The movie "Broadway" was based on a hit play of the same name which opened in the fall of 1926. Written by George Abbott and Phillip Dunning, and presented by Jed Harris, it is difficult to now to comprehend the enormous cultural impact of this rather modest little play. (I saw a production of it ten or so years ago--fun, once, but certainly not something that can be viewed as anything but a window onto the time period in which it was created). The only thing I can liken it to in modern-day terms is, probably, "Pulp Fiction"--it was a piece of entertainment that became a must-see part of the cultural to-do list, leading to its becoming a catchword in the zetigeist. For years after it opened, people as varied as Winston Churchill, Alexander Woolcott and James J. Walker still referred to it as the greatest and most exciting evening they'd ever spent in the theater. It "made" the careers of everyone involved--Abbott, of course, continued on past the age of one-hundred as a major force in the Broadway theater, and Harris became, for a time, the greatest star producer Broadway had ever known. More on Harris in the next post.
The play was, apparently, the first to deal with the times that people were in the midst of living in--it's original title was, in fact, "The Roaring Twenties" (this is interesting because I would have assumed the twenties were assigned their "roaring" value once they were over--but apparently people knew exactly the kind of madness they were living through--there was a self-consciousness to the twenties that one doesn't often hear discussed). It deals with nightclubs, gangsters, bootleg hooch, hoofers--the whole nine yards and is filled with excellent period talk. (To dine with someone is to "tie on the feedbag." Etc.) I have a fine, first edition of the published playscript, with a preface by Alexander Woolcott, who makes claims for the plays greatness and certain classic status that, alas, cannot be taken seriously anymore. Indeed, the whole enterprise now is of interest largely because of the movie made from it in 1929--which (re: yesterdays post) has been recently re-discovered and, as you'll see in the clip below, is filled with some of the most breathtaking sets, effects and camera moves you will ever see in a film from this time.
Pay close to attention to the shot that begins outside the club and moves indoors--I think I see the device that conceals the cut and allows it to look like one continuous movement, but it's still damn well done. Apparently, Paul Fejos had a special crane built capable of moving the burdensome camreras (which were enlcosed in sound proof booths) at great speed, with great felicity. Why the hell didn't anyone else use it? By the way, the movie was made available in both silent and sound versions and this appears to be a silent section that the correct soundtrack was synced to. For the silent version, many of the production numbers were cut or abridged--thus the choppy nature of the muscial sequences.
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 2:18 PM