Broadway Serenade (1939)


Released April 7, 1939.
Produced and directed by Robert Z. Leonard.
113 minutes.
Issued in Sepia.

German title: Irrwege der Liebe (Confusions of Love)
Spanish title: La Serenata de Broadway

Original Story: Lew Lipton, John Taintor Foote, and Hans Kraly. Screenplay: Charles Lederer. Musical Director: Herbert Stothart. Dances: Seymour Felix. Musical Presentation: Merrill Pye. Camera: Oliver T. Marsh. Montage: John Hoffman. Editor: Harold F. Kress. Recording Director: Douglas Shearer. Art Director: Cedric Gibbons. Art Associate: Joseph Wright. Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis. Gowns: Adrian. Men’s Costumes: Valles. Makeup: Jack Dawn. Finale created and directed by Busby Berkeley. Assistant Director: Marvin Stuart. Vocal and Orchestral Collaboration: Léo Arnaud, Leonid Raab.

Jeanette MacDonald (Mary Hale)
Lew Ayres (Jimmy Seymour)
Ian Hunter (Larry Bryant)
Frank Morgan (Cornelius Collier Jr)
Rita Johnson (Judith “Judy” Tyrrell)
Virginia Grey (Pearl)
Al Shean (Herman)
Wally Vernon (Joey the Jinx)
William Gargan (Bob, a press agent)
Katharine Alexander (Miss Harriet Ingalls)
Franklin Pangborn (Gene, the choreographer)
Esther Dale (Mrs. Olsen)
Ray Mayer (Mr. Woods)
Kenneth Stevens (“No Time to Argue” baritone)
Edward Hearn (Frank)
Kitty McHugh (Kitty, the maid)
Ray Walker (Madison)
E. Alyn Warren (Everett)
Lawrence Wheat (Accountant)
William E. “Babe” Lawrence (Burke)
Paul Hurst (Reynolds, a drunk)
William Tannen (Asst. stage manager)
Morgan Wallace (Parks)
Arthur “Pop” Byron (Pat)
Arthur Housman (Jonathan)
Ted Oliver (Spike)
Al Hill (Chuck)
Frank Orth (Mr. Fellowes)
Esther Howard (Mrs. Fellowes)
Leon Belasco (The Squeaker)
Barbara Bedford (Secretary)
Hobart Cavanaugh (Mr. Ingalls)
Don Brodie, Jack Luden (Reporters)
Jack Carlton [Clayton Moore, later the “Lone Ranger”] (Cameraman)
Mary Beth Hughes (Girl at party)
Tom Hanlon (Announcer)
Hans Joby (Hans)
Bernard Siegal (Otto)
Estelle Etterre, Patricia West (Girls with Bryant)
Lionel Royce (Mr. Bachspiegal)
Bert Moorhouse, Charles Sherlock, Allen Fox (Reporters)
Ernie Alexander (Photographer)
Jack Hutchinson (Bryant’s chauffeur)
Olaf Hytten (Hotel manager)
Mary MacLaren (Costumer)
Claude King (Mr. Gato)
Norman Willis (Process server)
Jack Raymond (Joey’s companion)
Bruce Mitchell (Pullman conductor)
Paul Newlan (Big man)
Sidney Jarvis (Santa Claus)
Jane Barnes, Gertrude Short, Marjorie “Babe” Kane, Jill Dennett (Salesgirls, 5 & 10)
Mary Gordon (Annie)
Arthur Q. Bryan (Process server)
J. Delos Jewkes (Music maker)


Broadway Serenade was styled to serve as a bridge between Jeanette MacDonald’s operetta image and the lighter, less expensive, and more marketable modern-dress “swing” musicals that were becoming popular. She had “swung” a Victor Herbert number in Sweethearts with great success, and Broadway Serenade gave her several contemporary show songs plus an opera aria. The purpose of the film was worthy, but the resulting film was not.

The plot hinged on the simultaneous career success of a wife and career failure of her husband, a theme becoming hackneyed even in the late 1930s when men were acutely sensi­tive about the changing status of women. It might have served for the bare bones of a good film if it had been filled in with warm, believable characters and bright songs. Instead the characters are barely two dimensional, and the songs only pleasant at best. The major love theme of the film is Tchaikovsky’s “None but the Lonely Heart,” which is “dressed up for 1939.”

