Dir.: Mervin Le Roy; Cast: Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers, Warren William, Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell, Alice McMahon, Ned Sparks; USA 1933, 97 min.
Shot during the Great Depression, this 1930s musical extravaganza rails against the privations of the era with its verve and pizazz. Mervin Le Roy (Quo Vadis, The Wizard of Oz) may have been the director but Busby Berkeley, who choreographed the lavish dance numbers, is very much the ‘father’ – and he nearly paid for it with his life: During the shooting of the “Shadow Waltz” number, the famous Long Beach Earthquake rocked the set, causing a black-out and leaving Berkeley hanging with one hand from the camera boom, whilst the dance troop was perilously trapped on a near ten-meter.
The jamboree opens modestly in a rather glum apartment. Three of the four Gold Diggers, Polly (Keeler), Carol (Blondell) and Trixie (MacMahon) are showgirls desperate to make it in the grim days of economic hardship. Then along comes producer Barney Hopkins (Sparks) to discuss their planned musical. Hopkins has just seen his creditors, and hope is fading on the money front. Then salvation arrives in the shape of girl’s Polly’s boyfriend next door Brad Roberts (Powell). He miraculously comes up with the cash – although the cast and producer treat him more like the villain of the piece, believing the finance comes from ill-gotten gain.
In reality Roberts is a millionaire who keeps his theatre connections secret from his family in the film’s simple plot that lets the musical numbers take centre stage. Apart from Fay (Rogers) all the showgirls have lived up to their Gold-digging nick names. The most famous song, “We’re in the Money” is sung by Ginger Rogers; “Pettin’ in the Park” in the Park” by Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell, who also delivers the aforementioned “Shadow Waltz”. Finally there is ”Remember my Forgotten Man”, performed with allure by Joan Blondell.
The musical set pieces are absolutely spectacular and captured with gusto by the great Sol Polito (Sergeant York, Robin Hood). Warner Brothers had to go to great lengths to avoid censorship over the scantily clad dancing girls: They produced different copies of the feature, some for more liberal regions like New York, some for more prudish districts in the deep South. Overall, Gold Diggers never forgets the gloom of the era, and when Hopkins explains to the girls that the musical is about the Depression, they answer spontaneously, “we won’t need to rehearse that”!
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