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"Gold Diggers in Paris" (Warner Brothers, 1938), directed by Ray
Enright, the last in the annual musical series, is the least known and
discussed of all the "Gold Diggers" musicals of the 1930s that usually
featured Dick Powell with choreography by Busby Berkeley. It's been
long unavailable until resurrected on cable's Turner Network Television
in 1989, and later on Turner Classic Movies where it played every so
often since TCM's premiere in 1994. In spite of its latter-day
rediscovery to a newer audience, it's still virtually overlooked and
forgotten mainly because it doesn't hold up to its predecessors. Much
of it strains for laughs and musical interludes weak, with the possible
exception of the finale.
As for the plot, which opens in Paris, Pierre LeBrac (Melville Cooper) is holding a board meeting where he's selecting several members to go to various countries to bring back the greatest dance groups from all over the world to appear in their upcoming Paris Exposition. Maurice Giraud (Hugh Herbert), afraid to come to America in fear of facing the savage Indians(!), is chosen to go there anyway and bring back the American Ballet Company. While in New York City, Giraud comes to the Club Balle' where Terry Moore (Rudy Vallee), singer and proprietor, is entertaining. Giraud, who mistakes Terry's club for a ballet company, invites Moore's troupe to accompany him back to Paris where they are to appear in the annual dance expedition for $10,000 plus expenses paid to the company. Because his night club isn't making any profits anyway, Terry, along with his partner, Duke Dennis (Allen Jenkins) accept. Before they go, Terry and Duke go to find the best ballet master to train the girls who can only dance to modern swing music. They choose Professor Luis Leoni (Fritz Feld) from the directory, and find Kay Morrow (Rosemary Lane), a ballet dancer and his only pupil. Rounding out the girls, Terry and company board the ship to Paris where he becomes interested in Kay. Also on board is Terry's ex-wife, Mona (Gloria Dickson), who becomes Kay's cabin roommate. While in Paris, situations arise as the real American Ballet Company turns up, having Terry's troupe exposed as impostors.
With music and lyrics by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, the musical program includes: "I Wanna Go Back to Bali" (sung by Rudy Vallee and chorus); "Day Dreaming All Night Long" (sung by Vallee and Rosemary Lane/ lyrics by Johnny Mercer); "A Stranger in Paree" (sung by Vallee imitating Maurice Chevalier; Rosemary Lane, Mabel Todd, Allen Jenkins, Gloria Dickson and the Schnickelfritz Band); "The Latin Quarter" (sung by Lane, Vallee/chorus); and "I Wanna Go Back to Bali" (sung by Vallee, Mabel Todd, Allen Jenkins and chorus). While "My Adventure" is listed among the songs in the movie, it's not presented in the final print.
In between Vallee's crooning comes newcomers to the screen, The Schnickelfritz Band, taking the spotlight to themselves with "Listen to the Mockingbird," "Who's That Man? It's Colonel Corn," and performing an instrumental number at the Paris banquet. Though wild and goofy band-players, they's somewhat predecessors towards the more famous Spike Jones and his City Slickers Band of the 1940s. The Schnickelfritz Band faded to obscurity as quickly as they appeared.
With the exception of Gloria Dickson trying to obtain her alimony from her ex-hubby (Vallee), with few scenes involving a couple of chorus girls playing up to middle-aged well-to-do Frenchmen, the movie itself contains limited "gold digging" antics to offer promise from the title. Most of all, what weakens the plot most is the ventriloquism scenes involving Mabel Todd (the blonde with the buck teeth and odd-ball laugh) as she throws her voice to a great dane to the confused Maurice (Herbert), making him believe he's encountered a "talking dog." Even Hugh Herbert, supporting a mustache and beret, is not too convincing playing a Frenchman.
It's been mentioned by host Robert Osborne in one of the showings of "Gold Diggers in Paris" that Dick Powell, the original choice, turned down the role that went to Rudy Vallee, making his first screen appearance since SWEET MUSIC (Warners, 1935). Aside from Vallee's Maurice Chevalier imitation, he also impersonates the then current US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Busby Berkeley's choreography is the best he could do with this edition, mainly due to limited funds for a lavish show-stopping production. "The Latin Quarter" is a notable tune, best known as background scoring for the Pepi Le Pew cartoons. For a bit of nostalgia, "Gold Diggers in Paris" features clips from the "Young and Healthy" number from 42nd STREET (1933) and "Spin a Little Web of Dreams" from FASHIONS OF 1934 superimposed in its opening title credits, followed by views of Paris, including the famous landmark of the Eiffel Tower.
