The Swedish poster for Broadway (1929)
Opening May 27, 1929, Universal's Broadway was one of the very first all talking musicals. It was produced mainly during the last months of 1928 and then put on hold until Show Boat was well into release. It was adapted from a two year run, successful Broadway play by the same name, written by George Abbott, Phillip Dunning and Jed Harris. The film stars Glenn Tryon, Evelyn Brent, Paul Porcasi, Robert Ellis, Merna Kennedy and Thomas E. Jackson repeating his stage role as the detective.
Universal and Carl Laemmle paid $225,000 for the film rights, and when it was decided to revise the planned silent picture into a talkie Universal had to pay an extra fee of $25,000 for dialogue rights. This initial cost was one reason it became one of the most expensive films Universal had ever made, ending up at close to $1000,000. The contracts permitted Universal to make both a silent version and a talkie version. This was quite common practice during the first half of 1929 as many talkies were made in both formats. The studios normally took this decision as a security if the talkie fad was to cling off. Well, It' didn't.
The three major 1929 movies from Universal.
Publicity from Photoplay October '29.
Broadway tells the story of underworld criminals dwelling at the Paradise Club. In between musical numbers there are crimes and intrigues involving showgirls and special investigators. Passion, strange business and love affairs are all part of the mix. There are two parallel plots - one involving a hoofer (Glenn Tryon) and his romance with one of the chorus girls (Merna Kennedy), and the other a crime story involving management and bootlegging that relies on feelings of guilt and paranoia to bring the guilty party to heel. Honorable mention goes to Evelyn Brent who is brilliant as the moll.
The director appointed to the project was a Hungarian born bacteriologist, Pàl Fejös, who prior to Broadway had made the much praised part-talkie Lonesome. Fejös trademark was the use of unusual and often stunning visuals. Broadway was no exception. For this production Fejös and his cameraman Hal Mohr constructed a giant crane at a cost of over $50,000. The crane resembled those normally found on a fire engine and could move in all directions at a fantastic speed, scrutinizing every corner of the giant set. The crane was also used to a great extent promoting the picture. However, the crane-shots had to be shot silent with the sound added later making these scenes stick out a great deal from the rest of the movie which is quite static.
Pictures like this of the giant crane appeared in all major film
magazines in the spring of 1929. This photo is taken from
the May issue of Photoplay.
Broadway was considered lost or at least incomplete for over 70 years when a complete silent version of the film was discovered in a film library in Fejös' home country Hungary. Unfortunately the silent version has much of the musical numbers cut but includes the Technicolor finale missing from the incomplete archival talkie print that surfaced at the Library Of Congress. The talkie version clocks in at some 20 minutes more than the silent version. Combining the available sources could possibly result in a complete talkie print as the complete soundtrack survives.
I have managed to get my hands on the Hungarian silent print and the soundtrack separately. With help of a little computer magic I then tried to synchronize a few scenes for your viewing pleasure. It wasn't the simplest thing to do, and no, the sync is far from perfect. Apparently there were quite severe sync problems in the original movie as well, many of the musical numbers were dubbed with mixed results. Both the picture elements and soundtrack are in quite bad shape but it gives you a hint of what Broadway once looked like. All songs are written by Con Conrad, Sidney D. Mitchell and Archie Gottler. Here we go:
We start with the opening sequence, including the Hungarian credits.
The music for the opening scene is Ferde Grofe's seldom heard
Metropolis - A Fantasy In Blue (1928).
We move on to the first musical number which as you will notice is severly cut in the silent version.
Glenn Tryon and Merna Kennedy in Sing A Little Lovesong, a lovely little number.
The most impressive clip, the Technicolor finale, all talking, all singing, all dancing as it should be.
Pál Fejös' Hollywood career ended as suddenly as it had begun. After Broadway he was involved in the production of The King Of Jazz, or rather his crane was, as he didn't get credit for his work. Many scenes in The King Of Jazz bears his trademarks and there's no doubt he must have directed some of the numbers.
Fejös wanted to direct All Is Quiet On The Western Front in 1930 but was turned down in favor for Lewis Milestone. After this deception Fejös returned to Hungary for a while. He also directed films in Austria, Denmark and Sweden before embarking on a documentary filmmaking trip to the Far East, China, and Japan, where he made Black Horizons and A Handful of Rice, among others, most of them for the Swedish company Svensk Filmindustri. In 1941 he joined the Swedish Wenner-Gren Foundation in New York. He spent the rest of his life directing anthropological research. He left us in 1963, aged 66.