#127) Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

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#127) Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

OR “Polly Parker Pranks a Pair of Pickled Patrons”

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Musical sequences by Busby Berkeley.

Written by Erwin S. Gelsey & James Seymour. Dialogue by David Boehm & Ben Markson. Based on the play “The Gold Diggers” by Avery Hopwood.

Class of 2003

The Plot: Backstage musicals don’t really need a plot, but this one’s got a doozy. Four actresses (Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Aline MacMahon, & Ginger Rogers) strive for work during the Depression and find what may be the hit show they need. When the producer Barney (Ned Sparks) admits they have no funds, composer Brad (Dick Powell) delivers the money somewhat suspiciously. When it comes out that Brad actually comes from money, his brother Lawrence (Warren William) threatens to disown him and stop Brad’s marriage to Polly (Keeler). When Lawrence arrives, Carol (Blondell) poses as Polly and tries to bag him for herself. And in the midst of all of this are some of Busby Berkeley’s lavish production numbers.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “[a]rguably the definitive Depression-era musical” and praises the work of Busby Berkeley (but hey, how can you not?).

But Does It Really?: You can point to “42nd Street” as the definitive Busby Berkeley musical, but I give this film a pass out of sheer entertainment. The “book” scenes can weigh things down a bit, but the numbers more than make up for that. Unlike other backstage musicals of the era, “Gold Diggers” actually acknowledges the Depression, paying tribute with its powerful finale “Remember My Forgotten Man”. And how can you say no to the musical that gave us “We’re In The Money”?

Everybody Gets One: We’ll see most of this film’s major players again in “42nd Street” and “Footlight Parade”. Among the rest are go-to sassy confidante Aline MacMahon and a young Billy Barty!

Wow, That’s Dated: For starters, the title. But mainly, this film roots itself firmly in the Depression-era.

Seriously, Oscars?: “Gold Diggers” only received one nomination; Best Sound, losing to “A Farewell to Arms”. The only reason the film didn’t receive any Best Song nominations is that the category didn’t exist yet. If only it had been “Gold Diggers of 1934”.

Other notes

  • We start off strong with “We’re In The Money”. And then Ginger Rogers gets an extreme close-up as she sings a verse in Pig Latin. Am I having a stroke?
  • Look closely; one of the Gold Diggers is future Oscar winner (and future “Falcon Crest” star) Jane Wyman.
  • We’ll see more of character actor Ned Sparks throughout this blog. Needless to say, he’s one of those actors that leaves quite an impression.
  • Oh man, they fired Warren and Dubin! How meta.
  • Barney mentions that Brad and Polly would make a great team “like the Astaires”. Hey man, Ginger is right there.
  • Wouldn’t having the composer replace the lead cause problems with Actors’ Equity?
  • Ah yes, the great film trope of musical numbers that can’t possibly fit on the stage they are being performed on.
  • Polly tap-dances while wearing heels! Get it, Ruby Keeler!
  • It takes about 40 minutes before this film gives you its first of Busby Berkeley’s trademark overhead shots. As always, they are splendid.
  • That’s veteran character actor Charles Lane as the audience member who figures out who Brad is. You snitch.
  • This film perpetrates that theater women are gold diggers and that all theater people are “cheap and vulgar”. Well…
  • Pretty sure I just saw most of Joan Blondell’s boobs. Thanks, Pre-Code!
  • Disney voiceover legend Sterling Holloway makes a rare on-screen appearance as a delivery boy. You can clock that voice in a second.
  • Lawrence wants to be John Carradine so badly.
  • Cool neon effect in “Waltz of the Shadows”! I can only imagine what a pain that was given the technical limitations of the time.
  • Why is Joan Blondell Rex Harrison-ing her way through so much of “Remember My Forgotten Man”? Can’t she actually sing?
  • Don’t kid yourself, obviously dubbed soloist.

Legacy

  • This film spawned several films in the “Gold Diggers” series (though they were sequels in title only). Busby Berkeley and Dick Powell were on hand for most of them. The only real takeaway is the “Lullaby of Broadway” sequence from “Gold Diggers of 1935”.
  • “We’re In The Money” and “Waltz of the Shadows” found their way into the Broadway adaptation of “42nd Street”.
  • And of course, everyone who’s ever sung “We’re In The Money”.

Listen to This: While on the subject of the Depression, let’s not forget the quintessential song of the era, “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime”, preserved here with recordings by Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee.

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