Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937) is playing on Turner Classic Movies on Saturday April 2 at 6:00 a.m. Closed captioned. The film cost $1,588,000 and made a profit of $271,000 or $4,609,188.57 in today’s money.
Broadway Melody of 1938 is one of those pure escapist type films that folks in the Thirties paid their money to see. It’s a nice film combining both a backstage and a racetrack story with one of the most eclectic casts ever assembled for a film.
What can you say when you’ve got dancing covered by Eleanor Powell, George Murphy and Buddy Ebsen, the varied singing styles of Judy Garland, Sophie Tucker, and Igor Gorin and such incredible character actors as Raymond Walburn, Charley Grapewin, Billy Gilbert, and Robert Benchley. All of them such great performers and such vivid personalities there’s no way that the film could be bad.
Almost lost in the shuffle are Robert Taylor and Binnie Barnes who don’t sing or dance and aren’t colorful. But Binnie Barnes is one fine actress and she’s the villain of the piece as Raymond Walburn’s wife who was once part of the chorus, but wants not to be reminded of from where she came. She’s jealous of Eleanor Powell and has a thing for Taylor, As did half the young women in America in 1937. Though the part doesn’t call for any kind of real acting, Robert Taylor shows every bit as to why he was such a screen heart throb that year. He’s the nice guy producer/director who gets caught in a crunch between his financial backer Raymond Walburn and his wife and the girl of his dreams, Eleanor Powell. Walburn is in the role that Guy Kibbee had in 42nd Street and he does it well with his own avuncular touches.
Powell is not just an ambitious hoofer as are Ebsen and Murphy. She’s also the owner of race horse upon whose performance everyone’s future eventually rides. Just how the racetrack and backstage are woven into the same plot you have to see the film for.
Vocal highlights are provided by Judy Garland who sings her famous Dear Mr. Gable version of that old Al Jolson song, You Made Me Love You. She also sings Everybody Sing which is a number I personally like a whole lot better. Honest Indian.
Sophie Tucker is her mother who owns and operates a theatrical boarding house where half the cast lives. She’s an old trooper herself and of course she gets to sing her famous theme, Some of These Days.
Other material that the MGM songwriting team of Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown did not provide for this film are a couple operatic arias sung by the great concert singer Igor Gorin. He sings Largo Al Factotum from The Barber of Seville and the Toreador Song from Carmen. I’d venture a guess that Louis B. Mayer signed Gorin for this as an effort to keep his other two singers Nelson Eddy and Allan Jones in line. In fact Eddy and Mayer did not get along and Jones would be leaving MGM the following year. Gorin is in fine voice, but did not have much screen presence and has very few spoken lines. I don’t think that was an accident.
Broadway Melody of 1938 is one of MGM’s best musicals from the Thirties and how can you not like a film with as much talent as this one is loaded with. Review by bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York for the IMDb.
Some behind the scenes photos: