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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Broadway Melody (1929)



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In its day, The Broadway Melody was the kind of spectacle we now call the special effects film. The special effects were its soundtrack. Synchronized sound had been creeping into feature films since 1927 and would complete their takeover by 1930. It's clear the novelty hadn't yet worn off: the opening scene shows an orchestra tuning their instruments and rehearsing. The camera explores the room, picking up all these different sounds just to glory in them.

But there is artistry in the spectacle. Consider a scene where a woman looks tearfully out a window at a man driving off in a car. The sound effects -- of the car door opening and closing, the motor starting, and the car driving off -- take care of the mechanics of the narrative, thus freeing up the camera to remain fixed on the emotions in her face, where the heart of the scene is.

Despite lovely touches like this, the film is more good than great. The characters feel a little too much like they're playing predefined roles instead of living as genuine individuals. And while it may have had a strong impact at the time, the story of innocent girls lured astray by sinful city lifestyles has lost its power to shock. Nevertheless, I cared about these characters and rooted for them to pull through their various trials. In addition, there are some fine musical moments interspersed throughout.

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