Kehr Capsule of the Week: The Broadway Melody (1929)

Note: This is actually J.R. Jones (oops)

The Oscar winner for 1929, this MGM feature was the first movie musical. The staging is wooden, the story insipid, and the dialogue sequences mostly painful, but the film’s integration of song, dance, and story (“100% All Talking! 100% All Singing! 100% All Dancing!”) was a clear narrative advance over the music pictures being released by Warner Brothers and Fox, and the score is great. Especially electric are the anthemic title song (“A million lights they flicker there / A million hearts beat quicker there”), a scene in which various song pluggers compete for attention in a music-publishing office, and a nightclub sequence in which the guitar-and-ukulele-strumming Biltmore Trio sing the rollicking western rag “Truthful Parson Brown.” While reshooting a big production number, sound engineer Douglas Shearer hit on the idea of having the performers lip-synch to the recording they’d already made so the noisy cameras could be moved more freely, a technique that would become the industry norm. Despite its considerable drawbacks, this still strikes a revolutionary spark: MGM had invented a form it would drive to extraordinary heights in the coming decades. Harry Beaumont directed. 100 min.

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