Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Broadway (1929) (2016 print from Universal Pictures)

Salaperäinen Broadway. US 1929. D: Paul Fejos. Based on: dall’omonimo musical di Philip Dunning e George Abbott. SC: Edward T. Lowe, Jr., Charles Furthman. Cinematography: Hal Mohr, Frank H. Booth. ED: Robert Carlisle, Edward L. Cahn, Maurice Pivar. AD: Charles D. Hall. M: Howard Jackson. C: Glenn Tryon (Roy Lane), Evelyn Brent (Pearl), Merna Kennedy (Billie Moore), Thomas Jackson (Dan McCorn), Robert Ellis (Steve Crandall), Leslie Fenton (‘Scar’ Edwards). P: Carl Laemmle Jr. per Universal Pictures Corp. 35 mm. 104′. B&w .
    This new print of Broadway has been crisply reproduced from the original black and white camera negative. And the two-minute Technicolor finale – previously only available in muddy, muted copies – has been digitally restored by Universal from the best surviving color elements at the Magyar Nemzeti Digitális Archívum és Filmintézet (MaNDA)
    Print from Universal Pictures
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.
    Universal Pictures: The Laemmle Junior Years
    E-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti Londra
    Cinema Jolly, 29 June 2016

James Layton and David Pierce (Bologna catalog): "George Abbott and Philip Dunning’s Broadway first made a splash as a hit stage play in 1926, running 603 performances on Broadway, and winning praise for its contemporary street slang and realistic underworld atmosphere. Sensing a prime vehicle for the new medium of sound film, Universal boss Carl Laemmle soon scooped up the rights for $225,000. Following their critical and artistic triumph with Lonesome (1928), producer Carl Laemmle Jr. and director Paul Fejos were entrusted to bring this hot stage property to the screen as Universal’s second all-talkie. But Fejos recognized that the dialogue-driven drama about a song and dance man hoping to hit the big time possessed none of the scope or scale required for a major Universal release, so he expanded the film to include sequences in the nightclub and cabaret musical numbers."

"Art director Charles D. ‘Danny’ Hall designed a colorful, Cubist-inspired set for the Paradise Night Club that was constructed on Universal’s largest sound stage. And the final sequence of the film was enhanced with two-color Technicolor. To further enliven the cabaret scenes Fejos and cinematographer Hal Mohr commissioned a sophisticated mobile camera platform, called the Broadway crane. Constructed for $50,000, and measuring 25-feet long, this 28-ton engineering marvel could move smoothly and rapidly in any direction to capture shots from any height or perspective. To get a return on its investment, the costly crane was reused repeatedly by Universal over the following years, notably on All Quiet on the Western Front and King of Jazz. Broadway’s final production cost was an enormous $1.5 million, and despite some strong reviews, it failed with audiences, who were no longer impressed with the once novel backstage drama elements."
– James Layton and David Pierce

AA: I only saw the first 60 minutes of Broadway because of an overlap with an Anno uno screening. Broadway has for a long time been available only in incomplete versions. Now it has been brilliantly reconstructed, complete with the colour sequence. It is a big treat for lovers of the musical and gangster genres.

Like Chicago (1927, P: Cecil B. DeMille, D: Frank Urson), Broadway is based on a popular play about the gangster world (from the same year 1926 as Chicago), and unlike it, it is also a musical, based on the first hit musical play by George Abbott. Universal's second all-talking film belongs to the foundation works of the genres of the gangster film and the film musical. We are starting to move from the sophisticated jazz age style to the more brutal and cynical depression age approach. We hear early instances of the wisecracking dialogue of those genres. "This show isn't bad, it's lousy". "Lay off those big sugar daddies, they're only after one thing". "You've been cutting on my territory". What the band leader thinks he has is: "per -so - na - li - ty".

In this early sound film the pronunciation is often deliberate and slowed down. But visually it's swinging thanks to Paul Fejos's amazing "Broadway crane", used not least in the "Hittin' the Ceiling" production number. The production numbers are wonderful, and the cinematography by Hal Mohr is stunning.

Broadway is another amazing piece in the Paul Fejos jigsaw puzzle. The more I see of his films the more impossible it seems to define him. How could the same director be in charge of The Last Performance, Lonesome, Fantômas (1932 version), Tavaszi zápor, Ítél a Balaton, Skönhetssalong på Madagaskar, Draken på Komodo... and Broadway?! "A Flying Hungarian" truly, not only through continents but also through genres, from horror, gangster, super criminal and musical films to modern city romance and traditional rural romance, and, not least, the documentary.

Of the first 60 minutes I saw I observed that the print is based on sometimes challenging source materials, but the visual quality is usually stunning. I missed the colour finale.

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