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
Do you find the musicals of the 40's and 50's pristine, sterile and virginal in the extreme? And based on this unhappy discovery you've decided that you don't like musicals. Please do not distress yourself and allow me to introduce you to the Busby Berkeley musicals of the 1930's, starting with 42nd Street, the best of them all.
Like nearly all the musicals of its time, 42nd Street is a depression-era back stage musical which focuses on the grueling hours that have to be put in by the singers and dancers day after day in preparation of opening night. The film has a fine cast with lovely Bebe Daniels as Dorothy Brock, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers, George Brent and Warner Baxter, who chews the scenery in every scene he's in as the stage director of 'Pretty Lady'.
What separates films like "42nd Street" from the musicals of the 40's and 50's is the daring camera work of dance director Busby Berkeley. Berkeley loves his chorus girls, and he has no qualms about aiming his camera up their dresses at every opportunity. One of the sexiest moments in the film comes when the girls try out for the chorus in their street clothes. Each girl of course is dressed differently from the others, with a different hat (love those cute 30's hats) dress and high-heel shoes. This variety makes them look hotter than when they're all wearing the same chorus outfit. When they have to show their legs in the hopes of being chosen, Berkeley gets his camera down low and gives you a birds eye view of each girl's legs ... first a front view, than they turn and let you get a good look at their calves. It is a very erotic scene. Later, when the girls leave their dressing rooms and are coming down the stairs for opening night, Berkeley puts his camera under the stairs and shoots up their dresses as they pass. Again, when the girls emerge from backstage and high-kick out for the opening number, Berkeley has his camera down low at a 45 degree angle, aiming right up the chute of the costumes of the first few girls to dance out on stage. Further along, all the chorus girls form an arc in one number with their legs wide open and Berkeley tracks right thru their legs all the way around the circle. You can even see the last girl has a gold ankle bracelet on her left ankle. Once the production code was strictly enforced after 1934, shots like this were never seen again.
42nd Street has three great songs, "You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me", "Shuffle Off To Buffalo" and of course "42nd Street". There have been many revivals of "42nd Street", and they often include the best numbers of other films, along with the three I mentioned, including "Dames" from the film of the same name, "Go Into Your Dance", a terrific number, and "Lullaby of Broadway", which is the highlight number from "Gold-Diggers of 1935", which has a spectacular tap dance sequence with 100 chorus girls wearing gorgeous, sheer black skirts as part of their chorus outfits. If musicals often leave you cold, and you haven't given "42nd Street" a try, than I suggest that you do so ... and sit close to the television set.
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