"Gold Diggers in Paris," which focuses more on singing and band playing than dancing, has that 1940s musical feel. It also shows the changing of the times along with the decline of the Warners musical. Besides this being the "weakest link" of the series, "Gold Diggers in Paris" still has some good moments to offer. For star searchers, look for Eddie "Rochester" Anderson briefly seen as a doorman, along with future 20th-Fox blonde of the 1940s, Carole Landis, who can be glimpsed as one of the members of gold digging troupe. Never distributed to home video, "Gold Diggers in Paris" became available on the DVD format in 2007. (**1/2)
The comedy here is supplied by Hugh Herbert, Edward Brophy, Allen Jenkins, Fritz Feld, Curt Bois and a sextet called the Schnickelfritz Band. I never could fully understand the appeal of Hugh Herbert, or any of the comedians who use stupidity for laughs. (Marie Wilson and Gomer Pyle come to mind.) Here, Herbert gets a wire telling him he's hired the wrong group to come to Paris for a dance exposition and is about to call out the riot squad when the bogus pair he hired convinces him, through a talking dog (via ventriloquism by Mabel Todd) that they are the right group. Now, some may think that's funny, but I prefer the savviness of Brophy, who always knows what's going on and whose comedy comes from his reactions and situations he's placed in. Here, he's a gangster patron of ballet, who cries at its beauty but has no hesitation in eliminating the enemies of his friends. He's dispatched to do just that in Paris and befriends Allen Jenkins, unaware that Jenkins the one he's looking for. Now that's funny. Brophy also has the face and demeanor which makes me laugh just by looking at him, a reaction I also get with Woody Allen. Bridging the musical and comedy aspects of this film is the Schnickelfritz band, a precursor of Spike Jones, doing some funny numbers while in funny positions. There's even a washboard in their musical instrument collection. Busby Berkeley creates and directs all the numbers in the movie. Although it's not his best work, it is mostly due to his constant battle with Warner Bros. to get bigger budgets for his numbers, something of which he complained about often. Still, they're fun to watch. A giant Navy hat engulfs the two dozen gorgeous chorus girls in what is the most spectacular musical sequence in the movie. "I Wanna Go Back to Bali" number was also extensively staged and equally as good. Rudy Vallee was top-billed and sings four of the songs in the movie and Rosemary Lane was the love interest, singing a couple of songs too. The plot is routine, with an on-again, off-again romance and a suspenseful ending which has the group about to be deported before they even perform in the contest.
The end of a musical era was marked with Gold Diggers In Paris. Shortly
after this film, Busby Berkeley took his considerable choreographing
talents over to MGM and no more films with Gold Diggers in the title
would be coming from the Brothers Warner.
Before this film was made Dick Powell who was looking to say farewell to musicals altogether said he would not do another film with Gold Diggers in the title. So Rudy Vallee made yet another attempt to have the movie-going public accept him as a musical leading man.
The film's a good one, but it didn't work for Vallee once again. He would only gain acceptance as film star when Preston Sturges correctly utilized his acerbic personality in character roles.
Harry Warren and Al Dubin once again wrote some nice songs for Gold Diggers and Busby Berkeley weaved his usual choreographic fantasy. His numbers are the main attraction for Gold Diggers In Paris, especially the last song The Latin Quarter.
The plot was later reworked some in the later Doris Day film April In Paris where Doris as showgirl gets a visa by mistake to go to Paris as as a visiting artist. Here it's bumbling Hugh Herbert's mistake who instead of going to a ballet company goes to the Club Balle which is losing money and is the white elephant on owner Rudy Vallee's hands. This offer of an all expense paid trip to Paris is a lifesaver for Vallee and his troupe and if they have to learn ballet, they'll hire Fritz Feld as ballet master and so be it.
Vallee's love interest is Rosemary Lane of the Lane sisters and he also has Gloria Dickson an ex-wife whom he owes a lot of back alimony to. She's hanging around to protect her interest and then actually proves to be the smartest one in the cast. She gives the most memorable performance as well.
Gold Diggers In Paris is great musical entertainment with good songs and routines in delivering them, courtesy of a premier dance master, Busby Berkeley.
This is certainly not as good as the best-known Gold Diggers movies, no
doubt for a variety of reasons. While it is a Busby Berkeley movie,
there is only one big dance number in it, the finale, a reprise of "I
want to go back to Bali" - sung, believe it or not, on a set made up as
the streets of Paris, which makes NO sense whatsoever. (The first time
that number is sung, in a nightclub in New York City, the women are
made up as Balinese, and the set, what there is of it, is supposed to
represent Bali.) Most of the songs are instantly forgettable. Still, in
an almost childish way, the movie is full of a lot of innocent energy
and it never drags. Rudy Vallee sings well, and the character parts -
Hugh Herbert and Melville Cooper, playing the same parts they always
played - are humorous. I was never bored, which is more than I can say
for a lot of movies that pretend to far more than this.
