Thursday, January 22, 2009

Broadway (1929)

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.


Raquel Stecher said...

Am I too late to be the first commenter? Did King of Jazz beat me to it again?

Again, excellent post. I feel like I just had a film history lesson.

Robby Cress said...

Thanks for sharing these pictures and video. This is a film that I haven't yet seen. It's too bad that many of the earlier films were not stored properly. When I used to work at Paramount Studios I would regularly walk past these old film vaults. They were nothing more than giant closets with no climate control to protect the contents. There were sprinklers around the outside and I'm told that that was mainly to keep the studio from burning down if one of the prints would combust! There was little concern about protecting the prints.

Jonas Nordin said...

Yay! You won! Thanks for attendng my class! :)

Thanks for your comment! I bet it was interesting to work at Paramount. The outside mounted sprinklers really tells the sad story how the heritage was taken care of. History could burn as long as the present was saved...

Having half a foot inside the studio, could you possibly make someone push the button to release Follow Thru on DVD? ;)

Anonymous said...

(huff puff) whaaaaat? I'm the fourth one? argh! All that running here for nuthin'!

I discovered BROADWAY on Youtube; I had no idea that the film has now been cobbled together from various sources--almost gives one hope something else otherwise missing will resurface someday.

Anonymous said...

I keep making the same mistake; I'm not Anonymous--I'm King of Jazz. In last place. :D

Raquel Stecher said...

Professor Jonas - Could you tell me what the deal is with the big gigantic shiny dude in the opening sequence (0:50 - 1:16)? (sorry forgot to ask the first go 'round).

Jonas Nordin said...

Ahh... The giant reveller splashing hooch all over Times Square. Yes it's a strange image indeed. I think references can be made to Bacchus, the roman wine god who was known as a lightly dressed bon vivant. I think the intruduction of this "hooch-giant" is a great metaphor for the iniquity of the prohibition era in general, and this film in particular. Just look at the images that follows "in his steps", moral decay becomes quite apparent. It's a very interesting montage.

Another interesting thing about the Broadway opening shot is that Fejös used almost the same idea for the Happy Feet Number in The King Of Jazz a year later, where chorines tips through what might be the same model, but this time in color. Check it out!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Having been tapped for a Premio Dardos Award, I now pass the award along to you, in my admiration for your blog.

"The Dardos Award is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web."

The rules:
“1) Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.
2) Pass the award to another five blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgement, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award.”

Feel free to take the badge from my blog.

Robin Nunnally said...

OMG your blog is so fantastic! I actually have a similar blog myself:

Always great to meet a fellow vintage film clip enthusiast! :)


Unknown said...

Dear Robin

What a wonderful surprise to locate an enthusiast of Broadway so close to home (I'm from Aarhus, Denmark). I should say that my primary interest in the film is due to its use of the Broadway crane which I described in my Ph.D. dissertation: Camera Movement in Narrative Cinema (2007. I'm revising it for book publication in 2011 so I'm looking over the material again. So far I have been using a copy of the film transferred from a silent print that is stored at The Danish Film Institute. The intertitles (Danish) are mostly flash titles but from your description of the Hungarian print I'm guessing that my/DFI's version actually holds more material than the Hungarian print. We should compare these two silent versions... I am fairly sure there are other silent prints of the film -perhaps at Eastman House. Sadly, Fejos' career in Denmark was no success! Edvin Kau and Niels Jørgen Dinesen describe it in Filmen i Danmark and Peter Schepelern has also written a short article on Fejos' Danish 'adventure' (both in Danish). I found a number of marvelous production stills of the crane in Los Angeles (The Margaret Herrick Library) which I plan to include in the book.

All the best

Jakob Isak Nielsen, Aarhus, Denmark

Neil Lipes said...

Fortunately Broadway has been completely restored to it's original 1929 release. Fajos did indeed work on King of Jazz, as well as All Quiet On The Western Front....... but not as director........feeling a huge slight by Jr. Laemmle, Fajos walked out..........Uncle Carl allowed him to exit with no legal entanglements.
Jr. and Fajos remained close friends, until the death of Fajos in the early 1960's.

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