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A vaudeville star has to leave her daughter with her dead husband's stuffy Boston parents while she makes a living. But when the daughter shows some talent, the mother become a stage mother and pushes her daughter into becoming a Broadway star. The mother is a monster with a heart of gold, and after breaking up the daughter's love affair, finally sees the error of her ways. Written by
For most of its length, a good, tough melodrama of a mama (Alice Brady, excellent) living her life through her reluctant daughter (Maureen O'Sullivan), pushing her into show business and scaring away her suitors, and with them any chance of happiness.
Co-screenwriter Bradford Ropes, who also wrote the novel on which "42nd Street" is based, knew this tawdry milieu intimately and wasn't afraid to expose its seamy sides; fortunately, the movie came just before the Production Code, so its portrayal of the shabbiness and moral compromises of the show biz doesn't pull its punches. It resembles "Gypsy" and the great early talkie "Applause," and in particular, its look at backstage and onstage vaudeville is historically fascinating. Its main shortcoming is a too-fast, too-tidy final reel that races unconvincingly toward a happy ending. Also, Maureen O'Sullivan, pretty and spirited as always, doesn't really convince as a young miss aiming to become the toast of Broadway. (She's dubbed, and that's clearly a double dancing in the long shots.) Till that rushed denouement, though, it's a brash and winning backstager, and Brady's uncompromising, unsympathetic performance stays with one for days.
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