In less than a year, the Academy Awards went from honoring two silent films in Wings and Sunrise to honoring it’s first musical in The Broadway Melody as the best film of the year. The success of the film resulted in several more Broadway Melodies, making it one of Hollywood’s first franchises. In watching this film, it’s clear that director Harry Beaumont and the entire production crew were set on using the new technology of synchronous sound in all of it’s shapes, forms, and pitches. If you want to show an audience what sounds they can expect from their ‘new’ movies, a musical is certainly one way to go.
The transition to sound film may have created new jobs like diction coaches and screenwriters, but it also saw the end to many a career. Bessie Love, however, was a silent film actress who was able to make the transition to sound film, working until she was in her 80s. Her Academy Award-nominated performance as Hank Mahoney is full of energy and empathy. You can literally see how her silent film background allows her to use her face in ways that pack a wallop. She stands out amongst the cast as the best and most-fully rounded performer of The Broadway Melody.
For Singin’ in the Rain fans, The Broadway Melody shows us the earliest recordings of several songs later revived for the 1952 musical. Other than that, The Broadway Melody suffers from its flaws. But much like other Oscars that are handed out for reasons other than being the very best of the year, this particular award seemed to be a deliberate nod to future filmmakers that sound was cinema’s future and staying in the silent era was at oone’s own peril.
he Broadway Melody. (1929) 100 minutes. Directed by Harry Beaumont. Starring Bessie Love, Anita Page, Charles King, Jed Prouty.