San Diego Classic Film Calendar

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Gold Diggers of 1933

Musicals don't get any better than Busby Berkeley, and if you ask me, Busby Berkeley doesn't get any better than his early work in the Pre-Code era. Berkeley created moving artwork with the human form and Gold Diggers of 1933 is one of his finest. He uses the female body in the same way a great painter uses canvas and oils.

The film has a great cast including Warren William, Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee, and Ned Sparks, as well as cool uncredited rolls for Sterling Holloway and Charles Lane. It's a formulaic plot but clever dialogue and great delivery by all the principals help it rise above.To be honest how much plot do you need in a musical anyway. 

The musical numbers are simply spectacular. Gold Diggers of 1933 opens with Ginger Rogers singing "We're in the Money" with both costumes and giant set pieces made of silver dollars. She even sings a verse in Pig Latin. How cool is that? The musical numbers shine throughout. Dick Powell sings two songs solo, "Shadow Waltz" and "I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song."  "Shadow Waltz" appears later as a production number.

The "Pettin’ in the Park" number is is a fun and even by today's standards a little bit dirty. The silhouette scenes would never have made it just a little over a year after the film was released. The Hays code expressly forbid that sort of thing. "The Shadow Waltz" number with neon lighted violins and reflections of the dancers using both water from a pond on stage and the black lacquer floor is a masterpiece.

Gold Diggers of 1933 climaxes with "Remember My Forgotten Man."  With sets reminiscent of German expressionist film, the number portrays the plight of the ordinary man during the Depression. The marching beat and military theme make it seem instantly patriotic, but the lyrics about how society failed to support its own undercut that. It goes someplace you'd never expected in a film like this.


Finally, any film with a young Joan Blondell is worth watching for me. She is absolutely gorgeous. I often joke that if I had a time machine, I wouldn't go back and kill Hitler. I'd go back and try to seduce young Joan Blondell. The way she twists William Warren around her finger is awesome.

Pre-Code films were free to show things in a way that a short time later, censors would never allow. They also pushed the envelope with both racy dialog and subject matter. Gold Diggers of 1933 takes advantage in the most wonderful way.

2 comments:

  1. I saw it for the first time yesterday. It was amazing!

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  2. Cool, if you get a chance, look for Footlight Parade. If anything, it's better.

    ReplyDelete