Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

I saw Gold Diggers of 1933 last night. It’s a great musical from – you guessed it – 1933. It was part of a series of Gold Digger movies that WB put out during those years. This was the second in the series. It, and the first, Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929), were very successful, due in large part to Busby Berkeley‘s choreography. An interesting tidbit about the 1929 Gold Diggers is that it was the second full-length color sound feature film ever made.

Back to the 1933, version, which as I said, is made memorable by Busby Berkeley’s choreography. One of his trademarks was the chorus girl close-up. Well, you’ll get an eyeful of that right at the start of this picture, when he zooms into Ginger Rogers’ face so much you’ll think he’s going to go into the nose. I kid you not, the movie’s worth watching just for this uncomfortable shot. At the very least, you’ll be startled. Now, imagine how Ginger must have felt when she saw her teeth gracing the entire screen…

Incidentally, she has a supporting role in this movie, popping in and out of scenes here and there. The main roles are held by Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell. If you want to see real plaque in action on the big screen, watch for Guy Kibbee’s teeth on the close-ups. Yuck! How often did they do dental cleanings in those days? Ned Sparks plays the role of Barney Hopkins, the shows’ producer, in his own cranky, yet lovable way. Remember him from One in a Million? Well, he’s thinner in this movie.

A memorable quote from the movie occurs when Joan Blondell reconciles with Warren William: “Cheap and vulgar!”, she quips sarcastically and repeatedly, as he kisses her.

What’s interesting to me is the way they could squeeze glamour out of the everyday muck that was the 30’s, in particular during the depression. Let’s face it, they didn’t have the modern conveniences and hygiene that we now take for granted, yet they managed to make people, in particular women, look great. And when people like Busby Berkeley choreographed, people and things looked even better. The songs were better, the movie was better, because someone’s talent was allowed to shine. To me, that’s just amazing.

Nowadays, we’ve got a reverse trend. Instead of wanting to make things look better in the movies, directors and script writers choose to make them look worse. Take Spanglish (2004) for example. How does Tea Leoni look through most of that movie? Sure, you can argue that the realism adds to the role, but I think we’d have gotten the message without debasing her. If you don’t believe me, take a look at My Man Godfrey (1936). Carole Lombard gets the point across about her character without looking horrible in the process.

(This review was also published on BlogCritics)