“By a waterfall, I’m calling you-hoo-hoo-hoo” so we can get into the classic 1933 Busby Berkeley musical Footlight Parade starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell!
Chester Kent (James Cagney) has been producing musical shows on the stage, but with the advent of talking pictures, he finds audiences don’t want to see them. After his producing partners show him a prologue (short little stage shows shown in between movies) and he stops at a chain drugstore for some aspirin, he gets the idea that producing prologues for many theaters would be cheaper than producing for one, and his partners like the idea. Their studio becomes a success, but Chester’s partners have no trouble cheating him out of the profits while he is continually trying to come up with ideas for prologues, especially when the competition is stealing his ideas through spies in the company. His secretary, Nan Prescott (Joan Blondell), is secretly in love with him, and does what she can to help get him out of trouble. They are given the opportunity to sign with Appolinaris (Paul Porcasi), who would use the prologues in many of his theatres, but they have to come up with three different prologues to test on audiences before he will sign.
Following the success of both 42nd Street and Gold Diggers Of 1933, Footlight Parade was put into production. James Cagney, who had been a song-and-dance man on the stage but had quickly become typecast as a gangster in the movies after his role in The Public Enemy, campaigned hard to get a role in this movie after seeing the success of the previous films. Obviously, he got the part, and he was teamed up with his then-frequent co-star Joan Blondell, a pairing that had worked since they both came to Hollywood a few years earlier to do Sinner’s Holiday (which they had done on Broadway). Of course, continuing on from the previous two films onscreen were Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell and Guy Kibbee, with 42nd Street director Lloyd Bacon returning. And, of course, Busby Berkeley, trying to figure out what to do next after his work on the previous films.
Personally, I consider this movie the best of the Busby Berkeley movies from the thirties for two reasons: James Cagney and the song “By A Waterfall.” “By A Waterfall” was Berkeley’s big number for this film, making use of an 80-by-40 foot swimming pool, and lighting that helps emphasize some of the various formations that the swimmers do. Of course, the song itself is a lot of fun and quite catchy, too! And getting to see another James Cagney musical is just as fun! Here, we get to see his style of dancing, as opposed to when he was trying to dance like the real George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. Honestly, my biggest complaint with this movie is that we don’t get to see enough of him dancing! He mainly does most of his dancing to demonstrate what he wants with the different prologues, and his only musical number is the final “Shanghai Lil” (which I would say is probably the second best song in the movie), in which he dances with Ruby Keeler for about a minute and is otherwise doing some of the formations choreographed by Busby Berkeley (word of warning, though, as Ruby Keeler is made up to look a bit more Chinese for “Shanghai Lil”). For the most part, the movie is mostly a comedy more than a musical, as there is maybe one song before the final half hour (which is almost entirely comprised of three big musical numbers). Overall, a very fun movie and highly recommended!! (of course, as a pre-Code, there are enough elements in this movie that there is a little room for debate about how kid-friendly it is, but adults should definitely be able to enjoy this movie)!
This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection. Regarding the transfer for this new release, it looks FANTASTIC!! Seriously, I don’t know what else to say, as the team at WAC has done their usual phenomenal work here, and I only hope it sells well enough for them to work on the rest of the Busby Berkeley films (not to mention some of their other 30s musicals)! The movie is one hour, forty-three minutes in length.
My Rating: 10/10