Welcome to a new Film Friday, and the continuation of our spotlight series on the Pre-Code work of Joan Blondell (1906-1979), an iconic Warner dame known for her snappy speech and straight-shooting style. We’ve covered Illicit (1931), The Public Enemy (1931), and Night Nurse (1931), but haven’t even yet scratched the surface of her miraculous Pre-Code career. We’re making up for lost time, and so far we’ve featured Blonde Crazy (1931), Union Depot (1932), The Greeks Had A Word For Them [a.k.a. Three Broadway Girls] (1932), Miss Pinkerton (1932), and Three On A Match (1932), Lawyer Man (1932), and Blondie Johnson (1933). Today…
Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933)
Three chorus girls fight to keep their show going and find rich husbands. Starring Warren William, Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee, Ned Sparks, and Ginger Rogers. Screenplay by Erwin Gelsey & James Seymour. Dialogue by David Boehm & Ben Markson. Based on a play by Avery Hopwood. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Score by Harry Warren & Al Dubin.
“Carol, Trixie, and Polly, three out-of-work showgirls living together in a cheap New York apartment, are down to their last pair of stockings when rival Fay informs them that Broadway producer Hopkins is putting on a show. Carol brings Hopkins to the apartment, where the girls have gathered their friends, including Polly’s boyfriend, Brad, an aspiring songwriter, to audition. After Hopkins hears the songs, he admits that he has no backers, but Brad offers to put up the money on the condition that Polly is featured in the show… On opening night, Brad is forced to replace the juvenile.
“The musical is a success, but Brad is recognized as Robert Treat Bradford, the heir to a prominent Boston family’s fortune. When the news breaks, Brad’s brother Lawrence and the family banker, Peabody, come to New York to stop Brad’s career and [his] plans to marry Polly. Matters are further complicated when Carol poses as Polly, while Trixie also plays along and seduces Peabody. As Polly, Carol accepts Lawrence’s pay-off not to marry Brad, but because she has fallen in love with him, admits her true identity. Lawrence realizes he is in love with Carol and changes his attitude about showgirls. Finally, Brad marries Polly, and Trixie weds Peabody.” (This summary is brought to you courtesy of TCM.)
An occasion such as this is one that I personally treasure, for it allows for the blending of two of my loves: musical theatre and Pre- Code cinema. Gold Diggers Of 1933, loosely adapted from a 1919 Broadway comedy, features a score by Warners’ perennial early ’30s songwriting duo, Warren and Dubin, and a few of the numbers will be recognizable to some from the stage production of 42nd Street (1980), which was adapted from the 1933 Pre-Coder of the same name and incorporated many Warren-Dubin standards. Like the aforementioned film, this one also features Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell as the singing ingenue and juvenile.
Meanwhile, Ginger Rogers is on deck to introduce the most famous tune, “We’re In The Money,” Kibbee and MacMahon, two recognizable character actors, do some side comedy, and the headliners, William and Blondell, inevitably form another pairing, helping to ensure that the film, with its mistaken identities and innuendos, earns its Pre-Code stripes. (And indeed, the film had to be cut differently for individual states, per objections to some of the film’s slightly risqué shadings — like the silhouette below.) Yet neither Warren nor Blondell, two icons of the era, get any material that produces the electricity that a regular Pre-Code starring the two might elicit, for everything here is relatively tame.
Not surprisingly, the numbers, choreographed by the legendary Busby Berkeley, are the film’s obvious highlight. Unfortunately, the story itself is even thinner than 42nd Street’s, and the book scenes, though not unenjoyable, are amusing only for the personalities involved. Part of the problem with the film’s structure is that Gold Diggers of 1933 feels like two different movies — one is a musical with Keeler and Powell, the other is a quasi-comedy with the others. (Well, Blondell crosses into both genres, lip syncing a torch song in the final reel.) So, unless one comes to this film with a desire to appreciate it on its musical merits, disappointment is a possibility. Recommended to fans of Keeler and Powell, and anyone who loves musical films — because the numbers are sure to please. For regular Pre-Code fan, stay tuned for better stuff ahead (including a more enjoyable Blondell musical)!
Come back next Friday for another Blondell Pre-Code! And tune in on Monday for another forgotten musical comedy!