The Broadway Melody

Last updated

The Broadway Melody
Broadway Melody poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Harry Beaumont
Produced by Irving Thalberg
Lawrence Weingarten
Written bySarah Y. Mason (continuity)
Norman Houston (dialogue)
James Gleason (dialogue)
Earl Baldwin (titles)
Story by Edmund Goulding
Starring Charles King
Anita Page
Bessie Love
Jed Prouty
Music by(see article)
Cinematography John Arnold
Edited by Sam S. Zimbalist
William LeVanway (silent version)
Color process Technicolor
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$379,000 [3]
Box office$4.4 million [3]

The Broadway Melody, also known as The Broadway Melody of 1929, is a 1929 American pre-Code musical film and the first sound film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. It was one of the first musicals to feature a Technicolor sequence, which sparked the trend of color being used in a flurry of musicals that would hit the screens in 1929–1930. [4] Today, the Technicolor sequence is lost; only a black and white copy survives in available versions. The film was the first musical released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and was Hollywood's first all-talking musical.


The Broadway Melody was written by Norman Houston and James Gleason from a story by Edmund Goulding, and directed by Harry Beaumont. Original music was written by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, including the popular hit "You Were Meant for Me". The George M. Cohan classic "Give My Regards to Broadway" is used under the opening establishing shots of New York City, its film debut. Bessie Love was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.


Eddie Kearns (Charles King) sings "The Broadway Melody", and tells some chorus girls that he brought the Mahoney Sisters vaudeville act to New York to perform it with him in the latest revue being produced by Francis Zanfield (Eddie Kane). Harriet "Hank" Mahoney (Bessie Love) and her sister Queenie Mahoney (Anita Page) are awaiting Eddie's arrival at their apartment. Hank, the older sister, prides herself on her business sense and talent, while Queenie is lauded for her beauty. Hank is confident they will make it big while Queenie is less eager to put everything on the line to become a star. Hank declines the offer of their Uncle Jed (Jed Prouty) to join a 30-week traveling show but consents to think it over.

Eddie, who is engaged to Hank, arrives and sees Queenie for the first time since she was a girl and is instantly taken with her. He tells them to come to a rehearsal for Zanfield's revue to present their act. A blond woman sabotages their performance by placing a bag in the piano, which causes a fight with Hank. Zanfield isn't interested in it, but says he might have a use for Queenie, who begs him to give Hank a part as well, saying both will work for one wage. She also convinces him to pretend that Hank's business skills won him over. Eddie witnesses this exchange and becomes even more enamored of Queenie for her devotion to her sister. During a dress rehearsal for the revue, Zanfield says the pacing is too slow for "The Broadway Melody" and cuts Hank and Queenie from the number. Meanwhile, another woman is injured after falling off a set prop and Queenie is selected to replace her. Nearly everyone is captivated by Queenie, particularly notorious playboy Jacques "Jock" Warriner (Kenneth Thomson). While Jock begins to woo Queenie, Hank is upset that Queenie is building her success on her looks rather than her talent.

Over the following weeks, Queenie spends a lot of time with Jock, of which Hank and Eddie fervently disapprove. They forbid her to see him, which results in Queenie pushing them away and the deterioration of the relationship between the sisters. Queenie is only with Jock to fight her growing feelings for Eddie, but Hank thinks she's setting herself up to be hurt. Eventually, Eddie and Queenie confess their love for each other, but Queenie, unwilling to break her sister's heart, runs off to Jock once again.

Hank, after witnessing Queenie's fierce outburst toward Eddie and his devastated reaction to it, finally realizes that they are in love. She berates Eddie for letting Queenie run away and tells him to go after her. She claims to never have loved him and that she'd only been using him to advance her career. After he leaves, she breaks down and alternates between sobs and hysterical laughter. She composes herself enough to call Uncle Jed to accept the job with the 30-week show.

There's a raucous party at the apartment Jock had recently purchased for Queenie, but he insists that they spend time alone. When she resists his advances, he says that it's the least that she could do after all he's done for her. He begins to get physical, but Eddie bursts in and attempts to fight Jock, who knocks him through the door with one punch. Queenie runs to Eddie and leaves Jock and the party behind.

