Oscar: Best Picture–Broadway Melody (1929)

The first Oscar-winning musical, The Broadway Melody, was MGM’s first musical and also the first talking film to be honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).

The Broadway Melody was written by Norman Houston and James Gleason from a story by Edmund Goulding (better known as director of melodramas, such as Grand Hotel).

Read our review of The Hollywood Revue of 1929, which was also nominated for Best Picture that year.

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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.

Advertised as “All Talking, All Singing, All Dancing,” it also featured the technological innovation of color. One number, “The Wedding of the Painted Doll,” was presented in two colors. A backstage musical, it is the tale of two sisters (Bessie Love and Anita Page), who seek fame in the New York theatre, and in the process fall in love with the same song-and-dance man.

By any standards, the story and characters are cliche-ridden, but in l929, the novelty of sound, color, and form proved winning. And the nominated performance of Bessie Love, as the older, wiser sister who sacrifices herself for her sister’s career, was truly excellent.

A big-budgeted film, close to half a million dollars, “The Broadway Melody” opened to rave reviews, soon becoming one of the seasons top money-makers, with over $3 million in domestic rentals.

The Broadway Melody” was such a box-office hit, that MGM made three more “Broadway Melody” films, of which “The Broadway Melody of l936,” released in l935, is considered to be the best and one of the few sequels to be nominated for Best Picture.

The supporting cast, particularly Jack Benny, as the columnist, and June Knight, as a no-talent who wants to become an actress, was more impressive than the leads, played by Robert Taylor and Eleanor Powell. The movie won one Oscar: dance direction for David Gould’s sequence, “I’ve Got a Feeling You’re Foolin’.”

Unlike many of her peers, Bessie Love, a silent screen actress since 1916, made an easy transition to sound. The musical boasted wonderful score from the team of Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed score. Some of the songs would become standard, such as You Were Meant for Me, and the title tune. There was one sequence in Technicolor, a lavish, Ziegfeld-like production number, titled “Wedding of the Painted Doll.

MGM’s then young production chief, Irving Thalberg, saw this number and thought it was too static, so director Harry Beaumont had to shoot it all over again. Douglas Shearer (actress Norma’s brother), who was in charge of sound at MGM, suggested to reuse the original recording, thus beginning the technique of pre-recording music for musical numbers.

MGM promoted film when it opened in February 1929, by decorating the exteriors of theaters with signs “100 Percent All Talking! 100 Percent All Singing! 100 Percent All Dancing! The picture made a huge amount of money, $4 million (equivalent of over $100 million today) .