Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933)

If you’re in the money, then I hope you’re here as we get into Gold Diggers Of 1933, starring Warren William, Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell!

Producer Barney Hopkins (Ned Sparks) has an idea for a show, but no cash to put it on with. He meets songwriter Brad Roberts (Dick Powell) when he is meeting with some of the chorus girls from Barney’s attempted shows, and Brad puts up the money to do the show, as long as his girlfriend Polly Parker (Ruby Keeler) is given the lead. When the male lead has issues with lumbago, Brad has to go on in his place. The show is successful, but it is revealed that Brad is actually Robert Treat Bradford, a member of a wealthy society family. His brother, J. Lawrence Bradford (Warren William) is less than thrilled that his brother is involved in show business, but he is particularly adamant that Brad should not go out with Polly, since Lawrence and the family lawyer Faneuil Peabody (Guy Kibbee) believe all chorus girls are gold diggers. Lawrence and Faneuil come to Polly’s apartment, and mistake one of her roommates, Carol King (Joan Blondell) for her. Carol and other roommate Trixie Lorraine (Aline MacMahon) decide to play along with the mistake and get back at them for insulting them. While it’s a game for the gals at first, they do start to have real feelings for the two men (and vice versa).

After the success of 42nd Street, Warner Brothers quickly followed up with Gold Diggers Of 1933, bringing back a lot of the cast, choreographer Busby Berkeley and songwriters Harry Warren and Al Dubin (and make sure you note who the songwriters are, as that helps make at least one line early in the movie that much funnier). But for the story, they made use of a Broadway show called The Gold Diggers that they had already filmed twice before, once as a silent film and again as an early talkie, the film The Gold Diggers Of Broadway, which is sadly now a lost film except for a few surviving reels. Busby Berkeley was given more freedom and a bigger budget to work with for this movie, resulting in four big numbers, including the song “Remember My Forgotten Man,” which drew inspiration from the then-recent Bonus March (in which veterans of the first world war, suffering from the effects of the Depression, tried and failed to claim their government pensions that had been promised to them after the war).

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the songs “We’re In The Money” and the “Shadow Waltz.” “We’re In The Money” is probably this film’s most iconic number, starting us off with a group of chorus girls, led by Ginger Rogers, singing on stage how the Depression is over for them, as they are (literally) covered in money, only for a sheriff and his deputies to come in and take everything because the show’s producer hadn’t paid the bills. Of course, Ginger makes the song memorable by doing part of it in pig Latin (which was apparently something she was doing offscreen just for fun and somebody heard her doing then suggested she do it in the movie). “Shadow Waltz,” while not quite as well known, is still fun, especially when seeing the dancers moving around with neon-lit violins.

There are definitely two distinct halves to this movie, with the first focusing on putting on the show and on Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler’s characters, while the second half focuses more on the gold digger aspects as Warren William’s character mistakenly tries to stop the relationship and is taken for a ride by the roommates. It works, and definitely keeps the movie from essentially repeating 42nd Street. Overall, a very fun pre-Code film, and one that is highly recommended! This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection and is one hour, thirty-seven minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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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!! The movie is one hour, twenty-nine minutes in length.

My Rating: 9/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Lovely To Look At (1952)

“To me, dancing is the loveliest way I know to meet a girl. It’s the only way I can hold a girl in my arms in a crowded room and still have her all to myself. Dancing is the whistlestop before romance.” – Gower Champion in Lovely to Look At

Now we’re back for the 1952 musical Lovely To Look At, starring Kathryn Grayson, Red Skelton and Howard Keel.

Tony (Howard Keel), Jerry (Gower Champion) and Al (Red Skelton) have plans for a Broadway show, but find they are under-financed to convince anybody to back the show. Then Al receives a letter stating that his Aunt Roberta had passed, and he had inherited half of her dress shop in Paris. So Tony, Jerry and Al make the trip to Paris to sell Al’s half to finance their show, but they find that the shop, now run by Stephanie (Kathryn Grayson) and her sister Clarisse (Marge Champion), has seen better years. With the creditors closing in, the three men decide to convince them to put on a big fashion show with music, dancing comedy. Of course, there are different romances brewing, as Jerry and Clarisse fall for each other, while Al falls for Stephanie, she likes Tony, and Tony likes her, except his girlfriend Bubbles Cassidy (Ann Miller) shows up (but ends up falling for Al). But when one of the models (Zsa Zsa Gabor) introduces them to producer Max Fogelsby (Kurt Kasznar), who offers them the chance to do their show immediately, will they stay to help with the fashion show or will they return to New York?

As the second filmed version of the Broadway musical Roberta (following the Astaire/Rogers film from the 1930s), this film brought back some songs dropped from the earlier film while retaining some that were written for the previous movie. Having seen the earlier Roberta many times, Lovely To Look At was a movie I was curious about, but had low expectations for when I first saw it nearly a decade ago. All I can say is that I’m glad I was curious, as it has become one of my favorite movies, usually one I try to watch at least once a year!