Some time later, Hank and Uncle Jed await the return of Queenie and Eddie from their honeymoon. The relationship between the sisters is on the mend, but there is obvious discomfort between Hank and Eddie. Queenie announces she's through with show business and will settle down in their new house on Long Island. She insists that Hank live with them when her job is over. After Hank leaves with her new partner and Uncle Jed, Queenie laments the fact that she wasn't able to help her sister find the happiness she deserves. Ironically, Hank's new partner is the blond who tried to sabotage the act when the sisters first arrived in New York. The final scene shows Hank on her way to the train station. She promises her new partner that they'll be back on Broadway within six months. [5]


Lobby card Broadway Melody lobby card.jpg
Lobby card
Poster BroadwayMelodyPoster1.jpg

Musical numbers

Music by Nacio Herb Brown, lyrics by Arthur Freed, except as noted. [6] [7]


As this was not just one of the first sound features made, but also one of the first sound musicals, the production used trial-and-error to learn how to record sound properly. After the rushes were seen, the sets would often be changed to improve the recording qualities, and scenes would be re-shot, resulting in long days for the actors and an overall long shooting schedule. [8] It took over three hours to film Bessie Love's brief ukulele-playing scene. [9] For earlier takes, a full orchestra was just off-camera, but, for later takes, the actors sang and danced to prerecorded music. [8]

A silent version of the film was also produced,[ citation needed ] as there were still many motion picture theaters without sound equipment at the time. The film featured a musical sequence for "The Wedding of the Painted Doll" that was presented in early two-color Technicolor (red and green filters). Color would quickly come to be associated with the musical genre, and numerous features were released in 1929 and 1930 that either featured color sequences or were filmed entirely in color, movies like On with the Show (1929), Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929), Sally (1929), The Life of the Party (1930), and others. No known color prints of the sequence survive, only black-and-white.

Reception and legacy

Ad for the film as seen in most magazine publications of the time. Broadway Melody Ad.jpg
Ad for the film as seen in most magazine publications of the time.

The Broadway Melody was a substantial success and made a profit of $1.6 million for MGM. [3] It was the top grossing picture of 1929, and won the Academy Award for Best Picture. [10]

Contemporary reviews from critics were generally positive. Variety wrote that it "has everything a silent picture should have outside of its dialog. A basic story with some sense to it, action, excellent direction, laughs, a tear, a couple of great performances and plenty of sex." [11] "Has everything", agreed Film Daily . "Sure-fire moneymaker that will drag 'em in everywhere." [12]

"This picture is great. It will revolutionize the talkies", wrote Edwin Schallert for Motion Picture News . "The direction is an amazing indication of what can be done in the new medium." [13]

Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times wrote a mixed review, calling it "rather cleverly directed" though "somewhat obvious", with sentiment "served out too generously in most of the sequences." Hall called King's performance "vigorous", but of Page he wrote, "Her acting, especially her voice, does not enhance her personality. Notwithstanding, it must be admitted that there are girls who talk as she is made to for the screen. Miss Page, however, fails to give one an impression of spontaneity, for she recites rather than speaks her lines." [14]

John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote, "The stage background allows opportunity for one or two musical interpolations, and no one is more glad than we that the talkies charmingly succeed in a very pleasant ballet. Because of that we shall try to forget the dialogue of the play, and that James Gleason ever wanted to take any credit for it." [15]

Historically, The Broadway Melody is often considered the first complete example of the Hollywood musical. While the film was seen as innovation for its time and helped to usher in the concept and structure of musical films, the film has become regarded by contemporary critics as cliché-ridden and overly melodramatic. [16] It currently holds a rating of 35% at Rotten Tomatoes based on 20 reviews, with a weighted average of 5.23/10. The site's consensus is that the film "is interesting as an example of an early Hollywood musical, but otherwise, it's essentially bereft of appeal for modern audiences". [17] Assessing the film in 2009, James Berardinelli wrote, "The Broadway Melody has not stood the test of time in ways that many of its more artistic contemporaries have. Some of its deficiencies can be attributed to ways in which the genre has been re-shaped and improved over the years, but some are the result of the studio's validated belief that viewers would be willing to ignore bad acting and pedestrian directing in order to experience singing, dancing, and talking on the silver screen." [18]


Three more movies were later made by MGM with similar titles, Broadway Melody of 1936 , Broadway Melody of 1938 , and Broadway Melody of 1940 . Although not direct sequels in the traditional sense, they all had the same basic premise of a group of people putting on a show (the films also had recurring cast members playing different roles, most notably dancer Eleanor Powell who appeared in all three).

The original movie was also remade in 1940 as Two Girls on Broadway . Another Broadway Melody film was planned for 1943 (starring Gene Kelly and Eleanor Powell), but production was cancelled when Kelly was loaned to Columbia for Cover Girl (1944). [1] Broadway Rhythm , a 1944 musical by MGM, was originally to have been titled Broadway Melody of 1944.

