Tuesday, January 19, 2010

72. Footlight Parade (1933)

Running Time: 104 minutes
Directed By: Lloyd Bacon
Written By: Manuel Seff, James Seymour
Main Cast: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Claire Dodd, Frank McHugh


This one really didn't grab a hold of me until the final thirty minutes or so, where the musical acts are put to the screen and they are simply dazzling, and any points that this film gets in the end, will all be due to those final musical numbers.

Chester Kent (Cagney) is an out of work Broadway director and the reason he's out of work is because the talk of Hollywood is talking pictures and that's all that anyone wants to see. When he meets with his two producers, they inform him of this and take him to the local movie theatre to show him the proof in person. When Kent arrives at the theatre, he's surprised to see a short live musical number presented in the movie theatre before the main attraction is shown. Upon inquiring, he's told that they're referred to as prologues and that his producers can't afford to develop them for the pictures that they show in their movie theatres. Later, Kent gets the idea for the producers to buy up a bunch of theatres all around the country, and that way they'll be able to gets sets, costumes, etc... for the prologues, they'll make money and so will he and most importantly, he'll be back in business. So that's just what the producers do and "Chester Kent Prologues" are off to a rampant start.

We flash forward a bit, and take a peek inside Kent's offices and the madness that is his career. Life around the stuido is pure bonkers, as Kent is responsible for sending different companies of musical troops all over the country to perform his prologues and meanwhile he has to think up new ideas for prologues and find performers to be in them. His two main attractions end up being Bea Thorn, a former secretary in his office and Scotty Blair. Also in the meanwhile, Kent is forced to worry about a mole working for his outfit and taking his ideas to the rival prologue producer, Gladstone. Kent's secretary is the one who helps him keep his head on straight and sort everything out and secretly she'd like to be more than just his secretary, but it's her friend who speaks up before her and it's her friend that he becomes engaged to.

Kent's producers later reveal that they have a big deal pending with the Apollo Theatres, and if they can impress Mr. Apollo then they'll all be rolling in the dough. So Kent locks up his entire crew for three days, to ensure that the mole doesn't leak his ideas, and it's his mission to bang out three of the greatest prologues that he's ever created. This of course leads to the climax that I referred to in the beginning of this post, and what a climax it is. Despite the lackluster first half of this film, it's certainly something that should be sat through, just to get to the end.

So we've obviously covered what I liked about the film, let's talk about what I didn't like. For starters the dialogue was too fast and snappy for a musical. James Cagney was great, but after witnessing his performance in "The Public Enemy" and hearing his dialogue in "Footlight Parade", the dialogue in the latter sounded like it belonged in the former. Cagney's delivery on his lines is so fast, that it's something more suited for a gangster film, rather than a musical. There were also too many menail side plots that took away from the big picture. If the whole movie had been Kent's mission to create these three big prologues then it would have been a marvelous film, but instead we have to wade through engagements, divorces, love triangle and people cheating other people out of money, and by the time you get to that marvelous ending, you're just spent from having to get through the rest of the film. Cagney delivers a great performance, but one that didn't fit in with the musical genre and the ending is spectacular, with the three prologues: "Honeymoon Hotel", "By a Waterfall" and "Shanghai Lil", with "By the Waterfall" being the best, in my opinion.

RATING: 5/10 All five of those points go to the ending and what an ending it is. See this movie for the ending alone and you won't be disapointed.

NEXT UP: Gold Diggers of 1933...The third and final part of our musical hat trick, which should arrive from Netflix on Thursday, so tune in then.

January 19, 2010 5:21am


  1. I think Cagney's performance was perfect for "Footlight Parade". After all, it's a Warner Brothers musical and the fast-talking tough guy was their hallmark. Out-of-place in an MGM musical or a Paramount musical, but just the right tone in this case.

    PS: I've always wondered about that book. Are they saying we don't get to see movies after we're dead. That's not my idea of Heaven!

  2. I guess that's what they're trying to say...or maybe their saying that after actors die, they go up to heaven and begin working on totally new movies that we've never seen...So we just have to see all of these before we die, so that when we get to heaven we can see the really good stuff

  3. While I'm in no hurry to catch a "new" Hitchcock, I like to think there is one in the afterlife.


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