The Broadway Melody

Alternate Title: Bittersweet Symphony
1928 Winner

One of the first musicals to hit the screen, this movie encapsulates the spirit of modern musicals as well.

Hank (Bessie Love) and Queenie (Anita Page) are the Mahoney sisters trying to make it big on Broadway. They move to New York to get their break. Hank is dating Eddie (Charles King), who falls in love with Queenie just as soon as he puts his eyes on her.
This is when things get 1920s-level creepy. Some of the compliments Eddie pays Queenie include calling her a “cute kid,” and saying she’s a “sweet, little girl.” Not to mention, the guy is going out with her sister. It’s totally pathetic.

Once they audition, the Mahoney sisters as a unit are paid no mind, but everyone is taken with Queenie’s natural good looks. This irks Hank since she’s obviously the more ambitious – and the more business savvy – of the two. Hank is a spitfire, making sure that there’s room for her on the stage with her sister, but Queenie soon gets swept up by a man named Jacques Warriner (Kenneth Thomson). He seems more interested in purchasing Queenie’s affection than considering whether she actually fucking likes him at all. That’s maybe one thing about show business that hasn’t changed a whole lot in nearly 100 years…

Queenie is smitten with all the attention she’s probably never had, but faces a crisis of character when she discovers that she might care about Eddie as much as he does about her.

Though the movie is old and thus plagued with shrill acoustics and blurry images at times, it’s easy to see where almost every musical since has borrowed a few ideas. It’s character-driven, but interspersed with some catchy songs. Hank Mahoney is an especially dynamic character because although she’s fierce, she is a purely unselfish individual. She’s a rare commodity on screen and just as rare in real life.
The Broadway Melody is still pitch perfect today.

Now it’s Your Turn…
The Broadway Melody won Best Picture in 1928, but did the Academy get it right?

Wings

Alternate Title: All’s Fair in Love and War
1927 Winner

Wings marks the very first winner of the Oscar for Best Picture.

Just to clear the air, yes, this movie is quite old. In fact, it’s nearly 100 years old. It’s also a bit on the long side at a run time of close to two and a half hours.

Jack Powell (Charles Rogers) has a neighbor named Mary (Clara Bow) and she is totally smitten with him. Unfortunately, Jack is too focused on sprucing up his new car called The Shooting Star to give her much thought. Meanwhile, he daydreams about being a fighter pilot in the army at the height of World War I. It also turns out that Jack is sweet on another local girl, Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston). Like all great love stories though, almost none of the love here is reciprocated. Sylvia’s affection is for David (Richard Arlen), the wealthiest guy in the town. David also ends up joining the army a fighter pilot.

Before leaving for the front lines, both Mary and Sylvia give pictures of themselves (fully clothed) to Jack. Mary’s intentions are clear, but Sylvia only gives a locket with her photo in it to Jack when he mistakes it as a gift for him – but it was actually meant for David all along.

During training, Jack and David become unlikely friends. Mary decides to join the war effort as a driver and eventually, the three reconnect under some bubbly circumstances.

The movie is entirely silent – restored with a music score. Title cards give the impression that the movie is both a school play and a storybook, which is surreal and refreshing since no movies out now are like this one and some of them feature way too much jibber-jabber. Clara Bow plays the lead female, but her career was short-lived because the advent of sound in film exposed her heavy New York accent. Actresses back then had to even fucking sound pretty to keep their jobs.

History class aside, this movie is pretty good. There’s vaudeville-style theater acting, which is delightfully over-the-top. There’s a love story wrapped up in a war film; and there’s exciting air battles. There’s even a lingering shot of a Hershey bar, which could constitute one of the earliest examples of product placement in a movie. Plus, for other film buffs, Gary Cooper makes a brief appearance.

Given the special effects in the 20’s were giant steps behind their capabilities today, the sky fighting still manages to be exciting. Although, I personally have a hard time watching a movie about fighter pilots without listening to “Danger Zone.” I’m not sure audiences in the 20’s would agree with me on that one…

Now it’s Your Turn…
Wings won Best Picture in 1927, but did the Academy get it right?