“Those men aren’t going to pay ten bucks to look at your face; this is Broadway!”
A songwriter (Charlie King) helps his girlfriend (Bessie Love) and her sister (Anita Page) break into show business on Broadway — but King’s sudden declaration of love for Page (which they keep secret from Love) prompts Page into a dangerous dalliance with a sleazy socialite (Kenneth Thomson).
This creaky backstage melodrama will forever hold a special place in cinematic history given its status as the first all-talking musical, the first sound film to win a Best Picture Oscar, the first film featuring a sequence (“Wedding of the Painted Doll”) shot to pre-recorded music, and the source of several familiar musical numbers (“You Were Meant for Me”, “You Are My Lucky Star”) given new life in Singin’ in the Rain (1952). Unfortunately, the storyline itself — a tired tale of (somewhat) talentless Broadway hopefuls navigating the lecherous waters of show business — leaves much to be desired; we’ve seen this basic narrative play out far too many times since then. At least the central romantic conflict — in which Page and King suddenly, mutually, and for no apparent reason realize they’re in love/lust with one another, but fear hurting the person they both care deeply about — is provided with some added emotional weight given Love’s spunky performance; and the “big reveal” scene, in which Love learns the truth about her sister and fiance, is appropriately lauded. But the rest of the film shows clear evidence of its age, with relatively static camera work (though to be fair, it’s better than many other “filmed plays” of the era) and several awkwardly handled dramatic moments.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Bessie Love as Hank (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
Yes, once, but simply for historical reasons. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.