(just kidding, it’s 1933 like the title says)
Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon, Ginger Rogers, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Warren William, Guy Kibbee Dir: Mervyn LeRoy
I can’t tell you how excited I am to be recommending this movie to you. It’s one of my favorites.
I think I will start with the ambiguous plot thingy to get it out of the way. There are a bunch of women who go from show to show as chorus girls and they are trying to help a broke producer to get a show going. Three of the girls live in an apartment near the apartment of Dick Powell who is a song writer. Other things happen. I will tell you that there is not one actual golddigger in the show, at least not in the sense we’re familiar with. They are trying to get money to do a show, not trying to marry a rich guy.
At the start of the movie we are treated to a short-ish BUSBY BERKELEY (that’s in all caps so you know that I’m yelling his name) presentation of “We’re in the Money”. Of course, you know that song. It was writtten for this film, so there’s a reference you already know. The song features GINGER ROGERS (I yelled that too, because she’s my idol) dressed in money (see illustration above) and, at one point, singing in PIG LATIN (I’ll stop that now) (maybe). It truly must be seen to be believed.
Ginger’s part isn’t as large as I would like it, but that’s because the big name actress here is actually Joan Blondell, who never ever fails to entertain me. She’s like the queen of pre-code movies. Or something.
I’m just going to go through the rest of the cast in a list because I have something to say about everyone, but I will tone it down for the first one.
Ruby Keeler- I’m glad her part isn’t larger.
Dick Powell- He’s just a doll. I didn’t really like him until I saw this movie and then I went back and watched a lot of his other films. It was his impishness that bothered me, but then I decided it was adorable.
Aline MacMahon- An unconventionally beautiful and underused actress who was very funny, but played bit dramatic roles way too often. She and Blondell crack me up in the picture.
Warren William- actually called the King of Pre-Code movies. For his billing, you would think he would have more screen time, but he’s not a singer/dancer, and that’s what the film is about so he’s not in it much. But when he’s on, he’s on. Gold Diggers introduced him to me.
Guy Kibbee- this is the kind of role Kibbee played most often, which is good because he’s good at it.
Sterling Holloway- funny.
Billy Barty- shocking.
There are actually a few BUSBY BERKELEY (I lied about not yelling anymore) numbers in the film. The “Dollar Dance”- which I’ve already mentioned, the song being “We’re in the Money”, the “Shadow Waltz”, “My Forgotten Man” and “Petting in the Park”.
Let me explain the typical Busby Berkeley (you’re welcome) number to you. It’s approximately a million women, and at times a million men to go with them, singing and dancing in giant formations on things like birthday cakes or abstract structures on a huge soundstage, repeating repeating repeating the chorus until it’s stuck in your head while the women whirl and twirl around making patterns and whatnot. The principles sing, and then often speak the verses as dialog. Sometimes they last 20 minutes, but not in this show, I think the longest one is maybe 8 or 9, but don’t quote me.
Now, neither you nor I have any idea how much had to be taken into consideration to get the visual effect Berkeley was going for in his numbers. I am going to attempt to list some things that were surely carefully planned.
1) Hair color- In many of the sequences the women all had the same hair color, often platinum
2) Make-up- their make-up had to be exactly alike and suited to the theme of the song
3) Dresses- the dresses had to swirl just right
4) Props- you know like neon violins and such (one of which is in the Smithsonian)
5) Lighting- Well, duh
6) Structures to dance on- platforms, stairs, things that spin and rise and lower
7) How shiny the floor was- this matters
The musical number that really intrigues me in this film is the “Petting in the Park” sequence. In the big picture it is basically a bunch of men trying to get women naked and Billy Barty running around looking up women’s skirts. The first time I saw the movie, I didn’t know in advance that it was Barty. There’s a pram with a baby in it, then the baby hops out and starts running around and doing crazy stunts. You think that it’s a child, but then you realize it’s Billy Barty, a little person who was pretty famous later in life. Then you look up how old he was in 1933 and realize it actually is a child because he’s NINE. Every time I watch this movie I sit there with my jaw on the floor, marveling at the things they have him doing as a 9 year old child. And he was one talented kid. Pretty amazing.
If you see no other Berkeley musical in your lifetime, make sure you see this one. What’s really great about it is the movie plot is solid. It’s not just a gimmick to get you from one song to the next.