A Movie A Day: Quint on 42ND STREET (1934) It must have been hard on your mother, not having any children.
Published at: June 21, 2008, 11:31 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today’s flick is 1934’s 42ND STREET directed by yesterday’s AMAD (San Quentin) director Lloyd Bacon. It’s the first of three Busby Berkeley films we’re hitting. If you don’t know Busby Berkeley… well, you do. At least you know his influence. He choreographed dance numbers, incredible intricate things. The beginning of TEMPLE OF DOOM and the Bowling Alley Dream Sequence in BIG LEBOWSKI are both nods to Berkeley numbers.
So there are a series of films referred to as Busby Berkeley films (and were even sold as such back in the day) even though he didn’t direct many of the films themselves. However, his imprint is such that some 70 years later 42nd Street isn’t known as a Lloyd Bacon movie, but a Busby Berkeley movie.
I have a feeling that I might have seen one of these Berkeley films… I know I’ve seen one of the GOLD DIGGERS movies and I’m pretty sure it was the first (GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933)…
I had seen the Berkeley numbers in this film, just hadn’t seen them in context of the film itself.
Ruby Keeler plays a green dame who wants to be a chorus girl and is swept up in the production of a show being run by a famous producer, Mr. Marsh, played by Warner Baxter. Although, it’s unfair to say we follow Keeler’s character since this really is an ensemble. It’s almost as if there is no lead character, just a cast of supporting players.
The production is a nightmare, everything going wrong, and on top of it all the star of the show, played by Bebe Daniels, is romancing the financial backer (the always great Guy Kibbee) while sneaking off with her vaudeville sweetheart at night. If the financer catches wind of this, then he pulls out and the show is dead.
You know I pick a line to put as the subhead for each of these articles and sometimes it’s hard to find something. Not so much with this film. You can’t watch any 2 minutes of dialogue without pulling something golden out.
A lot of that has to do with the characters that are allowed to flourish here. You get so much chatter from catty chorus girls… priceless stuff… “Looks like she’s hit the bottle again.” “Yeah, the peroxide bottle.” Plus you get a really nice turn by Ginger Rogers as “Anytime” Annie (“She only said no once and that’s because she didn’t hear the question”).
Also giving a good turn here is the immensely likable Dick Powell who is in 4 AMADs in a row starting with this film. He’s a Berkeley regular and went on to play Philip Marlowe in MURDER, MY SWEET 10 years after this film was made. He’s an aw-shucks Jimmy Olsen type here, head over heels for Ruby Keeler.
Berkeley’s numbers aren’t the best I’ve seen (FOOTLIGHT PARADE and WONDER BAR are my favorites), but damn does that man know how to stage an elaborate dance sequence. The famous segment of his dance sequence from this film is a train that splits in half on stage as a young newlywed couple sing and dance to each other, innuendo thrown around by the passengers observing. But it’s always the human kaleidoscope stuff he does that blows my mind… the bird’s eye views of the stages as legs and bodies move in time making dizzying patterns and movements.
This is a fast, fun and incredibly entertaining flick. I hope a few of you are still following along and will able to dig into these Berkeley films. I look forward to getting to tomorrow’s DAMES following Powell, Berkeley and Ruby Keeler.
Here’s the schedule for the next 7 days:
Saturday, June 21st: DAMES (1934)
Sunday, June 22nd: GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 (1935)
Monday, June 23rd: MURDER, MY SWEET (1944)
Tuesday, June 24th: BORN TO KILL (1947)
Wednesday, June 25th: THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)
Thursday, June 26th: TORN CURTAIN (1966)
Friday, June 27th: THE LEFT HANDED GUN (1958)