Gold Diggers of 1933

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In the 1930s, Warner Bros., a studio most often associated with gangster and social problem films, also pioneered in the musical genre. Drawing on the talents of choreographer Busby Berkeley and a stable of former vaudeville and Broadway performers, the studio produced three hugely popular backstage musicals in 1933: Gold Diggers of 1933, Foot-light Parade, and 42nd Street. Budgeted at only $433,000, but ranking second at the box office for the year, Gold Diggers of 1933 infused its predictable rags-to-riches romance and show-stopping musical numbers with a working-class elan and escapist glamour that appealed to Depression-era audiences.

When Broadway producer Barney Hopkins (Ned Sparks) can't pay the bills, the cops close down his show, and plucky chorus girls Polly (the ubiquitous Ruby Keeler), Carol (Joan Blondell), Trixie (Aline MacMahon), and Fay (Ginger Rogers) find themselves out of work and flat broke. Luckily, Polly's songwriter boyfriend Brad Roberts (Dick Powell) is really Robert Bradford, the scion of a wealthy Boston family that is opposed to his career in show business. Brad puts up the money for Barney's new show, and Barney hires Brad to write all the songs. When the male lead gets lumbago on opening night, the girls and Barney convince the reluctant Brad that he must step in to save the show. However, his secret is out and his older brother J. Lawrence Bradford (Warren William) and Faneul H. Peabody (Guy Kibbee), the family banker, soon arrive to put a stop to Brad's stage career and to his marriage to Polly. Offering her a bribe to leave Brad, J. Lawrence mistakes Carol for Polly. Thus begins a madcap charade as Carol and Trixie pretend to be "gold diggers" to teach the blue bloods a lesson in manners and class. In the end, of course, the mistaken identity farce is resolved, true love triumphs over class differences, and each chorus girl gets her man.

Though Mervyn LeRoy directed the narrative sections of Gold Diggers, Busby Berkeley both choreographed and directed the wildly extravagant musical numbers. The ironic opening number, "We're in the Money," is classic Berkeley: fragmented, interchangeable female bodies scantily costumed in huge gold coins, the precision choreography and elaborate geometric patterns highlighted by dizzying close-ups and innovative camera shots. In contrast to the glitzy spectacle and tongue-in-cheek frivolity of much of the film, Gold Diggers closes with "Remember My Forgotten Man," which invokes breadlines, homelessness, and the Bonus Marchers, World War I veterans who had marched on Washington in 1932 demanding payment for their war service.



Bergman, Andrew. We're in the Money: Depression America and Its Films. 1971.

Cohan, Steven, ed. Hollywood Musicals: The Film Reader. 2002.

Jennifer Langdon-Teclaw