Madame Adele, once a great star of the Paris theatre, has fallen upon hard times. But she allows a young American performer, Marie Duval, to perform as the Madame Adele of old, and both ... See full summary »
The youth culture of the postwar flapper era overlapped during the early 1920s with the possibility raised of artificial rejuvenation after Serge Voronoff transplanted a monkey gland into a human subject on 12 June 1920. Gertrude Atherton's controversial novel 'Black Oxen' (1923) about a woman revitalized by hormone treatments based on Atherton's own experience was filmed the same year that it was published; and 'The Belle of Broadway' rode on the wave of that interest in the possibilities of eternal youth with a nod towards two other means of rejuvenation: plastic surgery and - in a storyline about showbiz that anticipates 'Evergreen' (1934) and 'Fedora' (1978) - impersonation.
This unaffectedly charming trifle benefits from excellent performances from both Betty Compson as the youthful 1890s stage star Madame Adele and her 1920s doppelgänger Marie Duval, and Edith Yorke as Adele at sixty; when Adele ages on screen you still feel as if you're watching the same woman.
One of a number of implications that at the time was presented as whimsy but now seems rather titillating is that Compson is supposedly playing a woman in her 60s whose youthful carapace renders her capable of seeking the company of men considerably more youthful than the toothless collection of contemporary admirers who are now plainly far too old for her. The Oedipal implications of the immediate rapport between Adele and her long-lost son Paul (played by Herbert Rawlinson) are headed off by the makeup and costume departments who make Ms Yorke look far older than she really would thirty years later by dressing her like Whistler's Mother. If the older Adele had resembled some of the sexy sexagenarian women who are now such a visible feature of the 2010s, the relationship that developed between them might have been closer than even pre-Code Hollywood could have countenanced.