Broadway (1929)

Director: Paul Fejos

Finally Fejos actually set out to make a sound film, though one also released silent; this wound up being handy, cos the extant sound version is missing the last reel, and the only recently unearthed silent print (all of Fejos’ extant American films, interestingly, have been recovered from Europe; Lonesome came from France and this one apparently from Hungary) was matched to the existing soundtrack to complete this reconstruction. Anyway, Broadway announces itself as a “Universal Super-Production”, one of Uncle Carl’s attempts at Big Filmmaking; the film was apparently Universal’s most expensive to date, advertised at $1m, with about a quarter of that going just on the rights to the play on which it was based. Another substantial chunk went into the enormous camera crane specially designed for the production, and into the unfeasibly large nightclub set that had to be built to accommodate it cos none of the existing stages were big enough. Certainly you can’t accuse Broadway of looking cheap; the set is so gigantic and so filled with people you just know some stupid amount of money was spent on it. And yet the story is kind of small despite that; it involves Glenn Tryon (who at least improved a bit as a talkie actor from Lonesome) as the club’s hoofer, a rather small-time boy losing the girl he performs with (and loves) to the gangster in charge of the place, who’s in the middle of a turf war he initiated. On the whole it’s actually one of the better 1929 talkies I’ve seen, though not as liberated from the technological restraints of the period as Applause was, but the nightclub scenes involving the crane (which were shot silent) provide more than fair interest. Unfortunately the film apparently never did the business it should’ve done, and the eventual failure of The Last Performance (still shelved when this came out) only added to his growing list of problems: they wouldn’t let him do All Quiet on the Western Front, took him off King of Jazz, and finally he walked out in the middle of another film. After a very quick stay at MGM it was back to Europe and eventually out of filmmaking entirely. On the evidence of this DVD set, that’s rather sad.

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