Reporter Bert Keeler (Jack Benny) needs to dig up some juicy stories for his column, so he snoops (with his partner Snoops) around the Broadway producer Robert Gordon (Robert Taylor) and finds that he is in need of a leading lady. Gordon’s old friend from school, Irene (Eleanor Powell), has ventured to New York hoping to be in Gordon’s new show. She has always had eyes for Gordon, but he does not seem to notice, mostly because he is trying to protect her from the hard life that can come with Broadway. When Bert makes up a French actress, Arlette, he sends Gordon on a wild goose chase, until Irene decides to impersonate the illusive Arlette.
Now, it can be hard to keep track of that, since every time we get a new piece of the plot, a song and dance number interrupts. Here is the basic formula: bit of plot followed by a long song and dance number, forget about plot and suddenly be tossed back into it. More than once I found myself having to backtrack in my mind to what just happened before we were so charmingly interrupted. This might bother some people, but could be a treat for others. Try not to be bothered by it like I was.
Like many Depression era films, the focus on lighthearted song and dance is in the people’s interest. While people deprived themselves of many other things, theater tickets still sold, because it provided an escape. A doom and gloom film is not the escape these people needed. If people could forget their problems for a while and lose themselves in some tap dancing and enjoy a few songs, then this film succeeded.
My favorite thing about Broadway Melody of 1936 is the little gags that come up throughout the film. Every time Gordon walks through the newspaper office, papers fly up as he passes. In one of the first dance numbers, Gordon makes flowers bloom and pianos pop out of the floor with a wave of his hand. What a wonderfully inventive set design to have a romantic table set with dinner to pop out while Benny dances. The snoring man is funny enough for the first few seconds, but in the right mood, it could be a real good laugh. It does help land my favorite joke: “I snore. Oh, you’re part of the audience?”
Know what a movie is meant for; you would not see No Country for Old Men to feel warm and fuzzy. Make sure you see Broadway Melody of 1936 for a light song and dance get away.