Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… 42nd Street (1933)

You know, “you’re getting to be a habit with me,” but we’re back for the classic 1933 backstage musical 42nd Street, starring Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, George Brent, Ruby Keeler and Guy Kibbee.

Director Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) has plans to do one more show, which he needs to be successful so he can quit with a huge bank account. Big star Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels) secures a prominent role in the show through her “sugar daddy” Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee) backing the show. However, she is still in love with her former vaudeville partner Pat Denning (George Brent), and they keep meeting in secret. Pat is fed up with their secret relationship, and leaves town to find work elsewhere. As Julian drills everybody in his attempt to bring the show together, they end up taking the show to try it out in Philadelphia, where Pat has gone. Pat has been spending time with chorus girl Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler), which makes Dorothy jealous. The night before the show opens, Dorothy gets drunk, tells off Abner, and, as she tries to fight with Pat, she sprains her ankle. Julian is forced to consider postponing the show, until it is suggested that Peggy could handle the lead. Julian works with her to bring her up to speed, in the hopes that they might still be able to put together a great show.

42nd Street is famous at least partly for reviving the film musical. At the time, the genre’s popularity had sunk pretty low, due partly to audiences losing their taste for the plotless musicals that had dominated the genre after the advent of sound. Choreographer Busby Berkeley was a major reason for the film’s success. The previous film musicals had struggled with how they were filming dance, but he figured out some better ways to do it, getting the camera to move as well. He was in charge of quite a lot for his dance numbers, as he helped design the various sets for them. Of course, having the perfect cast helped, too.

This is one of those movies that is certainly fun to watch every now and then. I’ll admit, for modern audiences who prefer the music to help advance the plot, this movie is a tough sell, as almost none of the music does so. The closest anything comes is the song “It Must Be June.” The lyrics have nothing to do with it, but watching the “rehearsal,” one can’t help but feel like it is something that has been done time and time again (which Julian Marsh accuses it of being), with the cast seemingly doing it halfheartedly (with Ginger Rogers and Una Merkel’s characters carrying on a conversation like it was nothing). Other than that, the music really doesn’t advance the plot, but it’s all still oh so fun! Obviously the title tune is one of the best moments, starting off with Ruby Keeler dancing alone before being joined by the rest of the cast! “Young And Healthy” gives us a good introduction to Busby Berkeley’s use of overhead shots and various kaleidoscopic images, things that he would become known for. “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” is a fun tune, giving us Ruby Keeler paired up with Clarence Nordstrom, as a couple newly married on a train trip. The concept would kind of be revisited later that year in another Busby Berkeley film, Footlight Parade, although Ruby would be paired with Dick Powell for that one. Personally, I prefer “Shuffle Off To Buffalo,” as I enjoy the song more, not to mention it actually has some dancing to it.

I know I can’t help but marvel at this movie. The movie makes much of being the debut of Ruby Keeler, who would be one of the first big dance stars for the decade. And yet, Ginger Rogers, who as “Anytime Annie” gives up her chance at stardom, believing Ruby’s character to be able to handle the lead, would end up actually being the bigger dance star, starting later in the year when she would be famously paired with Fred Astaire in their first film together, Flying Down To Rio. Still, this is a fun movie, and one I would very highly recommend!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection. Their restoration helps this movie soar, and the details are quite crisp, showing off Busby Berkeley’s show-stopping numbers quite easily. Certainly highly recommended either on its own or as a companion film to their recently released Blu-ray of the aforementioned Footlight Parade!!

Film Length: 1 hour, 29 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

You Said A Mouthful (1932)Ginger RogersGold Diggers Of 1933 (1933)

Dick Powell – Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933)

George Brent – In Person (1935)

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