Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Golddiggers of 1933
Golddiggers of 1933 (1933) dir. Mervyn le Roy
Starring: Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers, Warren William, Ned Sparks, Guy Kibbee
By Alan Bacchus
The first of one of the most successful and beloved musical franchises in the cinema - the Gold Diggers films, a series of musicals in the 30‘s portraying predatory attitude of the poor against the rich with comedic fervour and eye-popping musical spectacle.
Busby Berkeley provides the staging and choreography of the musical sequences and the great Mervyn Le Roy ('Wizard of Oz') directs this spectacular and topical comedic musical about men and women trying to 'put on a show'. Of course, it was the time of the Depression the mixture of frenetic comic fever with Berkeley‘s distinct kaleidoscope-like visual spectacle makes all of these films classics beyond compare.
While intended for the working class audiences, Le Roy execution of themes of class struggle is just as biting and clever as, say, the sophisticated Renoir films of the same period. The first half of plotting finds poor musician and lyricist Brad Roberts (Dick Powell) struggling like everyone to make a living as an artist in bad economic times. But after hearing him play his own little ditties, bombastic stage producer Barney Hopkins hires him to write his next great musical. But without the money to finance it, Brad miraculously and mysterious ‘finds’ the $15,000 needed to make it all happen.
After Brad is forced to perform in the musical, his identity is revealed as the heir to a rich and respected business family. When his father and brother find out they arrive at theatre to chastise him and bring him home. Enter Brad’s vivacious female dancers who weave their sexual charisma around the stuck up suits in hopes of keeping Brad in the theatre and squeezing as much money out of them as possible.
Surprisingly Le Roy cleverly switches our sympathy from Brad and his desire to buck his family legacy and live the honest life as artist, to his brother Lawrence and father Fanuel, who after being set up as the prototypical 30’s upper class snobs become putty in the hands of the women, and in the case of Fanuel, revealing forlorn love from his past which his greed for money had tried to suppress.
Interspersed between the comic shenanigans are the scenes from Barney’s new show, the tone of each sequences cleverly reflecting the mood of the characters behind the scenes. As typical of the Berkeley style his musical numbers are born from the stage setting of the story, but are played and choreographed 100% for his expressive composition and dynamic moving camera.
In addition to the stunning dance sequences, as a precode film, we can also appreciate the not-so-subtle suggestive subtext. LeRoy takes delight in showing us some rather salacious skin, women undressing freely in front of men, the dances overtly using their bodies to seduce men out of their money, and we even get to see some stark naked bodies in silhouette in one of the dance sequences. The musical segment ‘Petting in the Park” is particularly naughty, dramatizing just as the title suggests making out in Central Park
If anything, the film ends rather abruptly leaving us hanging as to the fate of Lawrence Roberts. But not before we're supremely satisfied with the final Forgotten Man sequence.