Awards and honors

At the 2nd Academy Awards, The Broadway Melody won for Best Picture. Harry Beaumont received a nomination for Best Director (lost to Frank Lloyd for The Divine Lady ), and Bessie Love was nominated for Best Actress (lost to Mary Pickford for Coquette ). No nominations were announced prior to the 1930 ceremonies. Love and Beaumont are presumed to have been under consideration, and are listed as such by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Home media

In 2005, The Broadway Melody was released on Region 1 special edition DVD by Warner Bros. It is also included in the 18-disc release Best Picture Oscar Collection, also released by Warner Bros. [19]

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>The Hollywood Revue of 1929</i> 1929 film

The Hollywood Revue of 1929, or simply The Hollywood Revue, is an American pre-Code musical comedy film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It was the studio's second feature-length musical, and one of their earliest sound films. Produced by Harry Rapf and Irving Thalberg and directed by Charles Reisner, it features nearly all of MGM's stars in a two-hour revue that includes three segments in Technicolor. The masters of ceremonies are Conrad Nagel and Jack Benny.

The following is an overview of 1930 in film, including significant events, a list of films released and notable births and deaths.

The following is an overview of 1929 in film, including significant events, a list of films released and notable births and deaths.

Bessie Love American actress

Bessie Love was an American-British actress who achieved prominence playing innocent, young girls and wholesome leading ladies in silent and early sound films. Her acting career spanned eight decades—from silent film to sound film, including theatre, radio, and television—and her performance in The Broadway Melody (1929) earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

<i>An American in Paris</i> (film) 1951 film by Vincente Minnelli

An American in Paris is a 1951 American musical comedy film inspired by the 1928 orchestral composition An American in Paris by George Gershwin. Starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guétary, and Nina Foch, the film is set in Paris, and was directed by Vincente Minnelli from a script by Alan Jay Lerner. The music is by George Gershwin, with lyrics by his brother Ira, with additional music by Johnny Green, and Saul Chaplin, the music directors.

<i>King of Jazz</i> 1930 film

King of Jazz is a 1930 American pre-Code color film starring Paul Whiteman and his orchestra. The film title refers to Whiteman's popular cultural appellation. At the time the film was made, "jazz", to the general public, meant jazz-influenced syncopated dance music heard on phonograph records, on radio broadcasts, and in dance halls. In the 1920s Whiteman signed and featured white jazz musicians including Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer and others.

Show Boat is a 1936 romantic musical film directed by James Whale, based on the 1927 musical of the same name by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, which in turn was adapted from the 1926 novel of the same name by Edna Ferber.

<i>Gold Diggers of Broadway</i> Partially lost 1929 pre-Code American musical film

Gold Diggers of Broadway is a 1929 American Pre-Code musical comedy film directed by Roy Del Ruth and starring Winnie Lightner and Nick Lucas. Distributed by Warner Bros., the film is the second two-color Technicolor all-talking feature-length film.

<i>The Show of Shows</i> 1929 film

The Show of Shows is a 1929 American pre-Code musical revue film directed by John G. Adolfi and distributed by Warner Bros. The all talking Vitaphone production cost $850,000 and was shot almost entirely in Technicolor.

<i>Broadway Rhythm</i> 1944 film by Roy Del Ruth

Broadway Rhythm (1944) is a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Technicolor musical film. It was produced by Jack Cummings and directed by Roy Del Ruth.

<i>The Desert Song</i> (1929 film) 1929 film by Roy Del Ruth

The Desert Song is a 1929 American Pre-Code operetta film directed by Roy Del Ruth and starring John Boles, Carlotta King, Louise Fazenda, and Myrna Loy. It was photographed partly in two-color Technicolor, the first film released by Warner Bros. to include footage in color. The film included a 10-minute intermission during which music was played.

<i>Paris</i> (1929 film) 1929 film

Paris is a 1929 American Pre-Code musical comedy film, featuring Irène Bordoni. It was filmed with Technicolor sequences: four of the film's ten reels were originally photographed in Technicolor.

Duncan Sisters American entertainers; vaudeville duo

The Duncan Sisters were an American vaudeville duo who became popular in the 1920s with their act Topsy and Eva.

Chasing Rainbows is a 1930 American Pre-Code romantic musical film directed by Charles Reisner, and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

<i>Children of Pleasure</i> 1930 film by Harry Beaumont

Children of Pleasure is a 1930 American Pre-Code MGM musical comedy film directed by Harry Beaumont, originally released with Technicolor sequences. It was adapted from Crane Wilbur's 1929 play, The Song Writer.

Musical short

The musical short can be traced back to the earliest days of sound films.

