1933 saw the release of a terrific trio of Warner Bros. musicals with production numbers designed by the great Busby Berkeley. The first of these movies was 42ND STREET and the last was FOOTLIGHT PARADE. In the middle came GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933.
GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 is, in some ways, the ultimate Depression-era musical. It vividly illustrates the struggles of the Depression, from the hungry actresses who steal their neighbor's milk bottle early in the film, to the stirring "Forgotten Man" finale showing WWI heroes standing in bread lines. (The end of this sequence, with soldiers marching in the background as Joan Blondell sings, sends a chill up and down the spine.) At the same time, the film provides tremendous escapism, from the opening number with Ginger Rogers singing "We're in the Money" -- she even sings a verse in Pig Latin! -- to glow-in-the-dark violins forming beautiful patterns in "The Shadow Waltz."
Although the plot detours a little too long in a "mistaken identity" sequence midway through the film, otherwise it's a brilliant movie -- all the more remarkable if one considers the movie in the context of both film and musicals. In 1933 it had been a mere handful of years since the advent of sound movies. The Warner musicals, along with a few other great early sound movies, such as the films Jeanette MacDonald made directed by Rouben Mamoulian and Ernst Lubitsch, were in the forefront of the creation of the movie musical genre.
As in 42ND STREET and FOOTLIGHT PARADE, Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler are the young lovestruck couple. The cast includes Joan Blondell, Warren William, Aline MacMahon, Guy Kibbee, Ned Sparks, and the aforementioned Ginger Rogers. Ginger's first film with Fred Astaire, FLYING DOWN TO RIO, was released at the end of 1933, and the rest is musical history.
Don't miss a couple quick glimpses of Busby Berkeley himself, knocking on dressing room doors near film's end.
Etta Moten, who sings part of the "Forgotten Man" number, was the first black woman to sing in the White House, where she performed for President and Mrs. Roosevelt. She lived to the age of 102.
This movie runs 96 minutes. It was directed by Mervyn LeRoy.
GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 can be seen on video or on DVD, where it can be purchased as a single title or in the Busby Berkeley Collection.
It can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.
The trailer can be viewed here.