Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Overlooked (or Forgotten) Movie Tuesday: GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933

Hi everyone! I'm back to what passes for normal around here. I've been resting and relaxing, taking it easy, playing on Pinterest, reading (though not as much as I wanted to) and dealing with 'stuff'. All is well and once again I'll be posting regularly beginning today. Thanks for being so patient.


Well, if it's Tuesday, it's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Movie Day, so I'm jumping right back into the swim of things with my favorite weekly meme. Don't forget, as usual, to check in at host Todd Mason's blog, SWEET FREEDOM to see what other movies and/or TV shows other bloggers are talking about today.

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 starring Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler and Warren William is a very early pre-code movie musical - a favorite of mine. It was directed by Mervyn LeRoy with super splashy, over-the-top singing and dancing numbers staged by the great mesmerizer Busby Berkeley.

Chorus girls apparently about to be mowed down by giant nightmare dimes.

From the absurdity of the 'We're In the Money' opening sequence (a bit of Hollywood irony since the movie was made while an actual Depression was going on in the country) with poor Ginger Rogers in tacky costume (a large dime hanging front and center) singing lyrics in pig Latin we know we're in for some extreme silliness.

Ginger Rogers probably thinking: I'm going to kill my agent.

Sure enough we are soon treated to scantily clad young women stripping in silhouette, dancing neon violins, cops on roller skates, a snow storm (on stage) with giant snow balls photographed from above and rain showers in the 'Petting in the Park' scene (surely one of the more obnoxious songs ever written) and Dick Powell making googly eyes (literally) at Ruby Keeler whose singing voice I can only compare to fingernails scratching on blackboard.

Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell petting in the park. 

Her dancing is kind of odd too - she was one of those who tended to dance hunched over.

The chorus stripping behind shades. Remember, this was pre-code Hollywood.

And I admit that Aline MacMahon is an acquired taste that I just never acquired - she comes across as crass and unlikable even when she's only supposed to be making believe she's crass and unlikable if that makes any sense.

How do I look? It'll take more than a corsage to cheer up Aline MacMahon's prune face.

But enough about that. Now let me list the reasons why I love this movie: Warren William, Warren William, Warren William and...oh yes, Warren William. Not to mention Joan Blondell at her adorable best, Ned Sparks at his grouchiest and snarliest and just for a few minutes on screen, the one and only Charles Lane who outlived everyone he ever worked with. (He died in 2007 at the ripe old age of 102)

There's just something so endearing (and sexy) about Warren William playing a snobby Boston high society type who gets his comeuppance when he falls head over heels for showgirl Joan Blondell. He and she get to share a very special love scene when he tells her: "Every time you say 'cheap and vulgar' I'm going to kiss you." Of course, she can't resist saying it. Now that's a love scene.

I'm also very fond of the preposterous 'Remember My Forgotten Man' razzle dazzle sequence which ends the movie. Some of the images are rather haunting considering this is basically a fluffy movie musical.

The good old days of the Great Depression.

But as Ned Sparks' character says earlier on, "This show is all about the depression!" Well, it really isn't, except for the last number, but the girls in the movie are feeling the pinch (in more ways than one) as they try to wangle show biz jobs and catch-up on the rent.

That's Ginger Rogers with the hat on. She's dropped by to visit.

Carol (Joan Blondell), Trixie (Aline MacMahon) and Polly (Ruby Keeler) live together in a cramped apartment hardly able to make ends meet. But this is Hollywood, so being poor is made to look like a romp. (The girls do have some pretty dishy undergarments.) Polly even goes so far as to pilfer a milk bottle from a neighbor's fire escape. After all, a girl's got to have her milk.

Dick Powell as Brad the singing and slumming millionaire.

The basic plot is this:

Goofy Brad (Dick Powell) is living incognito (he's really a Boston millionaire) just across the way from Carol, Polly and Trixie. Already he and Polly are making goo-goo eyes at each other having met previously and fallen instantly in love. He's a song writer hoping to make it big on the great white way and in fact, once Barney (Ned Sparks), the impresario, hears his songs, he wants Brad to write all the music for his latest show.

Dick Powell and Ned Sparks at his growliest.

But when the latest backer...uh, backs out, Brad steps in and offers to advance Barney the fifteen thousand bucks necessary to open the show and make Polly a star. The girls think he's kidding them about the money but he turns up in the morning with a wad of cash. (Trixie thinks he might be a bank robber currently on the lam.)

Aline MacMahon, Ned Sparks, Ruby Keeler and Joan Blondell - plotting to put on the big show.

Brad's family (including his older brother Lawrence - Warren William) threatens to disown him if he marries a 'cheap and vulgar show girl'. So big brother and Peabody (Guy Kibbee) the family lawyer arrive on the scene the moment they discover what Brad is up to.

Joan Blondell and Warren William

But Lawrence mistakes Carol (Joan Blondell) for Polly and the girls then decide to teach him a lesson by pretending to be gold diggers. Lawrence, in the meantime tries to lure 'Polly' (Carol) away from Brad who thinks the whole charade is a 'swell' idea. Well, of course, Lawrence gets hoisted on his own petard when he falls for Polly/Carol.

Guy Kibbee and Aline MacMahon - she's dressed like a cop for a dance number or else she's just arrested her future husband.

Peabody the portly lawyer, in turn, falls for Trixie and Brad and Polly run off and get married. There are scowling confrontations between big brother and Brad and threats of annulment  - though how one brother can annul another brother's marriage is beyond me.