The score, with music written by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Otto Harbach (and some updated lyrics by Dorothy Fields), is absolutely wonderful! In That’s Entertainment, Part 2, Fred Astaire said that “Jerome Kern wrote some of the loveliest melodies I’ve ever heard, and none lovelier than this one, sung by Kathryn Grayson” (referring, of course, to the song “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”). That’s a sentiment I very much agree with, as I very much prefer this sung version of the song. Kathryn does it so wonderfully and with so much emotion, I know I can’t help but want to cry along with her as she finishes. That being said, the instrumental version used earlier in the movie for husband-and-wife dance team Marge and Gower Champion is even better yet! It is such a wonderful combination of beautiful music and breathtaking dancing, I look forward to it every time I watch the movie (and, for those who noticed, it made my Top 10 Dance Routines list, too)! Also worth noting for Marge and Gower is the song “I Won’t Dance,” a fun and flirtacious dance between the two that is full of fun and lifts as well!

Of course, with Red Skelton in the cast, you can bet there is room for some comedy, too! Early on, he gets a chance as he rides an elevator that looks so unsafe in how it moves that most of us would much rather walk up the stairs after seeing it in action (and then a bit later when somebody else tries to use it, and we listen to him with his badly mangled French). But his best moment is probably his “Irish Tenor” comedy bit later in the movie. Seriously, if you can get through that without laughing, then I don’t know what you’re even reading about this film for, it’s so good!

Overall, this is very much a fun musical that I always enjoy. I admit, the fashion show sequence at the end of the movie is a bit odd (partly due to the fact that that sequence was directed by Vincente Minelli instead of Mervyn LeRoy who directed the rest of the movie), with the Marge and Gower dance routine to “Yesterdays” really being a jolt, but over time and multiple viewings, I’ve still come to appreciate it just as much as the rest of the movie! A very highly recommended movie if you get the chance to see it!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection, and is one hour, forty-two minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Hello, Dolly! (1969)

It’s time to “put on your Sunday clothes,” so we can get into the 1969 musical Hello Dolly! starring Barbra Streisand, Walter Matthau and Michael Crawford!

Matchmaker Dolly Levi (Barbra Streisand) comes to Yonkers as “half-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau) is getting ready to go to New York City and propose to hatshop owner Irene Molloy (Marianne McAndrew). Horace pays Dolly to keep his niece Ermengarde (Joyce Ames) away from her fianc√© Ambrose Kemper (Tommy Tune), although she encourages the two of them behind his back. Horace’s two clerks, Cornelius Hackel (Michael Crawford) and Barnaby Tucker (Danny Lockin) are supposed to mind the store while he is away, but they want to go to New York for a day and have an adventure for once in their life. Overhearing them, Dolly encourages them to go see Irene Molloy and her assistant Minnie Fay (E. J. Peaker), which they gladly agree to do. However, while they are in the shop talking to them, Horace comes in and breaks up with Irene when he realizes somebody else is in the shop ( but doesn’t know who, as both Cornelius and Barnaby were hiding while he was there). After he leaves, Dolly encourages them to spend the day together and go to the Harmonia Gardens restaurant that night. Meanwhile, she convinces Horace to go there as well. During the dance contest at the restaurant, Horace sees Ambrose dancing with Ermengarde, and ends up starting a fight. Seeing Cornelius and Barnaby there as well, he fires them, and goes home licking his wounds with everybody gone.

Obviously, with this movie, most of the fun has to do with the music, written by Jerry Herman. One can’t go wrong with a lot of these tunes, including “It Only Takes A Moment,” “Before The Parade Passes By” and “Elegance.” But I would definitely say I enjoy three (maybe four) of them more than the others. “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” is always fun, and is generally guaranteed to get stuck in my head (but I’m not complaining)! “Dancing” is also enjoyable, with all the fun dancing done throughout the park! But “Hello, Dolly!” is one of the film’s best songs, particularly helped by the presence of Louis Armstrong, who had had a hit with the song a few years earlier! And the “maybe” song would be “The Waiters’ Gallop,” where the music itself might not be that memorable, but watching all the waiters dance as they perform their duties is a lot of fun (even if it is unrealistic watching all the food stay on the trays when they are doing all the flips and spins and whatnot, but I don’t care)!

