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The entire soundtrack of Gold Diggers of Broadway is now posted online for all to hear for free, and of course I've seen the same two reels everyone else has, which is all that is known to survive from the film and consists of the reconciliation between Jerry (Nancy Welford) and "Uncle Steve" (Conway Tearle) and the musical finale.
It's true that there are many similarities between "Gold Diggers of Broadway" and "Gold Diggers of 1933", but I really can't say that one is a remake of the other for the following reason. It is just amazing to "see" what a difference the onset of the Great Depression and the improvement of sound technology and cinematic choreography made in popular entertainment in the four short years between these two films - 1929 to 1933.
"Gold Diggers of 1933" was a rowdy romantic comedy punctuated by innovative musical numbers. "Gold Diggers of Broadway" was a series of musical numbers - and any true cinematic musical number was innovative in 1929 - punctuated by a rowdy romantic comedy. The basis of the tale is the same in both films - a young man from a wealthy family (William Bakewell as Wally) wants to marry a chorus girl (Helen Foster as Violet). Wally's guardian and uncle, Steve Lee (Conway Tearle), says all chorus girls are immoral layabouts that smoke and drink and is on his way up to Violet's apartment, along with the family attorney (Albert Gran as Blake), to put an end to this relationship. Violet can't face "Uncle Steve" so friend Jerry agrees to face him and stand up for her friend. Just as in Gold Diggers of 1933, Steve will not hear any of Jerry's explanation and rattles off his objections all the while assuming Jerry is Wally's fiancé. The rest of the movie is based on this mistaken identity routine, with Jerry's objective being to make herself look so bad that Steve will be glad that Wally is actually marrying someone else. But alas, she cannot shock him no matter what she does. Instead Steve is having the time of his life. Meanwhile Winnie Lightner really steals the show here as Mabel, a loud chorus girl who sets her cap for Blake, the family lawyer.
The only choreography we can "see" here shows how much Busby Berkeley did for musical film. The dancing largely consists of chorus girls walking about or gently swinging to the beat of the music. Two acrobats at the end do the only real "dance moves" in the entire finale. The musical numbers are realistic in the sense that they could have been performed on a stage, and some more realism is injected as we actually see the electrician flip the switch on the lights between scenery set-ups. What Berkeley did in "the remake" four years later was to come up with numbers and shots that could only be done in a film, but it was still much more interesting to watch.
As for the precode era, it's just beginning here. Nobody wakes up and thinks they slept with anyone the night before, but likewise other than Wally and Violet, it is not entirely clear any of the other couples are headed straight to the altar as is true in the 1933 film. The girls here are mischievous and bubbling with energy rather than mischievous and hungry for a meal as they are four years later.
I'm grateful to have the soundtrack of this early sound film, but not seeing the film probably really blunts its comic effect. Lilyan Tashman and Winnie Lightner have some hilarious banter here, and it would have been great to be able to actually see their facial expressions during their exchanges. Likewise, the wild party at Jerry's with Anne Pennington dancing on a table and Winnie Lightner serenading Albert Gran and then jumping into his lap is hard to convey with just a soundtrack.
Here's hoping the rest of it is found someday, but time has probably run out on Gold Diggers of Broadway since it was nitrate film. It's just a crying shame that Jack Warner didn't bother to preserve such a big money maker and huge part of the history of Warner Brothers while Louis B. Mayer was so sentimental that he preserved just about everything MGM ever did. Imagine that - not being as sentimental as Louis B.!
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