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Josef von Sternberg
Anna May Wong
Renowned Broadway producer/director Julian Marsh is hired to put together a new musical revue. It's being financed by Abner Dillon to provide a starring vehicle for his girlfriend, songstress Dorothy Brock. Marsh, who is quite ill, is a difficult task master working long hours and continually pushing the cast to do better. When Brock breaks her ankle one of the chorus girls, Peggy Sawyer, gets her big chance to be the star. She also finds romance along the way. Written by
"Now go out there and be so swell you'll make me hate you."
I must admit, the reason I purchased this movie was all because of a CD I bought that had Ruby Keeler singing "42nd Street" on it. But I also must admit that my purchase was not a waste of my money in the least!!!!
I adore this film. It's the quintessential Depression-era Busby Berkley musical that usually starred either Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Jimmy Cagney, and featured a young Ginger Rogers.
Let me begin by saying that (especially for the time period) this actually happens to be a rather risque little musical... from Ginger Rogers' character actually having the name "Anytime Annie" to the little scene occuring on the train when Ruby Keeler extends her arm to have her shoes shined. But I'm not writing to focus on that.
Warner Baxter gives a tremendous performance as Julian Marsh, the director whose life and financial security hang in the balance with the opening of his new musical "Pretty Lady." (His last scene in the film is especially powerful, and at the same time very depressing.) George Brent is grand as Pat, the man deeply in love with the star of "Pretty Lady," Dorothy Brock. Also, a young Dick Powell shines as the juvenille of the show, Billy Lawler, who happens to be in love with a doe-eyed chorus girl by the name of Peggy Sawyer. Boy can he sing!! Bebe Daniels is gorgeous as Dorothy Brock, the star of the show who is having trouble maintaining a balance between her Sugar Daddy Abner and the love of her life, Pat Denning. She has such a fantastic talent as an actress and singer and is one of those true 30s beauties. And look at that wardrobe! (One thing I also noticed about Daniels... she's a TERRIFIC crier.) Then you have Ruby Keeler (aka the former Mrs. Al Jolson) playing chorus-girl-turned-over-night-star Peggy Sawyer. Ruby Keeler is absolutely adorable, with her petite frame, lovely large eyes, and fresh face. She makes the song "42nd Street" her own, and her dancing is FANTASTIC!!!! I have read many comments where people said she "couldn't dance" and looked like a clunky cow... but let's take a few things into consideration. First of all, she was playing a kid who, by luck, got into a huge musical production. Her dances had been choreographed to make her seem insanely talented, but at the same time a little awkward. Second of all, Ruby Keeler had a style all her own. Her taps weren't the light, airy taps of say, Fred Astaire, but they were much more earthy. (And by this I mean no disrespect to Astaire, as he is one of my favorite actors!) Her taps weren't light brushes on the floor, they were pounded deep into it. Her singing is so cheerful and so lilting... her ingenue image paved the way for other similar ingenues, such as Debbie Reynolds' Kathy Selden in "Singin' in the Rain." But, upon viewing this, there are two characters that stick in your mind: Lorraine and Anytime Annie, superbly played by Una Merkel and Ginger Rogers. They're so hilarious -- absolute riots! They could not have found a better pair to spark off of each other as wisecracking friends; Lorraine who is, shall we say, stuck on Andy (Gotta love the platinum blonde hair on Una! She's such a fantastic character actress.), and Ann, who aside from her obvious permiscuous ways, does a great British accent (love Ginger's random monacle!) and is quite humorous when loaded.
All in all, coming from a die-hard musical fan, I give this movie a definite 10/10!!!! Watch it, and I promise you'll agree.
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