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BROADWAY (Universal, 1929), directed by Paul Fejos, is a Carl Laemmle Jr. Super Production, and it shows. Taken from the hit play by George Abbott and Philip Dunning, BROADWAY came at the time when movies were equipped with new sound technology, putting the silent films to rest. Of the many early talkies from 1929, BROADWAY proved to be one of the finer productions produced due to the Hungarian director's futuristic visuals and offbeat camera angles that make this musical/drama appear more modern than some of the other talkies primitive styles. With a handful of "Broadway" titles used for its early musicals, there are those that were backstage themes. BROADWAY is categorized as a "night club" story with production numbers and murder story combined. Headed by unfamiliar marque names to contemporary viewers, Glenn Tryon, playing the hoofer/singer, gets feature billing supported by actresses known for their silent screen performances as Evelyn Brent, on loan from Paramount, and Merna Kennedy, best known as Charlie Chaplin's co-star in his silent comedy classic, THE CIRCUS (United Artists, 1928).
BROADWAY gets its stunning visual opening with a studio set air view of New York City's Broadway district of glittering lights before a huge, half-naked man walks through the streets superimposed under the title cards, pouring a drink into his glass and sprinkling it over Broadway. Next scene resumes its camera tracking through the Broadway district of theaters, movie houses and hotels before settling into the Paradise Night Club managed by Nick Verdis (Paul Porcasi). Roy Lane (Glenn Tryon) and Billie Moore (Merna Kennedy) are introduced as a dance team for the club. Steve Crandall (Robert Ellis), a bootlegger, assisted by Dolph (Arthur Housman), have a run-on in the cabaret office with gangster, James "Scar" Edwards (Leslie Fenton) who has been robbed of a truckload of liquor by Steve's gang, leading Crandall to shoot and kill Scar in the back. Scar and Dolph carry Scar, passing as an unconscious drunk, outside the club as witnessed by Roy and Billie, onto the back of a parked truck where they cover the body with a blanket. Unknown to Crandall, Scar happens to be married to Pearl (Evelyn Brent), one of the chorus girls in the show. When she learns of his death, she vows vengeance on his murder. During the course of the story, Dan McCorn (Thomas Jackson), having discovered the body a few blocks away, and having his suspicions, enters the scene with investigations. Others in the cast are: Otis Harlan (Andrew "Porky" Thompson); George Davis (Joe, the Waiter); Marion Lord (Lil Rice); and Gus Arnheim and his Orchestra. Though some sources list character actor, Fritz Feld, to appear as Mose Levitt, his name is not in either of the cast or visible in the final print. Thomas Jackson stands out as the detective with his overly familiar slow-speaking tone sleuth.
The songs by Con Conrad, Archie Gottler and Sidney Mitchell include: "Hitting the Ceiling" (sung by Glenn Tryon), "Hot Footin' It," (featuring Glenn Tryon dressed as a child); "Which Came First? The Chicken or the Egg" (performed by Tryon dressed as a school teacher); Tap Dance Number; "Sing a Little Love Song" (sung by Tryon and Merna Kennedy); "Broadway" and "Hitting the Ceiling" (reprise/Technicolor finale). The production numbers are as impressive as the film's visual opening, especially with its Art-Decco sets. They are not as stunning as some of the latter musicals of the 1940s, 1950s and beyond, but often start with Glenn Tryon walking down a long and wide pathway introducing his songs as the camera captures him many feet above the stage and looking down at him. The first song opening occurs 20 minutes into the start of the film. With the songs interlude not performed in its entirely, often interrupted by cutaways and dialogue by other actors, it is evident that the plot element comes as its main factor.
Glenn Tryon, who physical appearance makes one think of either a teenage Frankie Darro or cowboy actor, Guinn Williams, gives a good account of his portrayed character. Virtually forgotten, and having performed on stage and the silent screen in the twenties appearing in both short and feature films, BROADWAY should have paved the way for greater success, but didn't. Eventually Tryon became director before returning to acting in the 1940s, mostly in minor roles before disappearing from view. BROADWAY was later adapted for the screen again by Universal in 1942 starring George Raft, Pat O'Brien and Janet Blair, with new songs and updated story, but without those visuals and art-decco sets that have made the 1929 original so memorable.
Fortunately a film survivor, this 105 minute production was placed on DVD. To date, BROADWAY has never been shown on cable television, which is a shame because the film as a whole remains as impressive today as it must have been in 1929. (***)
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