I wouldn't go out of my way to see this, but neither would I suggest avoiding it.
Nowhere near as good in comparison to the Gold Diggers of 1933, 1935 and 1937, but on its own it's an okay film. Sure it has a thin plot that doesn't really make sense, Mabel Todd is irritating and her scenes are just weird and Hugh Herbert is not much better. Rudy Vallee's performance is nothing mind-blowing but he has a nice voice and is a likable lead at least, Rosemary Lane is an alluring partner as well as sassy and heartfelt. In support, Melville Cooper has fun with his role and makes the most with what he has, while you will get much pleasure from Edward Brophy's body language alone. The production values are nice and seem to be done with care with some clean photography to go with it, if not as glitzy as the earlier Gold Diggers films and lower in budget perhaps. The music is not the kind you'll remember for an eternity, but the film is well-scored and the songs make for very pleasant listening. I Wanna Go Back to Bali comes off best. What there is of Busby Berkeley's choreography is good clean fun, that for I Wanna Go Back to Bali is spectacular, while the script is witty and smart with a touch of heart and warmth as well. All in all, lacking but passably entertaining and does its job reasonably well. The earlier Gold Diggers films are better though and showcase Berkeley's talents much more effectively. 6/10 Bethany Cox
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Yak. Yak. Yak. Even the canines are blabbing in this lame flick, as the GOLD DIGGER series has really gone to the dogs. The preposterous set-up of a group of gals just half a rung above what later generations would classify as strippers, pole dancers, or go-go girls being mistaken as a ballet troupe and given an all-expense-paid trip to Paris aboard a luxury liner could be more tolerable if there were some of Busby's musical exercises in human centipede logistics featuring grand stairways to heaven, sky-high bunk beds, white grand pianos, or diving beauties worked in along the lines of FOOTLIGHT PARADE or the earlier GOLD DIGGER films. Instead, all the blabber from all of the campuses in California (not just Berkeley) seems shoe-horned into this movie, which is long on talk but woefully short on eye candy. Ironically, if the definition of a "gold digger" is an opportunist using cheap tricks to garner undeserved cash from guys wealthy enough to be able to afford at least a ticket into their local Rialto, than GOLD DIGGERS IN PARI$ lives up to its name, if not its once noble cachet.
Rudy Vallee is the leader of an orchestra and night club dance act that is struggling to stay in business. To make it worse, his ex-wife is trying to have him put in jail for failing to pay alimony. So, when an idiot (Hugh Herbert) accidentally invites him and his troop to a dance contest in Paris, Vallee jumps at the opportunity to attend. After all, they'll get paid just for attending--even if none of them know the ballet. So, he grabs a lady who does know ballet (Rosemary Lane) and they head to France. But, what they don't know is that the real ballet leader and his insane friend (Eddie Brophy) are actively in pursuit--as they want to punish them for taking their jobs. It's all clearly a silly case of mistaken identities--a very inconsequential but enjoyable plot. And, fortunately, two usually obnoxious actors (Hugh Herbert and Mabel Todd) are used sparingly throughout the film! As for the dancing, this was a bit of a surprise to me. Although Busby Berkeley is listed as the director of the musical numbers, there really isn't much dancing until the end of the film. It's more a musical--with quite a few nice numbers sung mostly by Vallee and a few odd but enjoyable novelty tunes. The songs are not great but are uniformly nice. As for the musical extravaganza at the end, it's pretty weird--even by Berkeley standards. You just have to see it to believe it...and then you might not! By wife's response to this number...'Good Lord!'.
Why do I think that this project -- scripted by a small legion of writers and storysmiths -- wasn't originally conceived as a Gold Diggers project. But the glittering title had been dormant for a while and maybe it could con a few more moviegoers into plunking down their silver. At least it had Busby Berkeley's choreography. Despite the fact that Rudy Vallee is no Dick Powell, Rosemary Lane is no Joan Blondell and the story has enough holes to drive a double-decker tour bus through, it's surprisingly entertaining. And Berkeley's high-stepping Parisian finale, while not as heady as "My Forgotten Man" or "Lullaby of Broadway" is a synchronized marvel. There's also a surprising pleasure -- the Schnickelfritz Band, a wonderfully lunatic musical aggregation who combine dixieland jazz and slapstick. It's almost worth watching just for these musical maulers who preceded and may well have inspired Spike Jones.
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