Friday, March 12

Movie Critic 101 - The Broadway Melody of 1929

If you would have told me ten years ago that I would be paying tribute to the entire lineup of Best Picture winning Oscar movies, I would have chuckled nervously while giving you a weird look and thinking to myself, "Yeah right. There's no cute guys in those old flicks. Why would I ever be interested in those?"

Back then, it was all about the eye candy. All I was interested in watching was sappy romantic comedies with handsome leading men and a few, one-or-two no subtle nuances in the plot. I wanted escape from reality, zone my brain out, enjoy falling in love right along with the main characters kind of movies.

And then I met Jonathan, discovered his love for artsy, independent film, and decided, why not. Let's broaden my horizons, shall we?

And I've thoroughly enjoyed the ride, thus far. There's been some absolutely messed up films along the way, some provocative mind-benders, some poignant heart-stirrers.

And now, there's going to be a series of Oscar winners. I hope you enjoy my meditations on them.

We begin with #2, as #1 is not yet available on DVD.

The movie is titled The Broadway Melody of 1929.
It's a black and white movie, an all-you-can-handle extravaganza of cheesy dialogue and ancient film editing.

And yet, amidst some pretty awful displays of female dancing, a profound story unfolds. It's a story of sacrificial love that time and again forgoes its own interests for the sake of another's best.

Hank (short for Harriet) and Queenie, two sisters with a song and dance act determined to make it to the big leagues in New York, arrive ready to show the world what they can do. Hank consistently puts herself in second place, striving to showcase her lovely sister's talents. All she retains for herself is the love of her fiance of sorts, Eddie.

Predictably, Eddie falls for the dazzling Queenie, who's not Hank's "gangly kid sister" anymore.

I say predictable, but here's where the unexpected plot arises. Instead of stealing Eddie for herself, Queenie submits to the advances of a less-than-savory gentleman. She puts on a face of wanting to live her own life, pulling away from Hank so not to tempt Eddie. Hank tries to save her sister from what she understands to be adolescent experimenting with fire, begging for Eddie to intervene between Queenie and the rascal Jock. 

It was intriguing and poignant to watch each sister strive to protect the other. The more Eddie tries to profess his love for Queenie, the more she allows Jock to buy her love, the more Hank worries for her sister and tries to get Eddie to reason with her. It's a testament to each sister's love.

In the end, Hank reveals herself to be the quintessential elder sister. She realizes in a moment that Eddie in fact loves Queenie, and without hesitation, encourages him to fight for Queenie. She relinquishes her love for him, out of a greater love for her sister. Hank would rather see her sister happy, than steal that happiness for herself.

But we don't have the stereotypical "6 months later" ending that we come to expect from such tales of sacrifice. Eddie and Queenie return from their honeymoon to greet Hank, who is preparing to head off on a tour of her own. But Hank has no new lover by her side, and has reluctantly joined forces with a rival to form a new "sister" act.

The final moments of the film tellingly reveal the effects of Hank's sacrifice, and her sorrow shows on her face. Her sister is happy, but Hank is alone. A true and noble sacrifice, and yet, we do not get the opportunity to see her due reward. We expect to see Hank "ride into the sunset" with some man better suited for her, some man that quietly loved her in the sidelines.

But no such man exists for Hank. At least, not at the moment. She must now wait to see where life takes her, what new adventures it brings. Her sacrifice was pure and good, and for now, that knowledge must suffice.

It's a lesson I will take to heart. Many times, I do the good and noble thing expecting that reward will follow. It's easy to do the right thing when that deed is immediately acknowledged, praised, and recompensed.

It is not so easy to do the right thing willingly, joyfully, immediately, with the knowledge that in doing so, something you hold dear will be lost to you forever, with no foreseeable substitute awaiting.

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