Eddie Kearns (Charles King) is a New York City songwriter for the shows, and has just penned a new song that his co-workers are all enthusiastic about, a song that most of the performers on Broadway would be delighted to have. However, he is keen to keep it for himself and two sisters who have recently moved to the city looking for their big break, Hank (Bessie Love), the brains of the duo, and Queenie (Anita Page), the innocent. When Eddie goes to meet them in their hotel room he is pleased to see how Queenie has grown - in fact, he's more attracted to her than he is to his ostensible girlfriend Hank. This is an arrangement sure to end in tears...
The Broadway Melody has two major distinctions: it was the first all-talking (and singing, of course) musical and it won the Best Picture Oscar of its year. As far as the musical aspect goes, it now all seems very primitive and for the first third you would be forgiven for thinking there was only one song in the whole film (the title tune). The love triangle is now a cliché, with Eddie yearning for Queenie, Hank after Eddie and Queenie wooed by a rich patron who, at the dawn of the Depression, could offer her security that she might not get in the unsteady world of showbiz.
There are still songs, by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, you might recognise, perhaps not so much the theme which sounds like something Al Jolson rejected for The Jazz Singer (technically the first musical, but not all-talking), but You Were Made for Me is a familiar melody. Unfortunately the Oscar the film won looks to have been down to the novelty of the concept as the presentation is lacking in comparison to the musicals of the thirties, with poor singing and terrible dancing. There's a chorus line, fine, but Hank and Queenie's routine would be likely to be booed offstage by most paying audiences.
But seeing it all, hearing it all more importantly, on the big screen was enough for the punters of the day who made it a hit. As this was pre-Production Code the two female leads take every chance to strip down to their underwear to offer a cheap thrill. Otherwise, they're a shrill pair much given to histrionics thanks to the demands of the script which sees them try to make it on Broadway under the direction of big shot producer Francis Zieg- sorry, Zanfield (Eddie Kane). However, Queenie is the one who everyone fancies and when the duo's number backing Eddie is drastically cut, opportunity knocks for her.
But not for Hank, who despite being Queenie's guiding light is reluctant to let her go, never mind that Eddie is put in the awkward position of being in love with the younger sister while trying to appease the elder. There's an unexpected strain of aggression running through The Broadway Melody - this is no sunny trill-fest. Backstage the insults fly, and even at one point a spotlight too, thrown at a problematic actor, so there's little love lost between most of the characters. Then there's the main trio of stars who shout and yell; simply because it's a talkie doesn't mean they had to amp up the volume of conversation. So the film is clunky and over-dramatic but for those interested in the development of the medium, it has a certain interest. Followed by in-name-only sequels.