42nd Street (1933) Director: Lloyd Bacon
“Come and meet those dancing feet,
On the avenue I’m taking you to,
Both set and released during the Great Depression, 42nd Street is a quintessential “backdoor musical.” It offers a suggestive, innuendo-filled musical extravaganza like no other. Its success, following the release of MGM’s first sound film The Broadway Melody, revitalized the struggling Warner Bros. Studios, as well as the entire musical film genre. It was followed by two other successful musicals in 1933, Footlight Parade and Gold Diggers of 1933. Shot in Burbank for 28 days, we see Ginger Rogers in one of her break-out cinematic roles, albeit as a minor character. The two standout numbers for me in the film include: “You’re Getting to be a Habit” and “42nd Street.”
The film tells the story of a stage director named Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) who wants to end his career with a bang by producing a musical called “Pretty Lady,” however he is warned not to continue directing due to his high blood pressure. He begins casting the show for whom Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels) will play the lead. In order to secure the show’s financing, she string along a lead investor allowing him to believe she loves him, while secretly dating another man. Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler) is hired as one of the show’s dancers but after Brock rolls her ankle the night before the show, and after a mere 5 weeks of practice, Peggy is chosen to take her place. Nevertheless, the show is a hit and the film closes with hoards of audience members leaving the theatre in Philadelphia giving all of the credit to Peggy and none to the director. He listens quietly from the shadows.