Monday, January 4, 2010

Movie Reviews: Broadway Melody (of 1929) and Roaring Twenties

Well these movies couldn't be more different. Except maybe that they are about the same general time era - oh! and there is singing in both.

First, "The Broadway Melody" The original. 1929. This baby is considered by film enthusiasts to be the first musical. Well it is, and it isn't. Let's just say that it was one of the first. The interesting thing about this film is that it #1: was also released as a silent, and #2: had a two-toned Technicolor version of "The Wedding of the Painted Doll" Sadly, both different versions are lost to time. This movie is also history because it is the first sound picture to win an in Best Picture.
The film is a delight. You can see how new sound was because they still printed all most of the locations on the screen - why I don't know, because you would think they would believe we would be able to figure it out on our own. Also, the dialouge is a bit ... well, it's not exactly up to par with reality. Still, like I said, it is delightful. The opening sequence is wonderful, and it invites you in warmly, and within 2 minutes gives you the title song with wonderful enthusiasm. Then they proceed to beat you over the head with that same tune for the first half of the film. That's okay, it's rather catchy, so we'll forgive them that.
Basic plot: a sister team (played by Anita Page and Bessie Love) has arrived in New York to make good on the stage. The older sister is romantically connected to a singer/somgwriter (played by Charles King) who is going to get them into a show with his new number. With a couple little hitches, they get in, and thus begins all of their triumphs and troubles. Again, I won't spoil it.
The acting ranges from pretty good, to somewhat corny, back to pretty good again. No one blew me away with their work, but I was never bored with a character. Strangely enough Page was both sides of the spectrum in one. Some of the scenes are just downright bombastic acting on her part, but there is another side. In a scene where King is singing to her, her reactions are ... well, dead on. Not subtle acting, but true to the moment and to the emotion. She makes it obvious what she is feeling (to us). At one point he touches her on the arm, and you see her muscles first tighten, and then melt. He touches her hair and her eyes flutter and her breath catches. I'm a romantic sucker, so I loved it! I will say this. No one I work with in the theatre had better ever give the types of performances that the people in this movie did. The dancing was off, the attention span was ridiculous, and some of the performances were just half-ass. Except for "The Wedding of the Painted Doll" number. And I'm pretty sure that was because there were so many acrobatics going on that it was all out- or someone would get hurt. It was pretty neat to watch.
I will also say this for the picture: a lot of people have a big problem with the story plots of the early musicals, meaning that they have none. Just a loose story tangled around some songs. I have yet to find this to be true. Granted all the shows in these films are products of the types of shows that were produced in those days. They were "revues" not shows as we think of them today. Maybe that is what they mean. But this film had a story and a plot, and yes, the musical numbers could be taken out, but why would you want that? Can you think of a better way of expressing your love than a song? Not to mention that I thought the story was rather good. It was intricate and full of ... well "torn" is the only word I can think of. And misunderstanding and noble intentions and secrets. For a very early musical, it was full of intrigue.
Highly recommended - especially if you want to see a bit of cinematic history.
Next: "Roaring Twenties" starring James Cagney, Priscilla Lane, Humphrey Bogart, Jeffrey Lynn, and Gladys George. This was an interesting one. Through a series of montages and voiceovers, we travel back from the present to look at the period between 1918 and the mid- 30's, focusing mostly on the 20s and the rise and fall of prohibition and the people living then. Mostly focusing on the story of a man named Eddie Bartlett (Cagney).
Cagney, Bogart, and Lynn are established as very different WW1 buddies. After the war, they each split their own ways. Due to economic hard times, Cagney gets mixed up in a bootlegging scandal and is arrested. The woman (George) he was making the "delivery" to gets off, while he gets $100 or 60 days. George bails him out, and they start working together. Slowly, Cagney takes off and begins to be a big shot. The rest I leave for you to find out.
Cagney is great, Lane is good - never really knew she could sing, Lynn is just there, and George as the second hand girl is wonderful. What can I say? I'm a sucker for those roles. Bogart. Well. He is good in parts - through most of it. He plays a somewhat dispicable guy, so you never really like him completely. There is only one problem. At one point he is supposed to be scared. And I just can't believe him. I think this is both his and the writer's fault. Because of how he is presented throughout the film, it is not believable that he would be scared. They make him look like a coward, and I just can't believe it. On the other hand, it is up to Bogart to make us believe it. And I just Can't! Other than that, he is delightful as the bad guy. I've never seen him in that type of role before, and I kinda like it. I've also never seen Cagney in anything but 'Yankee Doodle Dandy', so this is quite the interesting discovery. I know Cagney was knows for these films, so this is supposed to be his element, while 'Yankee' is how versitle he can be. I'm sold.
Also highly recommended.

Okay, so you might be thinking about now that I am no critic. And you would be right. I am no critic. I am easy to please and very forgiving. But if there is something wrong, I will tell it. If it bothers me enough to remember it through the movie to write about later, then it is significant. If I haven't remembered, its likely only mediocre. To me, anyways. Plus, I'm cheating because I am watching movies that I want to see, that I have picked out for myself. And by now, I have a general idea what I am going to like and what I am not. When I get to the ones I have to watch or just happen to see with others, then I might actually not recommend a few.
On the docket: Teej vs. "Lust for Life", "The Deer Hunter", "A Place in the Sun", "Gunga Din", and "Big Street"

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