The relationship between the heroine and her movie husband, Lew Ayres, is another source of concern. Ayres is obviously supposed to bring breezy, boyish charm to the film, but the rôle as written seems merely immature with paranoid touches. He does not have the material to enable him to bring off such an acting coup, even assuming that such a character belongs in a light musical. The wife’s endless protective and placating gestures seem more maternal than anything else.

Ayres had made a strong impact as Greta Garbo’s young admirer in the silent The Kiss in 1929. After scoring again in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), he went from studio to studio, always working, but rarely finding parts worthy of him. He was quite fine as Katharine Hepburn’s alcoholic brother in Holiday (1938) and then settled down at MGM. With one Dr. Kildare movie under his belt, he was put into Broadway Serenade. (His other films that year included These Glamour Girls and Ice Follies of 1939, an indication of how MGM regarded his talent.) It wasn’t until his superb portrayal of the doctor in Johnny Belinda (1948) that he found another memorable rôle.

Director Robert Z. Leonard did five MacDonald/Eddy films and was one of their favorite directors. His early work as a singer (in a barbershop quartet) before going into films made him sympathetic to the problems of singers. He was also the master of the “scene.” His films unreel with one beautifully played “scene” after another, but unfortunately, unless a tight script (MaytimePride and Prejudice) keeps things spinning along, they tend to bog down in atmosphere. Broadway Serenade is a prime example, each bit of “business” (the tossed hats, the smiling mask in the finale) making a point, but not contributing to the overall pattern or rhythm.

The film is historically interesting as Busby Berkeley’s first MGM film after his brilliant years at Warner Bros. His work at Warners had declined somewhat—after all, what could Michelangelo have done to “top” the Sistine Chapel? Berkeley was expected to surpass himself with each new picture. He took to all-dramatic films, a genre at which he was as dismal as he was brilliant with musical numbers. At MGM, Berkeley started over in the musical field, working now in the MGM style, long on quality and gloss, short on gut originality and innovativeness. His bizarre finale to Broadway Serenade marked a halfway point between two styles, with the worst of both and the best of neither.

Broadway Serenade also made a slight bow of obeisance to the alcohol culture that was reflected in many films of the 1930s (The Thin ManThe Philadelphia Story) in which the “good guys” spend much of their time drunk without apparent physical or moral damage. Although Jeanette herself is never seen with a glass in her hand, she has lines like “It ought to be very drunk out tonight,” and several verses of “High Flyin’” refer to an alcoholic high.


The lack of imagination in Broadway Serenade is evident from the beginning with flat show-card titles. The film opens in the Naughty Nineties Club in Greenwich Village, where a new act, Hale and Seymour, is entertaining the elite who have come slumming. Jimmy Seymour (Lew Ayres) is at the piano in derby and false moustache while Mary Hale (Jeanette) prances alluringly in a shorter, fancier version of her dance-hall dress in San Francisco.

As the formally dressed patrons arrive, they are handed derbies and can-can bonnets and seated at small tables where they can drink, watch the show, join in the old time songs—and drink. One patron (Paul Hurst) has overindulged and becomes boisterous, irritating Jimmy no end. Mary makes little soothing gestures, but when the drunk aims a champagne cork and hits Mary in the face, Jimmy leaps up and slugs him. The scene has been followed with interest by a distinguished gentleman at a back table.

The manager, Mr. Parks (Morgan Wallace), tells Jimmy that three knockouts in one week are enough and fires him. Mary can stay on, he says, but she chooses to depart. In their dressing room, Jimmy pitches his hat across the room onto the hat rack, a gesture he will repeat throughout the film. Mary gives Jimmy a cigarette (“Same thing as counting ten, only easier”!) and consoles him. After all, he is a musical genius. All this will just make copy for his press agents when he is famous. Jimmy hugs her and tells her he’s beginning to like having her for a wife.

