Harriet “Hank” (Bessie Love) and Queenie (Anita Page) are a small act that’s moved east trying to make it big on Broadway. Hank is the brains of the operation and Queenie has grown into the beauty that will get them noticed. Queenie shows her nerves more, they were big out west, how will they do in New York? Thankfully, Hank’s boyfriend, Eddie (Charles King), has a number he’s saving for the girls in an upcoming show. But on Broadway, nothing is set in stone. Men of all sorts start hitting on Queenie and her good looks. The girls’ parts are threatened and love switches sides in this comedy about the highs and lows of stage life.
Broadway is a cut-throat world where people will step over each other to get ahead. Thankfully, this constant rivalry can be more funny than mean. When Hank and Queenie first show their routine to the director, a jealous chorus girl puts a brick in the piano and no one can figure out why their song is so off key. A great cat fight ensues afterwards. While Eddie is rehearsing his number, he accuses the orchestra of trying to drown him out. The director asks the conductor, “Are you?” He responds with perfect timing, “We’re doing the best we can.” And then there’s the egotistical soloist in a Trojan costume constantly yelling at the spotlight man up in the catwalk that he wants the light “Right here!” When he finally gets fed up and throws the spotlight down to him, the Trojan man can only say, “Thank you.”
I’ve often complained about lack-luster stage performances cutting in on the plot of the film, but in The Broadway Melody they’re intelligently put in and are a nice break from dialogue. I especially enjoyed the Wedding of the Painted Doll. There is always the problem that a modern audiences may be a little bored and put off by the old fashioned musical numbers, but the off the cuff comedy in between numbers quickly brings us back.
The way the dynamics change between Hank, Queenie and Eddie in the film may leave the audience questioning quite a few things. Queenie has her party girl stage and gets by because of her good looks while hard working Hank willingly gives up and starts over again. Somehow, everyone seems alright with the way things turn out and the cycle just starts over. I’m not too convinced, but what do I know about the ups and downs of Broadway? I’m just a 21st century bystander looking in.
“Baby, they were plenty smart when they made you beautiful.”