<i>Lord Byron of Broadway</i> 1930 film

Lord Byron of Broadway (1930), also known as What Price Melody?, is an American Pre-Code musical drama film, directed by Harry Beaumont and William Nigh. It was based on a best selling book by Nell Martin, which "was widely praised by critics as an extremely true and amusing romance of stage life." It was filmed in black and white with two-color Technicolor sequences.

<i>The Cuckoos</i> (1930 film) 1930 film by Paul Sloane

The Cuckoos (1930) is an American Pre-Code musical comedy film, released by RKO Radio Pictures and partially filmed in two-strip Technicolor. Directed by Paul Sloane, the screenplay was adapted by Cyrus Wood, from the 1926 Broadway musical, The Ramblers, by Guy Bolton, Bert Kalmar, and Harry Ruby. It starred Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, and although they had appeared on Broadway and in other films together, this was their first time starring as a team. The success of this picture, combined with Rio Rita being their most successful film of 1929, convinced the studio to headline them as the comedy team Wheeler & Woolsey, through 1937.

Two Girls on Broadway is a 1940 musical film directed by S. Sylvan Simon and starring Lana Turner and Joan Blondell. The film is a remake of The Broadway Melody (1929).

Natural color was a term used in the beginning of film and later on in the 1920s, and early 1930s as a color film process that actually filmed color images, rather than a color tinted or colorized movie. The first natural color processes were in the 1900s and 1910s and were two color additive color processes or red and green missing primary color blue, one additive process of time was Kinemacolor. By the 1920s, subtractive color was mostly in use with such processes as Technicolor, Prizma and Multicolor, but Multicolor was mostly never in use in the late 1920s, Technicolor was mostly in use. The only one who cared to mess with Multicolor was William Fox, probably because Multicolor was more cheaper of a process and at the time in 1929 William Fox was in debt. The difference between additive color and subtractive color were that an additive color film required a special projector that could project two components of film at the same time, a green record and a red record. But additive color didn't required a special projector, the two pieces of film were chemically formed together and was projected in one strip of film.


  1. 1 2 Hess, Earl J.; Dabholkar, Pratibha A. (2009). Singin' in the Rain: The Making of an American Masterpiece. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. pp.  6–7. ISBN   978-0-7006-1656-5.
  2. 1 2 The Broadway Melody at the American Film Institute Catalog
  3. 1 2 3 The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles, California: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  4. Richard W. Haines, list of first two-strip Technicolor (starting in 1928), in Technicolor Movies: The History of Dye Transfer Printing" (Jefferson NC: McFarland, 2010), 15. ISBN   0786480750, 9780786480753
  5. Green, Stanley (1999) Hollywood Musicals Year by Year (2nd ed.), pub. Hal Leonard Corporation ISBN   0-634-00765-3
  6. Bloom, Ken. Hollywood Song: The Complete Film Musical Companion, Vol. 1, 1995. Published by Facts On File, Inc. ISBN   0-8160-2668-8
  7. "Music, The Broadway Melody (1929)", accessed March 4, 2011
  8. 1 2 Love, Bessie (June 27, 1969). "A Broadway Melody Remembered". The Christian Science Monitor . p. 8.
  9. Crafton, Donald (1990). "Three Seasons: The Films of 1928–1931". The Talkies: American Cinema's Transition to Sound, 1926–1931. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 294. ISBN   978-0-684-19585-8.
  10. Wierzbicki, James (2008). Film Music: A History. Routledge. p. 116. ISBN   978-0-203-88447-8.
  11. Silverman, Sid (February 13, 1929). "Broadway Melody". Variety . New York: Variety, Inc. p. 13. Retrieved December 10, 2014.
  12. "Broadway Melody". Film Daily . New York. February 17, 1929. p. 10.
  13. Schallert, Edwin (February 9, 1929). "First Report on 'Broadway Melody'". Motion Picture News . p. 433.
  14. Hall, Mordaunt (February 9, 1929). "Review: "The Broadway Melody"". The New York Times .
  15. Mosher, John (February 16, 1929). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker . p. 83.
  16. Levy, Emanuel (2003). All about Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards. Continuum. p. 200. ISBN   978-0-8264-1452-6.
  17. "The Broadway Melody". Rotten Tomatoes . Fandango Media . Retrieved July 13, 2019.
  18. Berardinelli, James (November 1, 2009). "The Broadway Melody". Reelviews. James Berardinelli. Retrieved December 10, 2014.
  19. Fischer, Lucy, ed. (2009). American Cinema of the 1920s: Themes and Variations. Rutgers University Press. p. 260. ISBN   978-0-8135-4485-4.