At their colorful boardinghouse, full of colorful characters, a Christmas surprise is being planned by “the gang,” Mrs. Olsen (Esther Dale), Herman (Al Shean, the “Professor” of San Francisco), and the rest. Although they are obviously supposed to be a unique and lovable group of individuals, neither the script nor the director gives them any background, so they are a faceless bunch. A small feast is laid out and a present, a water jug that plays “Auld Lang Syne,” is being wrapped. When the couple arrives, Jimmy finds a letter announcing that he has won a scholarship for a year’s study in Italy. If he and Mary can raise just one thousand dollars, they can spend a glorious year together on a belated honeymoon.

Old Herman starts a melody on his cello and ends up playing “The Blue Danube.” It’s that restaurant he works in, he complains. He has played “The Blue Danube” until he is blue in the face. “It’s a good thing for you the ‘Black Bottom’ is out of date,” comments Mrs. Olsen.

Jimmy is sure he can sell his new song for the thousand dollars they need. The trouble with people today, he says, is that they are too busy to learn new songs. As an example he plays “A Tisket, a Tasket,” then enjoying current popularity in an Ella Fitzgerald recording. He, too, will give them an old one: Tchaikovsky’s “None but the Lonely Heart.” He pulls out his version and Mary sings “For Ev’ry Lonely Heart.” Then they rush off to sell it to the biggest producer in New York, Cornelius Collier.

Mr. Collier (Frank Morgan) is busy, his secretary tells a group of costumed chorines. His business turns out to be another chorus girl, Pearl (Virginia Grey), who is protesting the concealing costume that has been assigned her. Now, if she had one more like this: she strips off the ruffled gown and is clad in a bathing suit.

Judith (Rita Johnson) walks in on this attempted takeover of her man, and the two square off. Judith seizes Collier’s cigar and, as Pearl bends to retrieve her costume, the cigar follows her out of the picture. A loud yell from Pearl, and Judith comments that now she’ll be known as “Lady Scarface.” Pearl protests volubly. It will show in the bathing suit number. Judith coolly remarks that if that spot shows, the police will close the show. “I’ll get the police after you!” cries Pearl. “For defacing public property?” sneers Judith.

The show’s backer, Larry Bryant (Ian Hunter), interrupts the fun, followed by a mass of technical people wanting decisions. Larry is the same distinguished man who witnessed Mary’s departure from the Naughty Nineties Club, and he now spots her and Jimmy trying to get past the receptionist outside. He invites her in to audition Jimmy’s song, but in the hubbub she ends up interpreting one of the show’s tempo songs when the star will only sing it “straight.” She lands a job with Collier’s Revue of 1939. The train for Atlantic City will leave at 4:00 that afternoon. It is obvious that both Collier and Larry Bryant have taken a proprietary interest in Mary, for in a final shot, the press agent, Bob (William Gargan), rolls his eyes from one to the other and then heavenward in amusement.

Jimmy cheerfully refuses to tag along and sees Mary off at Penn Station. The show’s star, Harriet Ingalls (Katharine Alexander), makes a grand entrance, and Pearl turns up in scanty practice clothes under her fur coat, causing Judith to reach for the cigar again.

The happy little family departs for Atlantic City, where Mary has one number in the show with a pleasant tenor (Kenneth Stevens). The production is a pallid reference to the Busby Berkeley style of raising a curtain and then escaping into a limitless fantasy land.

Mary’s song opens with a train painted on a “traveler” curtain that then glides offstage, revealing a ski lodge in the Alps. Mary, in jaunty cap, white fur coat, and boots, sings “High Flyin,’” then dances down the mammoth steps of the lodge with lads in lederhosen. The lodge in turn slides offstage to reveal the bar inside. Mary dances in wearing slacks and plaid jacket, then four bartenders reprise the song while drunken patrons do a tired juggling act with oranges and bottles.

The bar is then whisked away, and we are on the snow that we have seen through the bar window. The tenor arrives on skis and sings “One Look at You,” and Mary joins him in white snowsuit with fur-trimmed hood. They take off together on their skis with a rear projection whizzing by. The camera neither pulls back to show them on a treadmill set, nor opens up the action to Berkeley-style fantasy. They are quickly dumped, literally, back onto the ski-lodge set, comically flailing broken skis, for a final verse of “One Look at You.”

On opening night, Jimmy phones Mary and finally reaches her in Larry Bryant’s hotel room where she is being interviewed. The seed of suspicion is planted. The press agent is giving the reporters a fantastic version of discovering Mary on the top deck of a Fifth Avenue bus. (Actor William Gargan uses a rapid-fire deliv­ery intended to lend tempo to the film.)

