Chester Kent produces musical comedies on the stage. With the beginning of the talkies era he changes to producing short musical prologues for movies. This is stressful to him, because he always needs new units and his rival is stealing his ideas. He can get an contract with a producer if he is able to stage in three days three new prologues. In spite of great problems, he does it. Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <email@example.com>
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Cagney Struts His Stuff In Busby Berkley Spectacular
The energetic young producer of theatrical prologues (those staged performances, usually musical, that often proceeded the movie in the larger cinemas in bygone days) must deal with crooked competition, fraudulent partners, unfaithful lovers & amateur talent to realize his dream of making his mark on the FOOTLIGHT PARADE.
While closely resembling other Warner's musical spectaculars, notably the GOLDDIGGER films, this movie had a special attraction none of the others had: Jimmy Cagney. He is a wonder, loose-jointed and lithe, as agile as any tomcat - a creature he actually mimics a few times during the movie. Cagney grabs the viewers attention & never lets go, powering the rapid-fire dialogue and corny plot with his charisma & buoyant charm.
The rest of the cast gives their best, as well. Joan Blondell is perfect as the smart-mouthed, big-hearted blonde secretary, infatuated with Cagney (major quibble - why wasn't she given a musical number?). Dick Powell & Ruby Keeler once again play lovers onstage & off; the fact that her singing & acting abilities are a bit on the lean side are compensated for by her dancing ; Powell still exudes boyish enthusiasm in his unaccustomed position as second male lead.
Guy Kibbee & Hugh Herbert are lots of fun as brothers-in-law, both scheming to cheat Cagney in different ways. Ruth Donnelly scores as Kibbee's wealthy wife, a woman devoted to her handsome protégés. Frank McHugh's harried choreographer is an apt foil for Cagney's wit. Herman Bing is hilarious in his one tiny scene as a music arranger. Mavens will spot little Billy Barty, Jimmy Conlin & maybe even John Garfield during the musical numbers.
Finally, there's Busby Berkeley, choreographer nonpareil. His terpsichorean confections, sprinkled throughout the decade of the 1930's, were a supreme example of the cinematic escapism that Depression audiences wanted to enjoy. The big joke about Berkeley's creations, of course, was that they were meant, as part of the plot, to be stage productions. But no theater could ever hold these products of the master's imagination. They are perfect illustrations of the type of entertainment only made possible by the movie camera.
Berkeley's musical offerings generally took one of two different approaches, either a story (often rather bizarre) told with song & dance; or else stunning geometrically designed numbers, eye candy, featuring plentiful chorus girls, overhead camerawork & a romantic tune. In a spasm of outré extravagance, FOOTLIGHT PARADE climaxes with three Berkeley masterworks: `Honeymoon Hotel' and its pre-Production Code telling of a couple's wedding night; `By A Waterfall' - dozens of unclad females, splashing, floating & diving in perfect patterns & designs (peer closely & you'll see how the synchronous effects were achieved); and finally, `Shanghai Lil' - a fitting tribute to the talents of both Cagney & Berkeley.
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