But everything turns out 'swell' in the end and Joan Blondell gets to do the big Forgotten Man number which, in parts, is actually quite moving. Can you remember any other musical which show-cased a bread line in its stark reality, not to mention soldiers coming back from the battlefield wounded, bleeding and dazed with terror? Berkeley shows 'em all and more. All set to a very stirring marching song. "Remember my forgotten man, you put a rifle in his hand. You shouted hip hooray but where is he today?"

In reality, Joan Blondell and Dick Powell would later marry proving the old adage that for every man there's a woman somewhere willing to overlook his inherent goofiness. But that's a story for another day.

P.S. And isn't 'Ned Sparks' just about the best name for an actor ever?


  1. So great to have you back!

    The choreography in this and Berkeley's work in 42nd Street are two movie musicals with some of the most innovative dance numbers ever put on film. He was quite a visionary.

  2. The Biggest Show on Earth! Circus metaphors rule OK...

  3. Thank you, John. It's great to be back and hopefully with a fully functioning brain. Though I begin to wonder when the first thing I did was eliminate a bunch of comments by mistake. GAK!

    Anyway, yes, Busby Berkeley's talents were made for the movies and the movies were made for him. He was probably one of those people who can think in pictures.

    I love the Forgotten Man sequence even if it is HIGHLY improbable as a stage number.

    That reminds me, I haven't seen 42nd Street in ages. Time to add it to my queue.

  4. Yeah, isn't that strange, Todd? Oh well, you know, movies are kind of like a three ring circus. If you think about it. Especially the early musicals. :)

  5. Hello Yvette:
    How splendid to have you back once more in our midst!

    As is so often the case, we do not know these films but it has been of great interest, and fun too, to read your accounts.

  6. And she's back! And with a review of a classic movie of course - yes, the world is right again. I feel so much better now ...

  7. Oh it's good to hear from you Lance and Jane. Thank you for reading my blog even if you never heard of the film. This is pure vintage from 1933 and probably much more well known in this country.

  8. Thanks, Ryan. I never really went away - I was just chillin'. Ha.

  9. Thank you Sergio dear. :)

    All's right with the world again. Ha!

  10. My daughter adored these movies. I have such memories of her watching them.

  11. Glad to have you back Yvette. Missed you terribly.

  12. You're back! Great. Was checking in regularly.

    And you're obviously fit as a fiddle, based on this hilarious and, as always, thorough movie review.

    Hope you got in some of the reading you'd wanted to, even if it wasn't as much as you'd planned.

    No matter what I plan, what happens in reality is never what I think or plan to do, i.e., number of phone calls, tasks, errands never equals my "To-Do list." As my sister calls it, the "20-year To Do List."

    As long as you and Rocky are feeling okay.

  13. This has nothing to do with your post today except that it's about movies. I got The Cat and the Canary and loved it. So funny and full of atmosphere. I've also been on a Carole Lombard binge, watching three of her movies that I taped during a Carole Lombard week on TCM months ago. I adore her and LOVE William Powell, starring with her in My Man Godfrey. I've always liked him in the Thin Man movies with the wonderful Myrna Loy. Such a tragedy about Carole Lombard, though. So terribly sad.

  14. Welcome back, Yvette.

    I wonder if Busby Berkeley ever got an Academy Award?

  15. Patti: I wish my daughter watched these. She never developed a real liking for the old movies. At least not once she was an adult. She did enjoy some of them as a kid.

  16. Oh thank you, Neer. Really. I feel your affection across the miles, I really do.

  17. Kathy: Plans are jokes that fate plays on us. Ha. My reading speed seems to have trickled down to sluggish.

  18. Joan: I loved THE CAT AND THE CANARY, I'm so glad you did too. Now you have to watch THE GHOST BREAKERS with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard too.

    I loved Carole Lombard too. Especially in TO BE OR NOT TO BE with Jack Benny. Don't miss this.

    Yes, I agree, she should have lived much longer. It was tragic.

  19. Mark I think he may have received an honorary Oscar. Not sure though.

  20. I've seen The Ghost Breakers two or three times, but I don't own a copy. I loved that one, too. Nothing beats a creepy old house in a swamp with a few secret passages and zombies thrown in!

  21. You said it, Joan. Especially in black and white and no gratuitous blood letting. My kind of movie. :)

    (Not to mention Bob Hope's hilarious one-liners. And Willie Best in THE GHOST BREAKERS.)

  22. Welcome back!

    Missed coming here … I must admit to checking back every so often to see if you returned :)

    As for the film, I remember seeing it many many years ago.

    These types of films have a charm to them that I like to kick back and watch every now and again :)

  23. Sorry to be late to the party, but I didn't realize you were back until I saw on Todd's blog that you'd contributed to FFB this week. Welcome back--you were missed. Even if I don't comment on every post, I do read every post you put up and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

    Back to this movie, which I saw on TCM a few weeks back, I actually liked Aline the best...and wasn"t that ending with "The Forgotten Man" somewhat unusual and rather abrupt?

  24. iluvcinema: Thanks for the welcome. :) I'm glad to be back of course. I missed the old blog routine.

    Try and catch this movie once again, Iba. I think you'll like it even more now.

  25. Thanks for the kind words, Deb. I'm hoping lots of people read and just choose not to leave a comment. I know I do that with some of the blogs I read. I'm glad I'm not the only one, at any rate.

    The Forgotten Man number is an oddball sequence for sure. It would be imposible to stage all that on a real stage. I think though that was Busby Berkeley's bow to the Recession. It is kind of stirring.


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