Although he desperately wants to tear into its soft, pale underbelly, Judge Joel Pearce resists and grades Lullaby of Broadway on its own merits.
Bright lights musical that's gay as the gay white way!
Whatever that's supposed to mean. All Lullaby of Broadway really wants to be is a music-filled vehicle for Doris Day and Gene Nelson. It manages that just fine, but doesn't have much else to offer. It is an attractive diversion somewhat enhanced by the charm and charisma of its stars. There's no real trouble to be found, and none of the characters has so much as a dark tan, so perhaps that's where the tagline came from.
Facts of the Case
Earl Baldwin has the script-writing credit for Lullaby of Broadway. He must have laughed all the way to the bank.
A young and talented performer named Melinda Howard (Doris Day, The Pajama Game) returns home to New York to visit her mother, a famous Broadway actress. During the trip on the way over, she meets a handsome man named Tom Farnham (Gene Nelson, Oklahoma!), who flirts with her and pretends not to be able to dance even though he's in show business himself (small world…). Melinda arrives in New York to learn that her mother is not there, and that she has rented her mansion out to a German businessman named Adolph Hubbell (S.Z. Sakall, Montana).
Little does she know that her mother has had a run of bad luck, transforming her into an alcoholic singer at a sleazy club. She has lied to Melinda all these years in her letters, using the help of Hubbell's servants Lefty (Billy De Wolfe) and Gloria (Ann Triola) to keep up her facade. Then there are lots of song and dance numbers, followed by more song and dance numbers. In between, everything miraculously works out.
Although musicals from this era hold little draw for me, I understand their appeal. This is a pleasant world to escape to. Everyone can sing and dance, and often take breaks from their daily lives to do so. Most people are connected to show business in some way. There are no lasting consequences for mistakes, no real conflict; the largest problems that anyone has to deal with are simple misunderstandings, and there are no true villains to be found. At the end of the day, all of these characters get to walk off with big smiles on their faces. So, hopefully, will the audience.
I went into Lullaby of Broadway expecting a flimsy plot created as an excuse for lots of spectacle. At least I got the spectacle. This film doesn't have a plot so much as a set of archetypes placed together and allowed to dance and sing as often as they like. Although they go through the motions of a plot, any impact of the story is weakened by lack of conflict between the characters. Instead, there are manufactured conflicts, which can be easily solved by manufactured solutions. Melinda is lied to constantly, from Tom's initial flirtations to the letters of her mother. As in so many other comedies, the troubles experienced by all of these characters could have been quickly solved at any time, but the attempts at humor come from the deception. In this case, no one is immune. Adolph, the kindly old man, is taken advantage of by everyone he meets. Melinda is used by everyone because of her talents and beauty. Of course, none of these lies are especially malicious, and there are no hard feelings at the end. Like the world of show business, all that matters is outward beauty and appearances. Even the monstrous Mrs. Hubbell (who commits no sin save being old and ugly) smiles warmly in the closing scenes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Perhaps none of this matters. After all, Doris Day does a fine job with her flimsy role. She lights up the screen every moment she is on camera, her glowing smile and the twinkle in her eye not fading a bit after 55 years. Her singing voice is great, and her dances are varied enough to keep musical fans entertained for the entire running time. Gene Nelson is fabulous as well, with impeccable timing and acrobatic feats of dancing that remain impressive today. The choreography throughout is great to watch, and had this been an hour long musical revue without the plot crammed in, Lullaby of Broadway would probably be better respected than it is. Since this film takes place in a glossy, shallow world, it's not important that the characters only care about appearances. Why shouldn't the two most talented and attractive people in the film fall in love? It's not like they have anything else going for them.
Although many critics have been raving about them for the past year or two, this is the first real exposure I've had to Warner's recent restorative work on their classic film library. I'm very impressed. Lullaby of Broadway has no dirt or print flaws anywhere, and some scenes look positively stunning. There is grain in a few sequences and the colors occasionally bleed slightly, but it's barely worth mentioning considering the age of the print. The sound is crystal clear as well, keeping the original mono format. There is almost no extra noise, and the music features surprisingly good bass response. This is probably even better than the film looked and sounded during its original theatrical run. The disc has no extras except a few trailers for some other Doris Day movies.
Can you accuse something for following its nature? Lullaby of Broadway did little for this critic's cynical, postmodern outlook, but my parents weren't even born yet when this film was produced. It has a good look, a fun tone, and enough great musical numbers to keep audiences distracted. I'm willing to give this one the benefit of the doubt. Lullaby of Broadway had no aspirations to stretch the boundaries of the musical genre, but it fits in just fine.
Ah, heck. Not guilty.
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