Friday, March 12, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Gold Diggers in Paris (1938)

GOLD DIGGERS IN PARIS is a tedious late '30s Warner Bros. musical brightened by leading lady Rosemary Lane and a concluding musical number choreographed by Busby Berkeley.

This movie has an unusually slow-moving plot concerning a French diplomat (Hugh Herbert) who mistakes the chorus girls of New York's Club Balle, a nightclub, for the American Academy Ballet and invites the group to perform at a dance competition in Paris. The Club Balle owner (Rudy Vallee) realizes there's a misunderstanding, but takes advantage of the trip, which will provide a financial windfall for his struggling club. Will the Club Balle dancers be exposed as a fraud before they have the chance to perform?

Since the film's finale is a big Busby Berkeley number, one can guess that the answer is yes, the Club Balle gets a chance to put on their special style of dancing. It's a pleasant routine, particularly the big group dance at the very end, but not on a par with Berkeley's typical Warner Bros. work.

The score is fairly weak, although Warren and Mercer's "Daydreaming (All Night Long)," sung by Vallee and Lane, is pleasant. The Warren-Dubin tune "I Wanna Go Back to Bali" is catchy, but there's not a whole lot more to the score than that; there are a couple more songs but I didn't find them memorable.

Lane is charming, as always, and Vallee is acceptable as her leading man, although he was much better suited for supporting comedy roles, such as those he played in THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942), which I feel was an Oscar-worthy performance, and THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBY-SOXER (1947).

The film's biggest problem is the incessant mugging by a variety of unfunny comedian types, headed first and foremost by Hugh Herbert; he's joined by the Schnickelfritz Band, Allen Jenkins, Fritz Feld, Mabel Todd, Curt Bois, Melville Cooper, and Edward Brophy. These actors monopolize the screen time and and their style of humor simply isn't my personal cup of tea.

The beautiful chorus girls include Carole Landis, Diana Lewis (later Mrs. William Powell), Peggy Moran, Rosella Towne, and Janet Shaw. Gloria Dickson plays Vallee's ex-wife. Eddie "Rochester" Anderson is also in the cast.

GOLD DIGGERS IN PARIS was directed by Ray Enright. It runs 97 lonnnnng minutes.

GOLD DIGGERS IN PARIS is available on DVD as a single-title release or as part of the Busby Berkeley Collection, Volume 2. The other films in the set are HOLLYWOOD HOTEL (1937) with Dick Powell and Rosemary Lane; VARSITY SHOW (1937) with Dick Powell, Rosemary Lane, and Priscilla Lane; and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1937 (1936).

May 2017 Update: GOLD DIGGERS IN PARIS has been reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.


Blogger Moira Finnie said...

Gee, Laura,
This movie sounds worse than Hollywood Hotel, which at least had a certain woozy surrealism and a smattering of great tunes to offset the misery of watching Hugh Herbert and Ted Healy trying to endear themselves to audiences. Someone must have thought these "unfunny" comics were an asset. Their presence in so many movies is either an indication of a comedic funny bone in '30s audiences that hasn't been passed down to us or a sign that these performers must have had "the goods" on someone high up in the movie biz.

I apologize if this sounds too negative, but I can't help wondering if Busby Berkeley's creativity was strained by the need--at least in Warner Brothers' view--to keep recycling the musical model he helped to create earlier in the '30s endlessly on a smaller budget. The director's alcoholism, and the fatal car accident in 1935 and his eventual acquittal of second degree murder at trial probably didn't help his creative capacities either.

It seems that he was able to redeem himself somewhat by his later musical work at MGM in the '40s. As a kid, I can also remember seeing him very much in the public eye thanks to the Broadway revival of "No,No Nanette" in 1971, though I'm not sure if he was really a hands-on director at that point. Given all his travails, it's amazing that his career lasted as long as it did.

All that being said, I suspect that I'd probably give Gold Diggers in Paris a look, if only because I am curious about Rosemary Lane's work without her sisters after seeing Hollywood Hotel, since her sisters Priscilla and Lola are a much more familiar figures to me.

4:15 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Moira!

I've often wondered myself if there was a different comedy bone in the '30s. It's hard for me to imagine what led to Hugh Herbert being cast so prominently in so many movies. I think it was Ivan at Thrilling Days at Yesteryear who referred to Herbert as "a cinematic toothache."

I thought HOLLYWOOD HOTEL was much better; it still had its painful moments (headed by Herbert and Mabel Todd) but as you mention it had some great tunes. I fondly recall Powell and Lane singing "Fish Out of Water" and the orchestra performing "Dark Eyes."

Late last night I read one online comment that Berkeley wasn't given much of a budget for this film, so that seems to have been a factor in the big dance number being less impressive than usual.

As I mentioned, Rosemary and Priscilla are in VARSITY SHOW in the same set. It's not a great movie but I liked it quite a bit more than GOLD DIGGERS IN PARIS. I find Rosemary delightful in her own right but she never hit it quite as big as Priscilla.

I love Lola Lane as well -- just got an Alpha DVD of her in PUBLIC STENOGRAPHER which I hope is reasonably watchable.

As always, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

Best wishes,

8:20 AM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

I love the Gold Diggers series of musicals, but by this film the franchise had definitely run it's course. I love the song "I Want to Go Back to Bali". Back in the days of VCRs and no internet I sat with a pen and paper and the pause button writing down the lyrics. However, I do not like the Schickelfritz Band. My music sense tells me they are highly skilled, but they are way too raucous for my taste.
Rudy Vallee certainly improved as a character actor by the 40's. He was self concious and wooden in the thirties, then he positively bloomed.
My grandmother loved the Rudy Vallee Radio show. When the show came on, everyone had to be quiet and she mooned over the radio. Vallee also recalled happier times before times got tough in the Depression.
Have you seen the movie "Crooner" with David Manners? It's a very astute comedy drama on the Rudy Vallee type, except the David Manners character doesn't have enough talent to sustain a career and a swollen ego leads to humiliation. It's very good! Just google Movie+Crooner and the first result should be the 1932 NY Times review of the film.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I love that story about writing down the lyrics, Panavia!

I haven't seen CROONER, but it just so happens I recorded it a few weeks ago during one of TCM's great "pre-Code mornings." I recorded it as I enjoy Ann Dvorak, but thanks to your recommendation I now look forward to it even more -- thanks for your input!

Best wishes,

10:17 AM  

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