Monday, January 18, 2010

71. 42nd Street (1933)

Running Time: 89 minutes
Directed By: Lloyd Bacon
Written By: Rian James, James Seymour, from novel by Bradford Ropes
Main Cast: Warner Baxter, Ruby Keeler, Bebe Daniels, George Brent

A MUSICAL HAT TRICK: PART ONE OF THREE

If I were to add up all the musicals I've seen in my life, I could probably use my fingers to count them on. However, with my next three entries in the "1001" book (including this one), I may have to start using my toes to count them on, because their all musicals and the first one was a pretty good one, if I do say so myself.

Julian Marsh (Baxter) is a broke and ill theatre director, who hasn't had a hit in years and is out of cash due to the Depression. However, he's the best theatre director there is and when Jones and Barry, two Broadway producers decide to put on a show called Pretty Lady they immediately go to Marsh for the directing honors. Marsh eagerly takes the job, despite orders from his doctors that he's on the cusp of another nervous breakdown, but he needs the cash and can't pass up the opportunity to turn out another hit.

During the casting process for Pretty Lady, we are introduced to most of the rest of the main cast, including Dorothy Brock, the shows leading lady and the reason that the show's financial backer, Abner Dillion, is even putting up the money. You see, Dorothy is leading Abner along and he's playing the role of "sugar daddy" for Ms. Brock, while she is really in love with Pat Denning, her old vaudeville partner. Anyway, back to the casting process, as we meet the rest of the faces that will round out the supporting cast and the chorus line girls, including Peggy Sawyer, a rookie to the stage, who hopes to land her first role on Pretty Lady. We're also introduced to "Anytime" Annie Lowell (played by Ginger Rogers, in her pre-Astaire days) and Lorrain Fleming, two very catty and gossipy women, who are very enjoyable to watch.

So the rehearsals start, and Marsh is a slave driver of a director, pushing the cast to work days, nights and any other time, as long as they get the routine down pat and are ready to put the show on to a live audience in five weeks. While chain smoking, Marsh barks out the orders and Baxter plays him to perfection, always looking as though he's about to have that nervous breakdown that was mentioned. Marsh and the producers are also constantly trying to ensure that Abner Dillion doesn't find out about Dorothy's other beau, as he would surely pull his dough out of the project if he knew that she was two-timing him. The night before the show is to make it's grand opening in Philadelphia, Baxter fractures her ankle and the shows leading lady and star is put on the sidelines. Now the entire production rests on the shoulders of the young rookie Peggy Sawyer, as she's chosen to replace Baxter as the lead.

The first thing about this movie that really appealed to me is, that I think it does a good job of showing what it's like to work on a stage show. Not that I've ever been on a stage show, but if I had to imagine what it's like, this is definitely it. The hard work, the constant pressure to get everything right on cue and right down to every word and every dance step. The acting was mediocre, except for that of Warner Baxter, who plays the stage director Marsh brilliantly. The songs are also quite catchy, with renditions of: "Shuffle Off to Buffalo", "Young and Healthy", "You're Beginning To Be a Habit with Me" and of course, the title song "42nd Street". I'm really no expert on musicals, or what the great ones are and aren't, but I'd have to believe that this is one of the greats and I certainly had a fun time watching it. This flick was actually nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture back in it's day and it's not hard to see why.

RATING: 7.5/10 It didn't get the full '10' but for a musical of which I really didn't have any high hopes for, it certainly made a more than decent impression.

NEXT UP: Footlight Parade...The second part of our musical hat trick is here and waiting to be watched. I don't have anything else due in from Netflix, however, until Thursday, so I may end up saving it for tomorrow.

January 18, 2010 10:59am

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