Larry slips Mary out on the balcony over­looking the moonlit Atlantic and tries to “make love to her” (1930s term for sweet talk), but she confesses that she is happily married. Busy little Pearl spots them through a window and gets reporters to photograph Larry giving Mary a brotherly hug. The next day’s newspapers confirm Jimmy’s jealous suspicions. Does he phone her, write her, or fly to her side to straighten things out? Oh, no, dear viewer, there are six more reels to go.

In a pseudo-Vorkapich montage, we see Mary slowly take over the show from its star, Harriet Ingalls, as Jimmy walks the streets alone, a failure. Working at a German café, he reads in Variety that Collier’s Revue returns that week to New York. Simultaneously, he is picking out his oom-pah chords on the piano, accompanying Herman and a violinist. A bored patron rudely turns on the radio, and Jimmy hears a gossip reporter mentioning Larry and Mary in romantic terms. Jimmy defends his wife’s honor by slugging the patron, and he and Herman are back on the streets.

Herman tells Jimmy to stop believing the gossip and go greet Mary at the train. “With a smile that big,” Jimmy gestures grandly, “and a bouquet that big.” He makes a small circle with his hands and we dissolve to a matching bunch of violets. Mary appears at the train door, surrounded by reporters and admirers, her eyes searching the platform for Jimmy.

He manages to get the violets to her, and their ardent hugs are explained to reporters by the press agent: “That’s her brother, just out of the hospital.”

The violets are handed back to Jimmy and replaced by a splendid spray of roses for photographs. Then Mary, accompanied by her new maid, is swept off to a swank hotel for fittings and interviews, Jimmy in tow.

Jimmy protests that “the gang” is waiting with a banquet in her honor, but there is nothing she can do. She will see them after the show. She gives him opening night tickets for them all and also a check for $1,000. Now they can go to Italy. The music director (comedian Franklin Pangborn, who specialized in agitated, prissy rôles) bursts into the hotel room with a new number (the show is due to open in a few hours) and describes the lead-in—taste is changing, the world is restless, “and then, boom, we’ll sock ‘em in the puss with Butterfly.”

Jimmy tries to catch Mary up on what he’s been doing, but she misunderstands everything he says in the confusion. Larry arrives and breezes past Jimmy into the bedroom where Mary is being fitted. Jimmy’s doubts return, and he accepts a stiff drink. By the time Mary emerges from the bedroom, draped in a splendid collection of jewels given her by Larry for the opening night, Jimmy is decidedly ugly.

Harriet Ingalls chooses this moment to charge in with a process server. She is suing Larry for throwing her out of the show because of his relationship with Mary. Mary starts crying, and Jimmy starts swinging, knocking Larry down. Jimmy runs, out and Mary starts to follow him just as the music director swoops through the door and drags her bodily to the piano to learn the new number.

We dissolve to the number on stage, “Time Changes Everything,” with eight grand pianos (a shadow of Berkeley’s multi-pianoed splendor in Gold Diggers of 1935). The song evolves into “Un Bel Di” from Madame Butterfly. Mary appears at the top of a forty-foot arched bridge in a Japanese kimono covered with bugle beads. She gracefully descends the steep stairs of the bridge (a fantastic accomplishment) and, ignoring some dreary plaster swans beneath it, sings the beautiful aria in a youthful, lyrical interpretation. It is a shame that her touching performance is engulfed in Folies Bérgère trappings. As she hits the high note, the stage is deluged in flower petals drifting from the flies. (The same aria was the finale for Grace Moore’s film One Night of Love in 1934, and Miss Moore commented cattily that the height of the bridge did not reflect the level of performance.)

Back at the rooming house, “the gang” sit dejectedly waiting for Mary. She rushes in and learns that Jimmy has only just gotten home. He never gave them the tickets. Jeanette is wearing her first screen “strapless” costume, a vogue just beginning to cause a stir.

Mary finds Jimmy packing and makes him an emotional speech about believing. When she was a little girl she saw Peter Pan. Peter had told the audience that unless they believed someone would die, and so she believed with all her heart. Now, she believes in Jimmy with all her heart. “Won’t you believe in me?” she begs.

