During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.
Next up, we return to New York City for “42nd Street”, a comedy musical from 1933. Well, that was the implication at least. The movie takes place almost entirely in rehearsal for the upcoming in-movie musical, Pretty Lady, before the show opens up in … Pennsylvania. Yeah, we didn’t get it either.
We won’t bore you as much as this movie did us. The first two-thirds of the film is a vaguely humorous exploration of practicing for a big musical. There’s some broken hearts and star-crossed lovers, a Harvey Weinstein-esque producer who uses his money/power to force the show’s lead to go out with him, a gangster named Slim Murphy, and dancing.
The acting was pretty good. Warner Baxter plays a soon-to-retire director named Julian Marsh. He lost all his money in the stock market crash and this show is his last chance to make enough money to quit show business for good. He was easily the most convincing of all the actors, from his yelling at the dancers to how worn out he looked in several scenes.
The rest of the cast has their charms. The focus of most of the story is on Peggy Sawyer (played by Ruby Keeler). She’s a fresh face and this is her first show. She manages to straddle that line of ignorant amateur and doe-eyed girl next door without teetering too far toward being annoying. That said, she’s hardly an underdog with everyone rooting for her by the film’s climax.
Though “42nd Street” was mostly a waste of our time, the last twenty minutes were a big hit for both of us. The musical Pretty Lady didn’t make any damn sense, but the choreography, staging, how it was shot, and the music itself were all great. It all stands the test of time too, especially the folding train scene, the stairway to the New York skyline, and of course the forest of legs.
If you are a sucker for Broadway and you want to see Old Hollywood’s take on it, “42nd Street” is okay. Diane and I both struggled to say much more about the movie than this if that tells you anything. Still, if you are a sucker for Broadway and you don’t want to waste your time, skip to ~1h9m mark and enjoy the only show that really entertained.
Here – I’ll save you some of the trouble: