42nd Street (1933)

42nd Street (1933), directed by Lloyd Bacon.

I believe this is the first film with Busby Berkeley production numbers available on Blu-ray. A hugely popular genre in the 1930s, these all featured thin plots about romance and ambition back stage at the theater, with sometimes dazzling song and dance numbers set in gargantuan spaces, with the characteristic overhead shots of human kaleidoscopes.

A DVD boxed set had one disc of just these numbers, which is mostly what people want to see, the stories themselves being tedious. The Blu-ray has a menu selection for "just the songs".

This was pre-Code and, without being too explicit, we get some skimpy outfits, sexual situations and sharp comments from the women. Ginger Rogers is called "Anytime Annie": the only time she said "no" she misheard the question. Her gag this time is carrying a dog, wearing a monocle and putting on a posh accent while she hunts for a show-biz sugar daddy.

As much as the eye is drawn to her, Ginger is just a supporting player. The female lead is Ruby Keeler, whose talents always seemed modest to me. I see this quote from her: "It's really amazing. I couldn't act. I had that terrible singing voice, and now I can see I wasn't the greatest tap dancer in the world, either." This makes me like her better.

When I rented this I thought it would be the one that starts with Ginger singing "We're in the Money" in pig-latin, finishing with Joan Blondell's version of the Depression lament, "Remember My Forgotten Man". But that's another film: Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933). Another memorable entry is Footlight Parade (1933) with great hoofer James Cagney singing the mind-virus song "Shanghai Lil" to (again) Ruby Keeler.

Note all three of these are from the same year, all are from Warner and feature a big crossover in cast and crew:


The plot is a bit more serious in 42nd Street, but it is still back-stage soap opera. We do have two startling segments:

Warner Archive Blu-ray.