“No,” he replies.

Despite this, Mary tells Jimmy she forgives him. He leaves her anyway and heaves the musical water jug through the window, an unsuccessful attempt on the director’s part at pathos.

Another montage begins imaginatively with a large poster of Mary Hale dripping rain (tears). It then offers a pale imitation of the Slavko Vorkapich montages in Maytime and SweetheartsWe see Mary doing a recital (“The Italian Street Song” from Naughty Marietta), a broadcast (“Les Filles de Cadix” from Maytime), and a film (Musetta’s aria “Quando M’en Vo” from La Bohème). The last fades into “Jingle Bells.”

It is Christmas, and Mary, Larry, Mr. Collier, and Judith are shopping. Collier stops to propose to Judith, who accepts and comments on the irony: Mary started divorce proceedings that morning.

The gum-chewing showgirls recognize Mary and beg her for a song. The pianist, hidden in an alcove of the sheet music section, is Jimmy. Mary sings “One Look at You” as the salesgirls and customers stand silent. She is dripping with jewels and furs while Jimmy is threadbare, so it is obviously supposed to be an important emotional moment.

Jimmy returns to the dreary hole where he and Herman now live and finds the announcement of divorce proceedings. He tosses his hat at the hat rack and this time he misses. In a fit of despondency, he throws his music into the stove, and old Herman burns his hands rescuing it. Herman makes an impas­sioned speech about suffering and creating and success and Jimmy sees the light.

The next scene finds Mary on closing night of her show, two years later. (The show opened in 1938, so that makes it 1940, a year after the film was released.) Her divorce has just come through, but Larry’s proposal cheers her up. She accepts and announces to the entire cast that she is retiring from show business.

After two years of writing, Jimmy finally sells the song that he wrote way back in reel one, now a “concerto.” He and Herman musi­cally celebrate, singing of the “Scandinavian rights” and “television rights” that will make Jimmy rich.

Mary is packing to leave for England and her wedding. The decor of her apartment is truly astounding, with sequined Moorish columns, merry-go-round horses, and silken swags everywhere. Larry is just leaving when he runs into Jimmy and Herman in the hallway. Jimmy knows nothing of Mary’s engagement. He is in excellent spirits and offers to let Larry return the blow he gave him at their last meeting, just to show there are no hard feelings. Larry declines. The elevator man asks Larry if he is going down. “Yes,” he answers thought­fully, watching Jimmy go toward Mary’s door. “I guess it will be all right.”

Jimmy tells the startled Mary that he is a success now, and they can start all over. He has buried his inferiority complex “under a million notes.” Mary tells him tearfully that she is marrying someone else. Collier arrives to persuade Mary to stay in the show. He has just bought a fabulous song, and only she can sing it in his new show. Of course it is Jimmy’s song, and if Mary won’t stay, Collier won’t use it. By some incongruous logic, this puts Jimmy’s success on Mary’s shoulders, and, of course, she can’t let Jimmy fail again.

Opening night of the new show. Backstage, Mary is heartbroken that Jimmy is nowhere to be found. Her fiancé Larry comes to her dressing room drunk and tells her that he recognizes her for a woman who loves with all her heart. That’s why he wanted her, and that’s why he can’t have her. Mary tries to prove she is happy by holding up a smiling mask similar to those of the chorus girls, but Larry isn’t fooled. (Poor Ian Hunter, playing respectable, intelligent, and considerate gentlemen, was invariably passed up by the heroine for a more dashing, less trustworthy hero.) Mary is called on stage, and Jimmy arrives moments later. This time Larry takes him up on his offer and socks him in the jaw.

The curtains rise on Busby Berkeley’s first MGM film number. A close-up shot of a shepherd’s pipe expands to reveal a shepherd and sheep (perched uncomfortably on rocky shelves) outside a composer’s window. The composer takes up the melody and, in a pin-point spot, Mary appears in white wig and Grecian gown, running through a set of crushed black plastic shapes. The camera arches and sweeps, picking out ranks of masked musicians and singers. All is dark, glittering, and ominous.

