Last night, Steve and I began our journey through the list of Academy Award winning best pictures. The first two winners were Wings (1927) and Sunrise (1928), neither of which is available anywhere. So, we began with The Broadway Melody of 1929.
It was was a talkie, for anyone curious, but they still breaked to blank screens describing what was going on and where we were. Melody was the first musical to win the Best Picture Oscar. And two of the songs were very familiar for anyone who remembers Singin’ in the Rain, which came out in 1952. Don Lockwood/Gene Kelly sang “You Were Meant for Me” to Kathy Seldon/Debbie Reynolds in the 50s, but the song was originally written by Eddie Kearns/Charles King for Queenie Mahoney/Anita Page. “The Wedding of the Painted Doll” from a stage scene in Melody was used during a creepy montage in Singin’: they used the old recording and sped it up as the images filled the screen.
I actually became very aware of my comparing Melody to Singin’. Singin’ in the Rain recalls the days of early talkies, with Lina Lamont’s annoying voice needing a voice over and all–the very days in which Melody was made contemporarily. I sometimes wonder when I watch period films if the dress and language used are really accurate. It was interesting to watch a “period piece” in real time. The word “elegant” was used to describe nearly everything. And there was so much kissing going on! The first time the two sisters kissed each other on the lips at the windowsill, Steve and I wondered if we’d stumbled upon a very bizarre porno. There was no shame between all characters involved when men and women kissed on the lips, even when there was no romantic connection.
The story itself was not a new one, nor is it one that has died out in the slightest. A pair of sisters long for the limelight. One of them is engaged, but her fiance ends up falling in love with the other sister. There was quite a bit of depth in the care between the sisters, each one trying secretly to do what’s best for the other, only to complicate everything. Maybe I’ve stereotyped old movies to possess only one- or two-dimensional characters, but I was surprised at how rounded the two main girls became. The main guy was a little simplified; I kept waiting to like him, but he was kind-of a dog the whole way through.
Speaking of dogs, perhaps the best part of the DVD was the inclusion of the 1930 spoof called The Dogway Melody. I nearly fell off the couch I was laughing so hard. Directors/producers Zion Myers and Jules White wrote a twenty-minute recap of The Broadway Melody using dogs for all of the characters. Myers and White also provided all of the voices for the characters. Queenie, who was supposed to be the most beautiful character in the film, was played by a pug–bulging eyes and all. All of the dogs walked around on their hind legs and were fully dressed to look more like humans. I’m sure they had wires set up, but I believe some of the dogs were trained to hop around on their hind legs from one place to the next. They also had the dogs move their mouths like they were talking. These geniuses paved the way for Mister Ed.
This spoof was a bit racier than the original. There was one scene in which two male dogs were waiting for one of their wives to give birth. The nurse rolled out the litter of pups and showed a bed full of baby dachshunds, rather than short-haired terriers like the momma’s husband. One dog also used the term “bimbo” when inviting a boat-full of scandalous ladies to join him. I did a little research to see if maybe that word was used differently (read, less harshly) at the time and found that the word originated around 1920 and was used in the same way we use it today. Plus, they threw in “My Mammy,” sung by a black dog with white gloves. And for the record, no dog should ever where a beaded Princess Leia bra.
This introduction to the history of Academy Award winners has certainly wet our appetite. It may take us 3+ years, but Steve and I are excited to see the evolution of film-making.