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Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter), a successful Broadway director, produces a new show, in spite of his poor health. The money comes from a rich older man, who is in love with the star of the show, Dorothy Brock. But Dorothy (Bebe Daniels) doesn't respond to his love, because she's still in love with her old partner. On the night before the premiere, Dorothy breaks her ankle, and Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler), one of the chorus girls, tries to take over Dorothy's part. Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"Sawyer you're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star."
In reviewing one of the film versions of The Virginian I said that it was the prototype for all the westerns that were done, where all the clichés started. The same can certainly be said for 42nd Street, THE original backstage musical.
It's also a film that couldn't be made but right in the middle of the Hoover Depression. Today's audiences can certainly appreciate the magic in the Busby Berkeley musical numbers, but the economics of the situation can hardly be grasped. Many shows on Broadway opened and closed fast after the Stock Market crash of 1929 because no one could afford the price of a ticket. A whole lot of the wealthiest producer/ directors on Broadway from Florenz Ziegfeld on down lost plenty of money in that era.
Warner Baxter's producer was such a man. He's lost his shirt in the market and he has to come up with a smash hit for his own economic survival. The cast and crew he assembles to put on the show Pretty Lady are all fighting for their survival. There are plenty of talented people out of work so none of them better mess up.
Guy Kibbee is the sugar daddy and of course his price for financing the show is some kanoodling with star Bebe Daniels. Probably at that point in history his money gives him more power over everyone than would even normally be the case. You really hate Kibbee in this, not because he's mean or vicious, but why should such an obvious fool and oaf control the destiny of so many.
Bebe of course has her problems, a man who taught her the business, but who she left behind in vaudeville while she hit the big time on Broadway. We never do see George Brent do any songs or snappy vaudeville patter, but that's all right because he's believable as the happy go lucky hoofer who might have been big time if he had the breaks.
And of course the youngsters, Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, playing in their first film together. Powell has one big number, Young and Healthy, but it's on Keeler that the plot really turns.
I suppose the real star of this film is Busby Berkeley who's vision of kaleidoscopic chorus girls came into real fruition here. The Depression story is dated, but Berkeley's musical numbers, Young and Healthy, Shuffle Off to Buffalo, and 42nd Street are eternal. That and all the clichés about putting on a Broadway show that became standard in films for generations.
Baxter's driven producer/director, Daniels' egotistic star, Brent's vaudeville hoofer, Kibbee's moronic businessman backer, and eager hopefuls Powell and Keeler became clichéd characters in a dozen films any movie fan could name.
But it all started here folks, it all started with 42nd Street.
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