To a wild jungle beat, the squads are joined by jitterbugging African-masked dancers. The number becomes chaotic, a nightmare of sound and sight, finally resolved by a cymbal crash. Mary is standing in a white dress with sequin “wing” collar on a fifty-foot pedestal. About seventy-five feet away, in a darkened corner of the orchestra, she spots Jimmy playing the piano. She jumps as if stuck by a pin, then she beams and finishes the song triumphantly. The End.

Perhaps it is fortunate that the film wasn’t a success, for if it had been, Miss MacDonald might never have returned to the operettas that her fans love so well.


“The biggest bad show of the year” said the New York Times.


Jeanette recorded “Un Bel Di.”

Music in the Film

In listing performers after each title, “and” denotes a genuine duet, while commas between names indicate a sequence of singers.

Overture: “High Flyin’” fragment, “One Look at You” fragment, “For Ev’ry Lonely Heart”


“Yip-I-Addy-I-Ay” (MacDonald and male quartet) – John H. Flynn and Will D. Cobb
“Rufus Rastus Johnson Brown” [“What Ya Gonna Do When the Rent Comes ’Round?”]
(MacDonald, Gus Reed Singers with Charles Bennett, Thad Harvey, and Abe
Dinovitch) – music by Harry von Tilzer, lyrics by Andrew B. Sterling
“Hearts Win, You Lose” (MacDonald) – music and words by Andrew B. Sterling
“Love’s Old Sweet Song” [“Just a Song at Twilight”] (MacDonald) – music by J.L. Molloy,
lyrics by G. Clifton Bingham


“A Tisket, a Tasket” (MacDonald)
“Here We Go ’Round the Mulberry Bush” (MacDonald)
“The Farmer in the Dell” (Al Shean)
“For Ev’ry Lonely Heart” (MacDonald) – based on “None but the Lonely Heart”
(“Nür Wer die Sehnsucht Kennt”) by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, arranged by Edward
Ward and Herbert Stothart, new lyrics by Gus Kahn
“For Ev’ry Lonely Heart” reprise (MacDonald)
“High Flyin’” (Mary Kent dubbing for Katharine Alexander, Franklin Pangborn) – music by
Herbert Stothart and Edward Ward, lyrics by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest
“High Flyin’” reprise (MacDonald and male quartet, chorus) INTO:
“One Look at You” (MacDonald) – music by Stothart and Ward, lyrics by Wright and Forrest


“For Ev’ry Lonely Heart” (orchestra)
“No Time to Argue” fragment (MacDonald and Stevens) – music by Sigmund Romberg,
lyrics by Gus Kahn
“Time Changes Everything” (MacDonald and chorus) – see credits below
“For Ev’ry Lonely Heart (orchestral)
“Time Changes Everything” reprise (MacDonald and chorus)
“High Flyin’” (MacDonald and chorus)
“Time Changes Everything” reprise (Pangborn, male octet) – music by Walter Donaldson,
lyrics by Gus Kahn
“Un Bel Di” (MacDonald) from Madame Butterfly – music by Giacomo Puccini, lyrics by
Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa


“Italian Street Song” (MacDonald) – music by Victor Herbert, lyrics by Rida Johnson Young
“Les Filles de Cadix” (MacDonald) – music by Leo Delibes, lyrics by Alfred deMusset
“Quando M’En Vo” [“Musetta’s aria”] (MacDonald) – from the opera La Bohème,
music by Giacomo Puccini, lyrics by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
“Jingle Bells” (orchestral) – traditional
“One Look at You” reprise (MacDonald)
“Musical contract” patter song (Al Shean and Lew Ayres) – Stothart and Ward
(Copyrighted as such, no lyricist given.)
“For Ev’ry Lonely Heart” reprise (MacDonald and chorus)
Pay records indicate song fragments were recorded by Ken Darby’s Octet, Six Hits and a
Miss, and the King’s Men Octet. Helen Seamon and Roy Lester performed a jitterbug

NOTE: “For Ev’ry Lonely Heart” was also copyrighted under the title “Broadway Serenade.”


Jeanette is wearing her white Broadway Serenade parka with fur-trimmed hood when she and Tyrone Power accept their “crowns” as “King and Queen of Hollywood” from columnist Ed Sullivan in a 1939 newsreel. Both stars make charming acceptance speeches thanking their fans.