Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)



“Faith. Hope. Charity. You have Faith. Barney has Hope. And we need Charity!”

            When I first viewed Gold Diggers of 1933 I only watched it for Ginger Rogers who was barely in the film. Since Rogers did not have a large part I did not really think anything of the film. I liked it but I did not really pay too much attention when Ginger was not on the screen. A few years later I became more of a classic film fan, a fan of pre-code films, a fan of Joan Blondell, and a fan of Dick Powell. Today I viewed Gold Diggers of 1933 with new eyes and interest and truly enjoyed and loved this film.
            Nineteen thirty three was the worse year of the depression. Unemployment was sky high and there seemed to be no end in sight for the American people. Suffering along with the millions of out of work people are chorus girls and roommates Carol (Blondell), Polly (Ruby Keeler), and Trixie (Aline MacMahon). They have not had a job in quite some time and their rent is due. Another fellow out of work chorus girl Fay (Rogers) comes to their apartment to tell them that a guy named Barney is putting on a show. All four girls get very excited. Carol decides she is going to go down to Barney’s office to if the news is true.
            While the rest of girls wait for the Carol to come back, Polly sits and pines away at Brad (Powell) who has just moved in across the way. Brad is a composer so he plays and sings the piano all day. Carol, in tears of joy, calls the apartment to tell them it is true that Barney is putting on a play and that he is coming back to the apartment with her. When Barney comes over he hears Brad across the way. He likes what he hears and has Brad come over. Barney listens to more of what Brad has composed and signs him on to the show even putting him in the lead with Polly. Brad says he cannot be in the lead but does not explain. The producer tells everyone that he would love to go ahead with the show but the backers have bowed out along with their money. He needs fifteen thousand. Brad says he can have the money to him by the next day.
            No one really believes that Brad can get the money and in cash as he promised but he pulls through and the show goes forward. Trixie and Polly think Brad stole the money from a bank after they read about a robbery in the paper and they see him give money to a man who looks like a gangster.
            The night of the show the lead actor gets a bad back. Barney needs Brad to go on in the lead but he just cannot but does not explain why. Eventually Barney and the girls tug at his heartstrings and he accepts to go in the lead. The show becomes a hit and all the girls have money they never thought they would have.
            The news gets back to Brad’s brother Lawrence (Warren William). The brothers are part of an old wealthy Boston family. Lawrence is trying to protect the family name he does not want it splattered all over Broadway which he sees as a sleazy profession. He also does not want Brad to marry Polly a chorus girl. Carol and Trixie hear how Lawrence wants to break the couple up and decide to have some fun with Lawrence and the family lawyer Peabody. Carol pretends to be Polly and Trixie has a fabulous time taking Peabody for all he is worth! After a while Lawrence starts to fall for Carol as Polly and wants to try to break her and Brad up. When Lawrence professes his love he drunk beyond reason. Trixie comes up with the idea to put him in Carol’s bed but neither Carol nor Polly like the idea. When Lawrence wakes up the next morning he writes Carol a big check but she feels so bad she just has it framed instead of cashing it.
            In the end Lawrence finds out that Carol is really not Polly. Carol feels really bad because she came to love him. Brad and the real Polly get married and his brother finds out in the paper.
            This is a happy go lucky musical so you should know that everything ends well with the characters.  
            If you look at this film knowing what was taking place in America in 1933 Gold Diggers is a perfect example of history on film. MGM may have had the glamour and the films that made you forget your troubles but Warner films had a social message and their characters were working people. Ginger Rogers, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, and Aline MacMahon their characters were starving chorus girls looking for their break and being able to eat. I loved Rogers, Blondell, and MacMahon were snarky wisecrackers with tough attitudes. I guess they had to be just to keep their heads up.
            Gold Diggers I believe was the first pre-code film I ever saw without even realizing it. Now that I know the pre-code era better I can definitely say that this is one of the best example of a pre-code film. Ginger Rogers is pretty much in her underwear in the opening sequence and when we are first introduced to Polly, Carol, and Trixie they are in their underwear and robes. In the “Petting in the Park” sequence the chorus girls get changes behind these screens and you can clearly see their silhouettes as they are changing. During the same number the girls are in metal outfits that the guys cannot get off of them. Brad and Polly are the focus and he gets frustrated and gets a can opener.
            I adore this cast. Ginger Rogers was the pest of the group who thought she was better than everyone. She opens the film with her performance of “We’re in the Money.” She was snarky and wonderful, I love Ginger’s attitude in her early films she always played the perfect 1930s modern girl. When I sat through this film the first time I did not really think much of the cast but as I said in the beginning of this review I have since come to be a fan of Joan Blondell and Dick Powell. Like Rogers, Blondell was also the perfect 1930s modern girl. She had the attitude and the look. I liked how her character was a bit tough at the beginning and then when Carol falls in love with Lawrence she softens up a bit. Dick Powell was so charming and cute… that is all I can really say for him in this film. He gave a great performance in the one musical number he did. Aline MacMahon as Trixie pretty much steals the whole film. She was so funny because Trixie was supposed to be the comedian and she really did not care what she did. Her scenes with Peabody were some of the best it is so funny how she just totally takes advantage of the poor guy. Ruby Keeler… she was not horrible but she was not great. Her singing was not very good and her dancing was very stiff.
            I only liked one of the Busby Berkeley numbers and that was it. The “Petting in the Park” number was good I could sit through that one but the ones where the dancers have the neon violins I fast forward through it, it was too long. The ending number that closes the film, though, is probably one of the best numbers ever put on film and one that sums up the entire depression. It is called “My Forgotten Man” and is about the soldiers who fought in The Great War and are ignored by the government. It really is moving and excellently well done.
            Gold Diggers of 1933 is one of the best films to be made in the 1930s. As I mentioned in the review Warner Bros. Studio made films with social messages and this film greatly sends out the message of what working people went through during the depression.