13 March 2006 | bkoganbing
Busby Berkeley bombs
Jeanette MacDonald filmed Broadway Serenade while her usual screen partner Nelson Eddy was busy doing Balalaika with Ilona Massey. She's married to Lew Ayres, musician and would be composer. They're a duo working in some real dives when we first meet them. Ayres has a short fuse involving his wife and manages to get himself fired after punching out a drunk. MacDonald dutifully follows her man.
After that it's the usual backstage story for both of them. She becomes a big Broadway star and he has dreams of presenting his concerto, a treatment of Tschaikovsky's famous None, But the Lonely Heart. And they run into the usual situations involving her beauty and his temper.
Jeanette sings beautifully and Ayres steps out from his Dr. Kildare image. At the time Broadway Serenade was being filmed, just as Jeanette was taking a break from Nelson, Ayres was on hiatus from the Dr. Kildare series which was at the height of its popularity.
Also in the cast is Frank Morgan as a Broadway producer, the same role he had in Sweethearts and Ian Hunter as the playboy backer of Morgan's shows who's got a yen for Jen. But the best supporting part in Broadway Serenade is Al Shean who is sidekick and confident to Lew Ayres. This may have been Al Shean's best screen role.
But what this film is probably best known for is the climax sequence involving Lew Ayres's concerto. Busby Berkeley did the number and it goes down as one of his worst.
Berkeley who did so well at Warner Brothers with Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler and later on at MGM with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, makes a ghastly debut at MGM. His None But the Lonely Heart dance number is like the number that Jack Buchanan did in The Bandwagon. Only that was supposed to be satiric, this one was for real.
If Ayres's concerto had been presented simply as just an instrumental piece it would have been sooooooo much better. It was one bad creative decision to give Busby Berkeley an assignment here.
Other than that, Jeanette's fans will go for this. She has some fine numbers to sing her in both the classical and popular vein.