Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)

Living off of the grand success of the many Warner Bros. musicals that flashed across the screen in 1933, including 42nd Street and Footlight Parade, the studio decided to distribute a sequel to their money maker Gold Diggers of 1933 (a remake of Gold Diggers of Broadway, also a hit, from 1929), effectively making it a franchise. Produced by First National Pictures, a smaller company owned and operated by Warner Bros., Gold Diggers of 1935 is a benchmark picture because it is the first film officially directed by famed choreographer, Busby Berkeley. Though the film is considered a sequel there is no direct connection between the films from 1933 and 1935, sharing only name and star Dick Powell, but in an entirely different and unrelated role. Ever attempting to top himself, Busby Berkeley directs a picture with his own flair, as if the picture on a whole is a dance number and the scenes are merely cues, not to say the entire film is dancing, but rather he moves the camera and constructs a picture that is in its own way poetic if it was not for its poor plot and ham acting.

Gold Diggers of 1935 is a comedy musical about a swanky resort and two of its guest, a mother and daughter, one desperately trying to produce a fundraising show, the other looking for a fun time before her arranged marriage and happening to fall in love with one of the hotel clerks. The story is rather fantastical, as it is about a penny-pinching wealthy woman who visits the very expensive resort on her annual vacation with her adult children. The matriarch, Marline Prentiss (Alice Brady), struggles with her daughter interests and while juggling a large fundraising production directed by the colorful and scheming dance director Nicolai Nicoleff (Adolphe Menjou). Meanwhile her daughter Ann (Gloria Stuart) falls in love with the charming Dick Curtis (Dick Powell), a hotel clerk hired by Mrs. Prentiss to show Ann a good time for the summer before she is arranged to be wed. The final third of the picture features elaborate musical numbers, while the stories are capped off with Nicoleff, producing his finest show, Mrs. Prentiss losing her raised funds, meanwhile Ann and Dick plan to marry. All is well as Mrs. Prentiss sees herself saving money having a doctor in the family in Dick.

Like any other Busby Berkeley choreographed film, the story weak with moments of humor that are primarily assembled to lead into large, lavish musical numbers that Berkeley is infamous for. The story is weak seeded, primarya bout Dick and Ann falling in love, but never seeing a consequence from their two previous suitors. Ann was arranged to marry to a man not interested in her, while Dick had true love in his fiancée Arline (Dorothy Dare). Oddly enough Dick easily falls in love with Ann and Arline is the first to notice it, cheerfully tells him that he should stay with her as if it never hurt her feelings. A strange love story indeed, geared to the female aspect of romance. The storyline with Mrs. Prentiss and stage director Nicoleff works up to the grand musical display that you would come to see in this film, the story line is nothing more than a thin plot with dabs of hammed up comedy.

Berkeley's dancing Pianos.
The real reason anyone would come to see this film was for the musical aspects. The film contains three numbers, all very different from each other and different from Berkeley’s earlier productions. First is a montage number without any real flash of Dick and Ann shopping for fun. Unlike other numbers in Berkeley films this one is actually part of the plot and not a show inside of a show as he usually does. There is no large chorus or flashy dancing, just flirting and singing. The other two coincide with the musical show supposedly directed by Nicoleff.  The first has Berkeley outdoing himself as not only a dance number with girls, but pianos that dance around as well. This is a marvelous number that surely took a great deal of practice for perfection and is played beautifully. The final and most well-known number is “Lullaby of Broadway,” returning to what Berkeley does best with large amounts of beautiful chorus girls a in a wonderfully artistic and carefully edited number that steals the show. Interestingly Berkeley does have moments of focusing on singular dancers, an aspect he was not known for as he loved the grandeur of large numbers, inspiration from his background while serving in the military. He does however shoot the singular dancers dancing from far different angles then what other directors would have, once again manifesting Berkeley never wanting to copy the same thing done before.

Outside of directing musical numbers, this is the first time Berkeley officially directed a whole film, including the regular dialogue scenes. You can tell in many cases that he was in fact behind the camera as the many shots do move musically or as a dance even though there is no singing or dancing. The tone is set in the very beginning as the many bell boys fall into place like a dancing chorus, just to give you a feel for what is to come. One shot I particularly enjoyed and was uncommon to see from a picture of its time is a long walking shot of Dick and Ann as they walk throughout the hotel lobby while conversing. The shot is long and does not specifically achieve anything special, but it is beautifully how the couple continuously walking towards the camera while the camera itself continually keeps moving back for for a shot that heels like a minute, turning several corners, making a simple dialogue scene seem more interesting. Berkeley had a good sense of what was pleasing to the eye when it came to cinematography. Sadly I cannot say the same thing about the story or the acting.

Dick Powell like in 1933 is the star of 1935, but as said before the film as completely unrelated. Powell had fallen into the similar role in many of these musical films as the squeaky clean gentleman who sings, dances, and charms the young ladies. In the Ruby Keeler-like role is Gloria Stuart, the 24 year-old actress who has bounced around many films in medium sized roles, including in The Invisible Man.  Rounding out the primary cast as characters actors were Alice Brady and Adolphe Menjou. Brady was a well seasoned actress with a long list of silent films and stage work. In recent years she had started to get back into film, this time in talkies, but served primarily in character roles. Menjou, too has had a long résumé. His work would be a little more sporadic, but he falls into it very well, this time as a neurotic stage Russian stage director greedy to get more out of his client.

Just a part of "Lullaby of Broadway"- Best Song 1935
What Gold Diggers of 1935 would best be known for is its Academy Award winning song “Lullaby of Broadway.” Apart from Berkeley’s beautifully choreographed “film-within-a-film,” the song was a success. Through the years the song pops up a success in different aspects. The song about a Broadway actress that works all night and sleeps all day has been used in many other films through the years, becoming an unofficial anthem of Broadway in some extent, and hitting music charts from time to time. The song would be the legacy the film would leave, while at the same time being the forgettable directorial debut of an entire production for Busby Berkeley.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Out of the Past (1947)

RKO Pictures Director: Jacques Touneur Starring: Robert Mitchum , Jane Greer , Kirk Douglas Honors: National Film Registry ...