Thursday, July 29, 2010

Broadway Melody Films (1929-1940)

The highly entertaining Broadway Melody films which starred the super talented Eleanor Powell in three of the four films are some of the best musicals that premiered during the 30's. I love all of them and decided to do a post about them.

First up is The Broadway Melody (also known as The Broadway Melody of 1929) is a 1929 American 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. Today the Technicolor sequence is presumed lost and only a black and white copy survives in the complete film. The film was the first musical released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and was Hollywood's first all-talking musical.

The film 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" was also given its talkie debut in the film. Bessie Love was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.

The plot involves the romances of musical comedy stars, set against the backstage hubbub of a Broadway revue. Anita Page and Bessie Love play a vaudeville sister act who have come to New York for their big break on Broadway. Charles King plays the song-and-dance man whose affection for one sister (Harriet alias Hank) is supplanted by his growing love for the younger, more beautiful sister (Queenie). Queenie tries to protect her sister and derail the love triangle by dating a wealthy but unscrupulous "stage door Johnny."

The second film is Broadway Melody of 1936 released by MGM in 1935. It was a follow up of sorts to the successful The Broadway Melody, which had been released in 1929, although, beyond the title and some music, there is no story connection with the earlier film.

The film was written by Harry W. Conn, Moss Hart, Jack McGowan and Sid Silvers. It was directed by Roy Del Ruth and starred Jack Benny, Eleanor Powell, and Robert Taylor. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture

Irene Foster (Eleanor Powell) tries to convince her high school sweetheart Broadway producer Robert Gordon (Robert Taylor) to give her chance to star in his new musical, but he is too busy with the rich widow (June Knight) backing his show. Irene tries to show Gordon that she has the talent to succeed, but he will not hire her. Things become complicated when she begins impersonating a French dancer, not realizing that the dancer is the invention of a gossip columnist (Jack Benny).

Next is Broadway Melody of 1938 is a 1937 musical film, produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and directed by Roy Del Ruth. The film is essentially a backstage musical revue, featuring high-budget sets and cinematography in the MGM musical tradition. The film stars Eleanor Powell and Robert Taylor and features Buddy Ebsen, George Murphy, Judy Garland, Sophie Tucker, Raymond Walburn, Robert Benchley and Binnie Barnes.

Young horse trainer Sally (Eleanor Powell) befriends Sonny (George Murphy) and Peter (Buddy Ebsen), who have been hired to look after a horse her family once owned. Concerned for the horse's well-being, she sneaks aboard a train taking the horse and its caretakers to New York City. En route she meets talent agent Steve Raleigh (Robert Taylor) who, impressed with her dancing and singing, sets her on the road to stardom and romance blossoms between the two. A subplot involves a boarding house for performers run by Sophie Tucker, who is trying to find a big break for young Judy Garland.

The film is most notable for young Garland's performance of "You Made Me Love You (I Didn't Want to Do It)", a tribute to Clark Gable which turned the teenage singer, who had been toiling in obscurity for a couple of years, into an overnight sensation, leading eventually to her being cast in The Wizard of Oz as Dorothy.

And finally Broadway Melody of 1940 is a 1940 MGM movie musical starring Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell and George Murphy. It was directed by Norman Taurog and features music by Cole Porter, including "Begin the Beguine".

The film was the fourth and final entry in MGM's "Broadway Melody" series of films, and is notable for being the only on-screen pairing of Astaire and Powell, who were considered the finest movie musical dancers of their time.

Johnny Brett (Fred Astaire) and King Shaw (George Murphy) are a dance team so down on their luck they're working in a dance hall, while Clare Bennett (Eleanor Powell) is a big Broadway star. Due to a case of mistaken identity, Shaw gets offered the chance to be Clare's dancing partner in a new Broadway show, when it was really Johnny's dancing that befuddled producer Bob Casey (Frank Morgan) saw and wanted. The partnership breaks up, but Johnny sticks around to help out Shaw, who lets his newfound success go to his head. Clare eventually realizes that Johnny is the real deal, not Shaw, and she falls in love with him. When Shaw gets drunk on opening night, Johnny steps in and saves the show with a brilliant performance.


  1. Wonderful review Monty!! Eleanor Powell lights up the screen with her beauty and her talents. In my opinion, there is just no comparison to the performers of today.

  2. It may be amusing to note that the 1st 3 Melodies all repeated the same theme song, Broadway Rhythm. BM1940 largely did away with that. I think there is some of the theme song in the credits, but that's it. The music is all Cole Porter. Also, the Melodies are the movies (particularly the 1st one) that are lovingly parodied in "Singin' in the Rain". Almost all the music was written by Nancio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. Although, "Singin'" also has songs from some of their other musicals, most are from the Melodies.

  3. Welcome Jon, That is very interesting. Thank you for sharing that info with us.