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Gold Diggers of 1933 a Powerful Statement of Its Time

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Dusty is an avid classic movie fan who wants to share movie stories and evoke conversation about them.

Movie Poster

Cast

Gold Diggers of 1933

1 hr. 37 mins. Comedy, Drama, Musical, Romance 1933 7.7 stars

Director: Mervyn LeRoy

Cast: Warren William - J. Lawrence Bradford

Joan Blondell - Carol King

Aline MacMahon - Trixie Lorraine

Ruby Keeler - Polly Parker

Dick Powell - Brad Roberts

Guy Kibbee - Faneul H. Peabody

Ned Sparks - Barney Hopkins

Ginger Rogers - Fay Fortune

Billy Barty - Baby

Etta Moten - Singer

Note: Spoiler alert. This review reveals the outcome of the movie

The Chorus Girls Sing "We're in the Money"

Ginger Rogers

Ginger Rogers

Synopsis I

The movie starts and ends with a song. At the beginning a chorus girl named Fay comes on stage and sings the famous song, We’re in the Money a tune which she together with many other women sing wearing costumes made of coins. Particularly memorable is the final verse of this number being sung in PIG LATIN. During the performance of the number agents raid the theater and shut down what turns out to be a dress rehearsal for a new show. Barney Hopkins who is directing the show is beside himself trying to explain that when the show opens tomorrow they will make enough money to pay all bills they’re delinquent on. The chief officer doesn’t buy that excuse and the assets are seized. The show is over before it has started and all the chorus girls as well as Barney are out of work.

It’s the Great Depression and work is nearly impossible to find. Three of these unemployed show girls share an apartment: Polly, Carol and Trixie. They bemoan their impoverished status. Across the alley a musician, Brad, plays a new tune of his on his piano and sings it for Polly; they are in love with each other.

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Barney comes to the apartment to discuss a new show he wants to stage. The girls had invited several of their colleagues over to hear the news. As Barney is explaining his plans he hears Brad practicing a new tune on his piano and instantly he loves it. Polly, at Barney’s behest, goes to get Brad. Brad explains that he likes to write songs and lyrics. Barney asks for sample of Brad’s songs which he gives - and Barney grows even more impressed. He hires Brad on the spot to compose all the music for his upcoming show.

Barney explains that he wants his show to entertain with song, dance and comedy, but also to make a strong point about the bad conditions in the society of that day due to The Great Depression.

Barney disappoints the girls however by stating that he lacks the funds to get it all stated. All is not lost however; Brad will put up the money to help Barney get started! It’s a considerable sum for the time and they are all dubious that Brad even has the money. He assures them that he can make good on his offer, but no one believes him.

The next day Brad shows up at Barney’s office and hands him the cash. From that point forward the show is on!

Throughout the rehearsal Brad perfects his numbers for the show and even helps direct, but he adamantly refuses to perform and he is quite secretive about his reasons.

Trixie reads in the newspaper about a robbery in the area and a resulting man hunt. Brad fits the thief’s description. Trixie shares this information with Polly.

On the night of the show’s grand opening the lead singer is incapacitated by back spasms and cannot perform. Barney pleads and pleads with Brad to fill in. Polly pleads strongly as well even though she fears that the police will find him and put him in jail. Brad relents and agrees to fill in for the incapacitated performer; this at the risk of being seen in public. Polly and Trixie both admire him deeply for this heroic self-sacrifice. The performance goes well and the show is a smash success. Brad is also a smash hit and this draws the attention of the journalists.

The next day Trixie and Polly learn the truth and it’s not what they thought. Rather than being a thief Brad is an heir and has garnered the disfavor of his family for having gotten involved in show business.

The Young Lovers

Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell

Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell

Synopsis II

Brad’s brother, J. Lawrence and the family lawyer, Faneul Peabody - who is referred to somewhat derisively as ‘Fanny’ - come to town to confront Brad. The family has decided to overlook his involvement in show business, but they absolutely forbid him from having any involvement with Polly!

In order to make sure that Brad will break up with Polly J. Lawrence comes up with a plan; he will pay Polly in hopes of pulling her away from Brad. Faneul warns J. Lawrence not to play like that with ‘gold diggers’, as he calls the chorus girls, that he will get burned. But J. Lawrence is sure of himself and proceeds with the plan. J. Lawrence assumes that the show girls who he considers to be cheap and vulgar can be easily bought off. J. Lawrence however makes a costly mistake. He appears at Polly’s apartment and knocks. Carol answers the door and immediately J. Lawrence presumes that she is Polly, though she tries to tell him otherwise. Polly is at the moment out of the apartment but Trixie is there and she starts to flirt with Faneul. Carol also plays along but more reluctantly at first. Trixie and Carol are able to coax the men, J. Lawrence and Faneul into buying them expensive hats. The men then proceed to take the two women out to a fancy restaurant.

