90 years after its release, we take a look at why Gold Diggers Of 1933 remains a classic, memorable Pre-code movie musical.
If you ask me, there is nothing better than a Busby Berkeley musical. The dance sequences are opulent as hell, perfectly choreographed with not one hair out of place, and defy the law of physics more so than the last instalment of the Fast & Furious franchise. Entertaining and extravagant, a Berkeley musical defined the 30s musical.
This Saturday marks exactly 90 years since the release of one of Berkeley’s finest works, and one of greatest musicals of all time – Gold Diggers Of 1933! So, let’s dive into the film.
Gold Diggers Of 1933 is based on a play by Avery Hopwood called The Gold Diggers. It was first made into a silent film of the same name in 1923, before being made into a talkie by director Roy Del Rut in 1929.
However, it is Mervyn LeRoy’s spectacular feast of creativity that has truly struck gold. The film stars four incredible Pre-Code women of the era – Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, Ruby Keeler and Aline MacMahon. They all star as roommates who also happen to be singers and dancers, barely getting by as the depression has gutted the entertainment industry. When their producer Barney Hopkins has a new show idea, the girls come up with different ideas on how to cough up the dough, especially when a rich playboy with starry ambitions comes into play.
The central four are an electric combination. The whip-smart actresses, with spectacular deliveries and stupendous voices, are remarkable. They are so much fun to watch, and each play a great role – Keeler as the innocent ingenue, Blondell as the smart firecracker, Rogers as the glamour puss, and MacMahon as the wise-cracking, slick comedian.
Together, as they flirt, flounce, and fight through their schemes and ploys, they are utterly terrific and wonderfully watchable. Add grumpy Ned Sparks, a bright-eyed Dick Powell (who is also superb when paired with Keeler), and the ever-wonderful William Warren (another sweet reunion as Warren and Blondell spar with one another again).
Of course, the big bolshy musical numbers are exactly what people want from a Busby Berkeley show. Here is no different. The whole film starts with one of the most famous musical numbers of all time – We’re In the Money. Not only does it set the tone for the show, ironically as New York is gripped with the depression, but it is sung by everyone’s favourite Ginger Rogers.
There’s also Pettin’ In The Park which really showcases how much Berkeley likes to forgo the rulebook to highlight these enormous numbers. You have to keep in mind that these numbers are supposed to be in a theatre, but this whole set piece is set in a park, fixed with grassy knolls, vast lakes, and a multitude of couples canoodling on a bench. Plus, it is a little bit saucy, and there’s one part of the number that sees the women strip behind a screen during the pouring rain, only to reveal themselves to be clad in metallic swimming suits. Thankfully there is a tin-opener about. It is very much a quintessential Pre-Code number.
That brings us to Joan Blondell’s number Remember My Forgotten Man. Just when you are enjoying the hilarity and the hijinks, then you are smacked with an utterly emotional torch song. Remember My Forgotten Man is an ode to the man on the breadline – struggling to survive during the Great Depression. Utilising German Expressionism for the sets, and having a vocal solo by female singer Etta Moten, it is a remarkable and powerful number in amidst the antics.
90 years on and Gold Diggers Of 1933 is still an exciting and enjoyable outing, with the most impeccable quartet at the centre of it!
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