Each week this column will highlight one winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, progressing chronologically until all winners have been discussed. There will be a brief discussion of the film itself followed by a mention of what we wish won from the nominees in the given year (though in many cases, including this one with Disraeli and Man with a Movie Camera, there were films that were superior in terms of quality and/or impact that were not nominated). This week’s entry is The Broadway Melody (1929).
The first film with sound to win Best Picture, The Broadway Melody issued an era of change in Hollywood as the first complete musical to be put to film, kickstarting a slew of imitations and other musicals, a genre which would go on to find great success at the Academy Awards in later years. It was also one of the first films to use a Technicolor sequence (which has since been lost so you’ll only get the black and white if you watch it today), a practice which would become common in other musicals of the period and later all types of films. Unfortunately, despite all of its impact, unlike Wings (the previous winner), The Broadway Melody does not function so well anymore and perhaps only ever did because it presented something different. Melodrama is not inherently bad but it certainly isn’t an added benefit here. In fact, most everything seems to be overdone as if the expectation was that it would all be ignored because of the new technologies and concepts on display. Even the musical numbers themselves are somewhat lacking and seem lifeless and uninspired compared to some that would be made even within the next few years. A couple shots of 1920s New York City were interesting to see and occasionally the songs were entertaining but, other than being interesting for being the first to use some techniques, it isn’t a rewarding watch.
The Real Best Picture:
I’m still giving it to The Broadway Melody. It did have a bigger impact than the other nominees. This was perhaps the weakest year in Oscar history.