Broadway Melody of 1936

So I decided to review another fun little old movie.  Strangely I watched two films back to back and decided to review the one that I liked the least.  A word to the wise, I am going to spoil the hell out of these movies but the music and comedy are the best parts so nothing is really spoiled.  So, without further ado:

Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935)

Like most films of the time period (and sometimes the current period) it seems like this film was built as a vehicle.  The star power here comes from comedian Jack Benny who, in all fairness, is a comedy legend and therefore is first billed even though he’s barely a lead character.

Jack Benny plays Bert Keeler an entertainment gossip columnist and radio host (I think, the scene introducing him has him delivering a report on the radio but his boss is the editor of a New York City newspaper so whatever).  His boss tells him that he has to start reporting on the dirt rather than just announcing positive and verified information.  Sounds familiar.  He proceeds to gun for Bob Gordon who is our default male lead played by Robert Taylor.  For this task, he enlists Snoop played by Sid Silvers as his dim-witted but good-hearted assistant.

Bob is a young, hot shot Broadway producer/director/whatever who is is finally getting a shot at doing his dream musical which is called Broadway Rythym instead of the obvious Broadway Melody.  He lands the money he needs by getting charmed by a young, rich and kind of suspiciously pushy widow named Lillian Brent, played by June Knight.  She agrees to foot the bill and will show up to muck things up later.

Irene Foster comes into town, played by Hollywood newcomer Eleanor Powell.  She knows Bob from their hometown of Albany where they grew up together and talked of making it big on Broadway.  The only problem is, Bob does not remember her until well after she leaves his office.  She commiserates with Bob’s secretary Kitty Corbett played by Una Merkel.

Irene goes back to the apartment she has rented and is befriended Ted and Sally played by Buddy Ebsen and Vilma Ebsen who, at this point, are former vaudeville performers both in real life and in the movie.

So I won’t go through the rest of the plot but that bit sets up the principal characters.  Jack Benny is great as usual but seems underused.  If you’re going to pay for Jack Benny, then you better give him a lot of stuff to do.  Buddy Ebsen is fun as usual but doesn’t have a huge part since this is his first film and his sister kind of fades into the background after their big double act in Act 1.

Lillian is the designated villain of the piece as she is the main obstacle but lacks charisma and, unless I blacked out, disappears for most of the movie and only comes back in the second act to complicate things.

Robert Taylor is a horrible male lead in this.  I root for him when he’s trying to get his dream on stage but spends a lot of time as an obstacle against the girl who’s supposed to be his love interest.  It would have been interesting if he morphed into the villain but he stays the male romantic lead without being romantic.  This could have been handled a lot better.  Eleanor Powell is great as the plucky girl trying to make it big on Broadway but she can be a little wishy-washy. She’s a fine way to move a long a plot but a similar dynamic was done way better later in Singing in the Rain.

Una Merkel is one of the definite high points of this movie with her dry sense of humor and winning smirk.  Sid Silvers is great too and when the two of them get together, the movie really starts cooking.

Still, since it is a 1930’s musical, none of the above really matters.  All that matters is that the music, dancing and comedy are on point. They are.  The music is toe tapping and I definitely felt the laughs.  Still, as good as this movie was, it was done way better 17 years later in Singing in the Rain.  Singing in the Rain even lifts three songs from this movie.  So this movie was good and worth watching but was even more worthwhile as a stepping stone to later, better films.

PS.  Half of this film’s cast was transplanted into the 1936 Cole Porter musical Born to Dance which starred Jame Stewart.  It’s a lot simpler but is executed way better.  Check it out instead.


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