Chorus girls Polly, Carol and Trixie are ecstatic when they learn that Broadway producer Barney Hopkins is putting on a new show. He promises all of the girls parts in the new show and even hires their neighbor Brad Roberts, an unknown composer, to write some of the music. There's only one problem: he doesn't have the money to bankroll it all. That problem is solved when Brad turns out to be quite rich but he insists that he not perform. When opening night comes, the juvenile lead can't go on forcing Brad to take the stage. He's recognized of course and his upper crust family wants him to quit. When he refuses, they tell him to end his relationship with Polly or face having his income cut off. When Brad's snobbish brother Lawrence mistakes Carol for Polly, the girls decide to have a bit of fun and teach him a lesson.Written by
This is the most perfect example of "history on the silver screen" that I can think of. When Ginger Rogers says, "It's the Depression, dearie" at the beginning to explain the chorus girls' bad luck, it's the key to the whole film. While the "Shadow Waltz" number was being filmed during an actual 1933 earthquake in L.A. a number of the girls toppled off the Art Deco "overpass" where they were swaying with their filmy hoop skirts and their neon violins short-circuited. The electrical hook-ups were also rather dangerous, especially if the neon bows came in contact with the girls' metallic wigs in that number. The culminating production number, "Remember My Forgotten Man," is the most significant historically and illustrates Warner Bros.' "New Deal" sensibilities. Warner Bros. was the only studio that "bought" the whole Roosevelt approach to economic recovery. The year before, under Hoover, WWI vets were not only neglected in terms of benefits but were run out of their shanty town near the Capitol building. Starving guys were camping on the edges of most communities who'd served in the Great War fifteen years before. Of course, why or how this number fits into such a '30s girlie-type musical revue is anyone's guess. Berkeley never looked for reality, just eye-popping surrealistic effects.
About ten years ago I found myself sitting next to Etta Moten Barnett at a Chicago NAACP banquet. I was flabbergasted. She was in her 90s yet still looked lovely. She's the singer who sang "Forgotten Man" in the window. She also sang "The Carioca" in Astaire and Rogers' first pairing, "Flying Down to Rio." She was quite gracious, though she did not have wonderful things to say about Hollywood of that era. The African Americans in both pictures were fed in a tent away from the general commissary area.
Ruby Keeler has a certain odd-ball appeal, like a homely puppy. She can't sing, she watches her leaden feet while she dances, and almost all her lines are read badly. Yes, she was married to Al Jolson, but that may have HURT her career more than anything. He was not exactly always likable. He was much older than Ruby and so full of himself.
This film is also a classic example of the PRE-CODE stuff that was slipping by---the leering "midget baby" (Billy Barty), the naked girls in silhouette changing into their "armor," the non-stop flashing of underwear or lack of underwear, Ginger Rogers having her large coin torn off by the sheriff's office mug so she's essentially standing there in panties, and so forth.
A good comparison of before and after the code would be to examine this picture and "Gold Diggers of 1935." The latter is so much more chaste, discreet, and less fascinating except for the numbers. There's not the lurid, horny aura of the Pre-Code pictures. And it's not quite as much naughty fun, either.
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