Friday, June 3, 2016

Short Take: 42nd Street

42nd Street (1933), directed by Lloyd Bacon from a script credited to Rian James and James Seymour, is perhaps the archetypical Hollywood musical. Its influence can be felt in many films, including The Band Wagon and All That Jazz. A famous musical-comedy director (Warner Oland), in failing health and desperate for one last hit, agrees to helm a vanity production financed by the sugar daddy (Guy Kibbee) of its leading lady (Bebe Daniels). There are all sorts of backstage intrigues, many involving an ingenue chorus girl (Ruby Keeler). The intrigues ultimately threaten to derail the production, but the chorus girl comes through to save the day. Most of the film is taken up with the backstage story. The musical numbers don't come until the very end, and those are a mixed bag. The best is "Young and Healthy," featuring choreographer Busby Berkeley's marvelous pinwheel-kaleidoscope imagery. The low point is Ruby Keeler's painfully awkward tap-dancing solo at the beginning of the film's title song. The set piece recovers afterward, with no small thanks due to Berkeley's strikingly elaborate staging. One wishes the producers had intended the picture as more of a showcase for his choreographic wonders. There's too little of them, but the film is still a good deal of fun. The backstage drama is enjoyably plotted and paced. The film was also made before the Hays Office Production Code was in force, so there's a good deal of racy humor.  The funniest moment is when a female dancer is berated by her landlady for innocently allowing a man in her room, while behind them, a neighbor hurries a bedmate-beau down the stairs. The cast also includes Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers, George Brent, and Una Merkel. The songs are by the team of Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics). The cinematographer was Sol Polito.

No comments:

Post a Comment