side of the room, begins to realize that they are in love with each other. When Queenie leaves in anger, Hank tells Eddie that he loves Queenie and must fight for her. Seeing his confusion, Hank pretends that she never loved him and claims she has been using him for his Broadway connections. She calls him a coward, which prompts him to leave, intent on proving that he is not “yellow.” After Hank cries alone, she calls Jed to arrange the booking with the blonde. At the same time, Warner takes Queenie to a party held at the apartment he has provided her. Uneasy, she tries to prevent him from isolating her from the crowd, but he becomes more aggressive and insists that she be “nice” to him. Just then, Eddie arrives and tries to intervene, but Warner knocks him out. When Eddie awakens, several of Warner’s friends throw him out of the apartment, but Queenie runs out to be with him. Some time later, when Queenie and Eddie return from their honeymoon, Queenie, who has given up the stage, invites Hank to live with them in the Long Island home they have bought. However, Hank insists that she wants a hotel with service, which prompts Jed to say that she is a born trouper. With Jed and Flo, her new partner, Hank boards a train heading West. After she leaves, Queenie cries, saying that Hank never had a real break, but Eddie explains that Hank could not give up the stage, and now knows that her sister is safe. Meanwhile, on the train, Hank promises Flo that she will have them back on Broadway by fall. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's Inc.)
Distribution Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp. (Loew's Inc.)
Director: Harry Beaumont (Dir)
Writer: Sarah Y. Mason (Cont)
  Edmund Goulding (Story)
  Norman Houston (Dial)
  James Gleason (Dial)
  Earl Baldwin (Titles)
Photography: John Arnold (Photog)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons (Art dir)
Film Editor: Sam S. Zimbalist (Film ed)
  William LeVanway (Ed si version)
Costumes: David Cox (Ward)
Sound: Douglas Shearer (Rec eng)
Dance: George Cunningham (Ensemble numbers staged by)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music: "Give My Regards to Broadway" by George M. Cohan.
Songs: "The Wedding of the Painted Doll," "Broadway Melody," "Love Boat," "Boy Friend," "Harmony Babies" and "You Were Meant for Me," music by Nacio Herb Brown, lyrics by Arthur Freed; "Truthful Deacon Brown," music and lyrics by Willard Robison.
Composer: Nacio Herb Brown
  George M. Cohan
  Arthur Freed
  Willard Robison
Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp. 5/3/1929 dd/mm/yyyy LP183

Physical Properties: b&w with col seq: Technicolor
  Sd, also Si: Movietone; also si; 5,943 ft.

 
Genre: Comedy-drama
  Musical
Sub-Genre: Show business
 
 
Subjects (Major): Dancers
  Mistresses
  New York City--Broadway
  Romantic rivalry
  Self-sacrifice
  Sisters
 
Subjects (Minor): Auditions
  Birthdays
  Chorus girls
  Loyalty
  Music stores
  Musical revues
  Newlyweds
  Parties
  Proposals (Marital)
  Sabotage
  Songwriters
  Theatrical agents
  Theatrical backers
  Theatrical producers
  Vaudeville

Note: The film begins with aerial shots of New York City over which is heard the tune, “Give My Regards to Broadway.” Interspersed throughout the film are inter-title cards stating the location of the next scene, in the style of a theatrical program. The film’s action commences in a "Tin Pan Alley“ music publishing house, where composers plug their songs to singers and publishers. There, character “Eddie Kearns” (whose name does not appear in print onscreen and is spelled in some sources as Kerns) is hired by “Mr. Zanfield,” a character based on the real-life Florenz Ziegfeld (1867—1932), the American Broadway impresario who produced theatrical revues. Although the Var review lists actor Jed Prouty's character name as "Uncle Bernard" and other sources list him as “Uncle Bernie,” he is called "Uncle Jed" by the other characters throughout the film. Two songs in the film, “Broadway Melody” and “You Were Meant for Me,” each were used in several later musical films, among them, the 1952 M-G-M production, Singin’ in the Rain (see entry below), which was produced by lyricist Arthur Freed. Film and theater music historians consider “You Were Meant for Me” to be an early example in a long line of developments in which a song is written to further the plot of the story.
       M-G-M advertised The Broadway Melody as its "All Talking All Singing All Dancing” picture. The film opened in Los Angeles at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on 1 Feb 1929, and about a week later in New York. For theaters not yet equipped for sound, M-G-M also released a silent version of the film, which, at 5,943 feet, was 3,429 feet less than the sound version, presumably because of eliminated or shortened musical numbers. The Broadway Melody was the second film, and the first sound film, to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. The film was groundbreaking, in that it was the studio's first sound picture, as well as the first of the many enormously popular musicals produced by M-G-M. Many of the film’s plot points have since become clichés, and many of its cinematic techniques are now commonly used, but at the time of the film’s release, they were innovative. The film was praised by the Var review for sound techniques that allowed the conversation of characters to be heard as they moved across a dance floor, and how the tap dancing of a chorus line in rehearsal was heard behind the dialogue. The review also lauded the fact that individual characters were able to stand out in relief during long shots of a stage performance because they were dressed in black and white.
       As noted in the NYT and Var reviews, the film contained a three-minute “natural color first act finale.” The two-strip Technicolor footage sequence consisted of a production number, entitled “The Wedding of the Painted Doll,” from the fictional Broadway revue in which the film's characters were performing. To replicate the look of a stage production, the number was shot through a proscenium arch. The Technicolor footage for this sequence has since been lost, and only a black-and-white version is now available. According to modern sources, the song in the production number was the first to be lipsynched post-principal photography, a practice devised after negative feedback from a preview audience prompted the filmmakers to re-shoot the number. Although some critics, including Mordaunt Hall of NYT were unenthusiastic about the film, the Var reviewer proclaimed that the superlative manner in which The Broadway Melody replicated portions of a stage production, while also providing close-ups of the performers, might prove to be a “potent threat to the stage producers.”
       Later film historians have praised The Broadway Melody for an energy that many early “talkies” lacked, due to its fast pace, witty dialogue and the unusually crisp delivery of the actors, who, in many early sound films tended to over-enunciate their words. The Broadway Melody has become an iconic film, and its themes of star-struck performers looking for both romance and their “big break” on Broadway has become part of American motion picture culture. Modern sources add Diana Verne, Alice Pitman, Alice Weaver and The Angeles Twins as chorus girls.
       Due to its popularity, M-G-M produced other similarly titled films with show business themes: Broadway Melody of 1936 , Broadway Melody of 1938 and Broadway Melody of 1940 . In 1940, M-G-M produced a remake of The Broadway Melody entitled Two Girls on Broadway , which was directed by S. Sylvan Simon and starred Lana Turner, Joan Blondell and George Murphy. (For more information about these films, see entries below.) In 1930, M-G-M produced a short parody of The Broadway Melody , entitled The Dogway Melody , which was part of the studio's "Dogville" series and featured live dogs in all the roles. The musical also was parodied in The Broadway Malady , a “Krazy Kat” animated short produced by Columbia in 1933. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Film Daily   17 Feb 1929   p. 10.
New York Times   9 Feb 1929   p. 15.
Variety   13 Feb 1929   p. 13.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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