Pre-Code Crazy: Golddiggers of 1933
If you recall, I began last month’s Pre-Code Crazy post by stating that I’m not exactly wild about musicals. And what do you think? My pick this month is another musical! What is going on?!?!
I’ll admit, February on TCM isn’t exactly brimming with pre-Code gems, but when I saw that Golddiggers of 1933 was on the list, I didn’t have to think twice about choosing it – it’s one of the handful of musicals that I watch whenever I get the chance.
First off, the film features a veritable who’s who of pre-Code vets: Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, Aline MacMahon, Warren William, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee, Ned Sparks – and bit parts by Sterling Holloway, Theresa Harris, Charles Lane, and Eric Blore. The cast alone is worth the price of admission.
On paper, the film’s plot doesn’t sound like much. We have three out-of-work showgirls – Carol (Blondell), Polly (Keeler), and Trixie (MacMahon), who share a small apartment and make ends meet via such creative approaches as using a pair of ice tongs to steal milk from their neighbor’s balcony. The girls are thrilled when they learn about the opening of a new show, but they’re just as disappointed to also discover that the producer (Sparks) doesn’t have the financing he needs. Polly’s boyfriend, Brad (Powell), an aspiring songwriter, offers to put up the dough, leading Polly and her pals to suspect that he’s gotten the cash through less-than-legal means. It turns out that he’s a member of a wealthy Boston family, and when the news breaks, his stuffed shirt older brother, Lawrence (William), and the family banker (Kibbee), show up to put the kibosh on Brad’s involvement with Polly, who they’ve perceived as a golddigger. When Carol and Trixie get wind of William’s plan, they come up with a crafty little plan of their own, leading to mild chaos and angst – but all is well by the final reel.
Woven between and around this flimsy plot is a series of eye-popping musical numbers created and directed by Busby Berkeley. In fact, the movie doesn’t waste a second before showing us what Berkeley has in store – right after the opening credits, we’re tossed right into a rousing rendition of “We’re in the Money,” featuring Ginger Rogers – who sings part of the song in Pig Latin. Other numbers include “Waltz of the Shadows,” where dozens of chorus girls are seen dancing on a giant curved staircase with neon-lit violins, and “Remember My Forgotten Man,” which offers up a stark and stirring depiction of the effects of the Depression. Another standout is “Pettin’ in the Park” – this one features some hoofing from Ruby Keeler, Billy Barty as a rollerskating baby, and lyrics like these:
Pettin’ on the sly, (Oh, my!)
Act a little shy, (Aw, why!)
Struggle just a little,
Then hug a little,
And cuddle up and whisper this:
“Come on, I’ve been waiting long,
Why don’t we get started?”
Come on, maybe this is wrong,
But, gee, what of it?
We just love it!
Golddiggers of 1933 may be light on substance, but there’s no denying that it’s overflowing with fun. Here are some more tidbits about this first-rate feature:
- Dick Powell and Joan Blondell first met on this film. They got married three years later.
- The film was selected in 2003 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
- Golddiggers is based on the play The Gold Diggers, which ran for 282 performances in Broadway in 1919 and 1920. The cast of the opening night performance included Ina Claire and Lilyan Tashman.
- Busby Berkeley makes a cameo appearance in the film – you can see him knocking on a door saying, “Hurry up boys, snap it up – Forgotten Man number!”
- At the time the movie was made, Ginger Rogers was involved with the film’s director, Mervyn LeRoy.
- The film offers plenty of pre-Code naughtiness. Gratutious scenes of ladies in their lingerie are sprinkled throughout, and the “Pettin’ in the Park” number includes a scene where a bunch of showgirls get caught in the rain and peel off their wet clothes behind a scrim – at least one of the ladies is obviously nude. Also, in a scene near the film’s end, where a passel of chorus girls are scrambling backstage, you can pretty clearly hear one of them say, “Shit! Where’s my shoe!”
Golddiggers of 1933 airs on TCM on February 11th – do yourself a favor and tune in! Whether you’ve seen it 20 times or never before, you’re bound to have a ball!
And don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to find out what movie Kristina has gone Pre-Code Crazy for in the month of February!