Comedy Monday: Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

9 05 2011

Keep your chin up. Although it is the beginning of the week there’s no reason not to have a few laughs to ease the pain. This week’s comedy is the depression-era musical Gold Diggers of 1933.

Going into this movie I was not very familiar with the work of Busby Berkeley. I knew who he was and but had just never seen anything he did, so when I was looking this movie up I was surprised that the main focal point was his involvement. I started thinking that the choreography of four musical numbers couldn’t possibly be what made this movie into a classic and there had to be something else to it. It turns out I was half right, the musical numbers blew me away but what is happening outside of them is only a shadow of what it could have been.

“It’s all about the depression.”

Well not all of it Barney. Gold Diggers of 1933 is about three showgirls (Carol, Trixie, and Polly) who are without a job and barely scrapping by, nothing too serious yet of course as they are still living in a large hotel suite, but the once top-of-the-town girls and now without work. Top producer Barney Hopkins (Ned Sparks) is putting together a new play after his last one got shut down days before it was set to go on Broadway due to unpaid expenses. He agrees to bring on all the girls but there is only one problem… he has no money. He describes the play with the above quote, and up until that point it quite accurately described the movie. Unfortunately that is the last we see of this topic until the final five minutes. Barney finally finds the funding he is looking for from the girls’ next door neighbor; the young, handsome songwriter Brad (Dick Powell). Barney hears him playing from the apartment and insists that he does the music for it, Brad then offers to give Barney 15,000 dollars for the play on the condition that Polly, played by Ruby Keeler and the girl he happens to be infatuated with, gets a lead part. On their opening night the lead male singer injures himself forcing Brad to step in, who was previously very opposed to the idea. The night turns out great but the news comes out that Brad is actually the son of a very wealthy Boston family solving the mystery of where his money came from. This news prompts his elder brother Lawrence (Warren William) to come and put an end to his relationship with Polly citing that Showgirls tend to be nothing but gold diggers. A case of mistaken identity and several scenes of comedic set ups occur and we forget all about the depression sub-plot as they all take part in very lavish situations. This theme disappears until the end with a very powerful musical number that would have been a perfect ending to the movie the first 15 minutes set up, alas it is not. The movie is funny but fails in a central category: conflict. Many of the characters are very opposed to one another but all have the back-bone of a jellyfish. Brad insists that he cannot perform on stage even when the lead hurts himself but ask him one more time and he jumps eagerly on the chance, and at the end of the movie Carol (Joan Blondell) adamantly states that she would never marry Lawrence if he was the last man on earth and then suddenly agrees to marry him right after with no change in character except perhaps more reassurance that Lawrence is a hypocritical ass. Ask any character something twice and you are almost always assured to get a more favorable response.

Singing! Dancing! Music!

The true highlight of Gold Diggers of 1933 are the musical performances. The writing and composing pair of Harry Warren and Al Dublin hit gold yet again with several hits including the now infamous ‘The Gold Diggers’ Song (We’re In the Money)’ along with ‘Pettin’ In the Park’, ‘Shadow Waltz’, and ‘Remember My Forgotten Man’. Each of these performances are extravagant and extremely well shot. It is very easy to see why Busby Berkeley is so highly regarded. Every performances combines Warren and Dublin’s catchy music and captures the viewer with such scale and complexity that every one is joy to watch whether musicals are your cup of tea or not.

Although Gold Rush of 1933 exceeds all expectations as a musical, the music is still only a small part of the movie. I would have liked to see more focus of the depression aspect of it and less manipulation gags but luckily the interludes between songs were funny enough with a, mostly, likeable cast to keep the movie going. The end resolution was unfortunately a mess but it was picked up with the performance of ‘Remember My Forgotten Man’ which, although great, was also a reminder of how far the movie strayed from its beginning and potential greatness.

Score: 77/100                                               




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