19 January 2001 | lugonian
Those Broadway Girls
GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (Warner Brothers, 1933), based on the 1919 play by Avery Hopwood, is a worthy follow-up to the recent backstage musical success of "42nd Street" (1933). Previously filmed as a 1923 silent, then an early 1929 musical talkie, "The Golddiggers of Broadway". followed by sequels in name only, "Gold Diggers of 1935, 1937," and "IN Paris," the Hopwood plot was later reworked again by Warners in 1951 in western setting as "Painting the Clouds With Sunshine," with Dennis Morgan, but the 1933 edition, in the opinion of many, is the best of them all. It's one of the few 1930s musicals that can still be seen and appreciated today, thanks to choreographer Busby Berkeley's genius of inventing such remarkable production numbers, and director Mervyn LeRoy's fast-paced story-line.
The plot can be categorized in two parts. PART I: Roommate show girls, Carol (Joan Blondell), Trixie (Aline MacMahon), Polly (Ruby Keeler) and Fay (Ginger Rogers), give up their present jobs in order to appear in Barney Hopkins' (Ned Sparks) latest musical revue, FORGOTTEN MELODY. Barney wants to do a show about the Depression. In the meantime he is introduced to Brad (Dick Powell), an unknown composer, by Polly who loves him. Brad so happens to have the score Barney wants to use for the upcoming show. After rehearsals comes opening night. The juvenile leading man (Clarence Nordstrom) is unable to go on and Brad is chosen to take his place. After the show clicks, Brad and Polly become overnight stars. PART II: Millionaire snob J. Lawrence Bradford (Warren William), and his family attorney, Peabody (Guy Kibbee) arrive in New York from Boston in order to prevent Brad, J. Lawrence's younger brother, from disgracing the family name by appearing in the shows and getting himself mixed up with show girls, who have the reputation of being nothing but "chisslers, parasites and gold diggers." Because Brad wants a career in the theater and to now marry Polly, he refuses to listen to his brother. J. Lawrence decides to break up the relationship by meeting Polly and buying her off, but instead he meets Carol and mistakes her for Polly. Carol and Trixie decide to J. Lawrence and Peabody "for a ride" and "gold dig" their way into their wallets.
Beginning and ending with production numbers, the movie opens with "We're in the Money" sung by Ginger Rogers both in English and in Pig Latin; followed by Dick Powell crooning "The Shadow Waltz" to Ruby Keeler from across her apartment window. Powell then sings the beautiful tune, "I've Got to Sing a Torch Song" while auditioning for Sparks. That song is underscored during the film's love scenes and tender moments. The stage shows include the lively and racy "Pettin' in the Park," followed by chorus girls in hoop skirts playing neon violins to "The Shadow Waltz," ending with the Depression theme, "Remember My Forgotten Man" a dark and moody number with Joan Blondell (wearing tight blouse and skirt)/sung by black singer Etta Moten, underscored in serious tone presenting dough-boy soldiers fighting at the front during World War I, and returning home to the states finding themselves hit by the Depression, becoming homeless and unemployed. Only Berkeley could take a very lively movie and end it like this. Of the four show girls in the story, only Ginger Rogers has little to do. Aline MacMahon and Guy Kibbee make an excellent "odd couple." Powell and Keeler continue to delight with their innocent charm, while sassy Blondell and no nonsense William make go with their love/hate relationship.
While musicals have a reputation for having thin plots and strong production numbers, or visa versa, GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 is strong on both counts and entertains throughout its full 96 minutes. Mistaken identity plot par excellence make this a breezy and merry affair. There are some Hollywood "in jokes" here that some viewers might not understand, with pre-production code risqué dialogue and scenes that will open many eyes before beginning to chuckle with amusement. Look for it. Excellent score by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, with choreography by Busby Berkeley, make this one movie musical of the 1930s highly recommended to be seen and enjoyed, if above all else. (****)