Sog.: dalla pièce Merry Wives of Gotham; or, Two and Sixpence di Laurence Eyre. Scen.: Carey Wilson. F.: Ira H. Morgan. M.: Blanche Sewell. Scgf.: Ben Carré, Cedric Gibbons. Int.: Marion Davies (Fely/Anne), Conrad Nagel (Dirk De Rhondo), Frank Currier (Lambert De Rhondo), George K. Arthur (Andy), Charles McHugh (Shamus O’Tandy). Prod.: Cosmopolitan Productions per Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 35mm. D.: 72’ Bn.
By the time Marion Davies made this film, her first for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, it was clear her talents as a light comedienne outstripped her abilities as a dramatic actress. Lights of Old Broadway played to those strengths, offering her the chance to play the dual roles of twins separated at birth, one destined to be raised in the wealthier enclaves of old money New York, the other in an Irish shantytown. A variety of conflicts are set in motion – gentry versus newcomers, rich versus poor, gas lighting versus electric, sober minded Dutch bankers versus the less-than-sober-minded Irish – all before coming together in exactly the way one would expect this picture to end. But getting to that predictable finish is a good deal of fun.
Lights of Old Broadway was directed by Monta Bell, a solid journalist-turned-director who later became a producer at Paramount’s Astoria studios. Bell had a reputation as an actor’s director, and clearly MGM was comfortable turning over its newest star (not to mention William Randolph Hearst) to his care, along with a sizable budget for set design, costumes, and two color sequences. The set design is credited to Cedric Gibbons and Ben Carré, although it’s likely the Paris-born Carré was primarily responsible for the film’s color scenes, the few that take place somewhere other than a domestic setting.
That use of color makes sense within the narrative of the film, both in terms of sheer spectacle – a vaudeville performance – and as a dramatic device when Charles Brush introduces electricity to New York City in December 1880. The latter scene is of particular note for its effective use of three different color techniques within a handful of shots: tints, Technicolor, and the Handschiegl process, which was used specifically to make a giant American flag practically pop out of the screen. The overall effect is quite impressive and is a fitting early tribute to what genuinely was the dawning of a new technological age.
Restored in 2018 by Library of Congress in collaboration with UCLA Film & Television Archive with the support of California Department of Parks and Recreation, San Simeon and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, Margaret Herrick Library at YMC laboratory from the original nitrate prints preserved by Library of Congress and UCLA