After dinner J. Lawrence changes his approach. Instead of paying Polly to leave Brad he decides to woo Polly and tries to get Carol, who he thinks is Polly, to fall for him in order to wrest him away from Brad. Besides, the payoff scheme was insulting to the girls anyway and would not work.

Brad and Polly, the real Polly, show up at dinner. Brad is onto his brother’s scheme and plays along. J. Lawrence dances with Carol, who he thinks is Polly and Brad pretends to be jealous while he actually gets to dance with the real Polly.

At one point however Brad dances with Carol and J. Lawrence talks to the real Polly still not knowing who she is. He’s impressed with her – almost prefers her for Brad.

J. Lawrence and Fanny are both taken with the girls and are more than willing to spend on them. So, Trixie starts dating Fanny and J. Lawrence starts dating Carol.

Eventually the two couples actually fall in love with each other for real. The truth comes out that Carol is not Polly, but it makes no difference to J. Lawrence as he is smitten. He still adamantly refuses to sanction the marriage of his brother and Polly. Backstage J. Lawrence tries to set up an arrest of Brad, but the policeman he has hired to do this is shown to be merely another actor playing the part of an officer. J. Lawrence gives up on his efforts to break up Brad and Polly and all’s well that ends well.

The movie concludes with a powerful song as the finale of the show they’ve been putting on.

Waltz of the Shadows

Analysis

This movie is what’s known as a ‘backstage musical’ which means that all song and dance numbers take place as either audition, rehearsal or performance scenes. The plot of these movies takes place around the production of a theater show. This is more realistic than other types of musicals where song and dance numbers break out in a seemingly random fashion with all sorts of extras joining in like some big flash mob – like you might see for instance in The Music Man or in The Harvey Girls – movies I’ve reviewed in the past.

As such this movie portrays two stories, almost as if it’s two movies in one. The two stories are the plot of the interaction of the actors and family as they work at staging a show and the message of the show itself. There is even some interaction between these two stories too, but for the most part they remain quite distinct. That interaction is mostly in their setting and that is life during the Great Depression. This is clearly noted in an early scene where a rehearsal is raided by the police or its failure to pay its debts. Barney pleads with the officers that opening was tomorrow and he’ll have the money then, but his pleas fall on deaf ears. Fay says it’s “the depression, dearie”. Carol says that it’s the “5th show that she’s been in of and out of”.

The earlier scenes show the three featured show girls Trixie, Carol and Polly living in poverty, sharing an apartment and wondering where their next meal will come from. Take note however that once a new show is in rehearsal and which has proper financial backing those three are living in a swanky art deco-style apartment. The movie wants to illustrate what a nice change can occur with some capital investment.

The film was choreographed by the great Busby Berkley who used large a multitude of dancers and elaborate sets. He is known for producing kaleidoscopic effects in his numbers. The movie begins and ends with song and dance numbers. The first one, however, had nothing to do with the plots. It is a song from another show that Barney had intended to stage but was unable to due to not paying his bills. It stands in stark contrast to the final song which was at the time a smash hit. That first song, We’re in the Money puts forth a positive message, a hopeful message of prosperity. In it he has showgirls dancing around wearing costumes made to resemble coins. Ginger Rogers sings this song and on the final verse she sings it in PIG LATIN. The story goes that she had one day to learn the lyrics and out of boredom began experimenting with trying it in PIG LATIN. Busby Berkley liked it and asked her to include that verse in the song.

The final song, The Forgotten Man, served as a powerful grand finale showing the destitution of many World War I soldiers who were never able to get on their feet financially since returning home and who were now in breadlines looking for handouts. The song is a plea to Uncle Sam for help in this desperate time. The song itself employs a cast of hundreds marching on specialized stage tracks and a giant multilevel arched structure. This number epitomizes is what Barney is looking for in developing a new show. Early in the movie he states his vision for the show as “Men marching, wailing, wailing.” The song features Joan Blondell who rescues a ‘forgotten man’ from a police officer by showing that he’s a decorated veteran, a medal being worn on his lapel, then staring down the officer. It shows two women sitting in different windows, both looking haggard. One is holding a baby and looking forlorn giving the impression that her husband was gone and she was left alone with this child. The other woman is in a rocking chair wringing a handkerchief giving the impression of a grieving mother whose son never returned home from the war.

Although 1933 was a long time after the war it still was fresh in the minds of everyone especially with the additional insult to injury of the Great Depression. The inspiration for the song was the “Bonus Army” march on Washington in 1932 – a large protest of veterans demanding money due to them for their military service. The money was originally intended to be dispersed in the mid ‘40s, but with the depression they wanted that money right away. The number was a big hit with audiences at the time and helped at the box office too. Times change and most people today will more likely remember the movie’s first song, We’re in the Money.

The Grand Finale

Movie Trailer

We're in the Money

Grand Finale - My Forgotten Man

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