If you can’t tell, this is a movie that I really enjoy! Sure, maybe Barbra Streisand might have been miscast as Dolly, if only purely because she seemed a bit young for the part, but she takes the role and runs with it! She works well enough for me in what is the ONLY film she did that I could be convinced to watch (and I’ll easily take her in the role instead of Carol Channing, whom I would struggle to live with for the movie’s entire runtime). The movie is fun, and still maintains a lot of the style of some of the older film musicals (helped by the presence of director Gene Kelly, choreographer Michael Kidd and associate producer Roger Edens, all of whom had worked on a number of the classic MGM musicals). This movie is always fun to stick on every now and then, and enjoy getting the music stuck in my head again! A movie I can easily recommend!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Twentieth Century Fox, and is two hours, twenty-eight minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Silk Stockings (1957)

Now we have a movie that proves that Paris loves lovers, the 1957 MGM musical Silk Stockings starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse!

Movie producer Steve Canfield (Fred Astaire) wants Russian composer Peter Boroff’s (Wim Sonneveld) music for his new movie, and tries to help him stay in Paris. The Russian government is displeased with this, and sends three commissars (Jules Munshin, Peter Lorre and Joseph Buloff) to bring him back. When Steve distracts them with wine, women and song, special envoy Nina Yoschenko (Cyd Charisse) is sent to try again. She proves to be more resilient, but as the attraction between her and Steve develops, even she manages to loosen up, and Steve proposes to her. However, when Nina, Peter and the three commissars hear how Peter’s music has been changed for the movie, they are all offended and they all return to Russia.

This movie was based on a then-recent Broadway musical with music by Cole Porter (which was based on the 1939 comedy Ninotchka). A lot of the score from the Broadway show was kept for the movie, with a couple of new songs written specifically for the movie. These include the songs “Fated To Be Mated” and “Ritz, Roll And Rock” (and a few altered lyrics on some others in order to comply with the censors). Personally, “Ritz, Roll And Rock” is probably my favorite song from this movie (although most of the music is a lot of fun). It’s a song Fred Astaire apparently asked composer Cole Porter to write for the movie, due to the recent popularity of rock and roll. For me, it’s just a fun song to remember, and it’s one that almost always seems to be at least partly stuck in my head!¬† The song “All Of You” also manages to be quite memorable (although it’s one of those songs that I’m surprised made it past the censors, considering the suggestive nature of some of the lyrics)!

Just in general, this movie is one that I very, very much enjoy! For me, the cast just makes it work! Fred and Cyd dazzle, alone and together, in their dances. Janis Paige is hilarious, with a character essentially spoofing the famous swimming actress Esther Williams. All three of the Russian commissars are fun to watch (including Peter Lorre, who certainly seems like an odd choice in a musical, especially considering his dancing seems to be very limited, but still manages to make the comedy work). Again, a movie I have so much fun watching (and getting the music stuck in my head), and one I definitely would recommend highly!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection and is one hour, fifty-eight minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… The Band Wagon (1953)

If you’re not going your way by yourself, then let’s all get on The Band Wagon, the classic 1953 musical starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse!

Washed-up movie actor Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) decides to leave Hollywood and go to New York City to do a Broadway show written by his friends Lester (Oscar Levant) and Lily (Nanette Fabray) Marton. Lester and Lily have convinced actor/ director Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan) to do their show, and he quickly signs ballet dancer Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse) as the leading lady, along with her boyfriend/ manager Paul Byrd (James Mitchell) as the show’s choreographer. However, Tony and Gabrielle don’t hit it off well at first, and Jeff quickly gets out of control making the show quite different than what Lester and Lily had written. When the show opens out-of-town, they find just how badly out-of-control Jeff had gotten, and they all regroup to figure out how to salvage the show.

Similar to the previous year’s classic musical Singin’ In The Rain, The Band Wagon is a celebration of the music of composers Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. The movie shared the title of the final Broadway show that Fred Astaire did with his sister Adele, but the movie was far different, being given a plot, instead of being a musical revue. Only a few songs from the show were retained for this movie: “I Love Luisa,” “Dancing In The Dark” and “New Sun in The Sky.” All the other songs were pulled from other stuff that Dietz And Schwartz did (with the exception of the song “That’s Entertainment,” which was written for this movie). However you look at it, the movie has a lot of wonderful music and dancing, including the song “Shine On My Shoes,” which featured Fred working with a real dancing shoeshine man, Leroy Daniels, and many others (I plan on commenting on some of the others in another post).

As much as I enjoy Fred Astaire’s films, this is one that took multiple viewings before I appreciated it. But I do believe it to be a wonderful movie, with a lot of songs and dances that certainly grow on you over time. For some, it is considered to be as great as Singin’ In The Rain. Personally, I think it’s better! I will agree most heartily with the iconic status of both the “Dancing In The Dark” and “Girl Hunt Ballet” dance routines, as they both leave me wanting to get up and dance myself (although that last part is just as true for a lot of the other music, too)! Yeah, the film’s ending is a little off, but, honestly, I’m not bothered by it that badly, and I would EASILY recommend this movie to anybody interested!

This movie is available individually on Blu-ray and DVD and on Blu-ray as part of the four film Musicals Collection from Warner Home Video and is one hour, fifty-two minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… Footlight Parade (1933)

“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

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