Swell Double Feature on TCM Today
Today starting at noon Eastern on TCM: a swell double feature of the two greatest musicals of the early talkie era:
A classic. Magical, glamorous, glittering, but all the while smart. It has terrific songs, including the title song (with that weird dip in the melody), as well as “You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”. Absolutely gorgeous to look at, with its art deco designs, counterbaalanced with Depression era realism. Terrific dancing, choreographed by Busby Berkley, with tapper Ruby Keeler as the star. And to top it off the book is constructed of cynical one-liners meant to represent New York showbiz: everyone communicates in world weary, nasty wisecracks. There is a nice double plot, juxtaposing the story of one girl (who is forced to see her long-time vaudeville boyfriend and partner on the sly and take up with a millionaire so he will back the show she stars in) with another girl (who, after fainting with hunger, gets a job in the chorus, and is romanced by the juvenile [Dick Powell], as well as a couple of the other men). When the star gets drunk and breaks her ankle, of course the other girl (who’s never been on Broadway before) gets her big shot. In addition, the play features one of my favorite characters, the insane, psychotic, mirthless stage director Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter)…the Captain Ahab of stage directors…ridiculous, way over the top, as extreme as it needs to be. Also in the cast are Bebe Daniels (former silent star and Harold Lloyd’s co-star),and a huge cast of terrific character actors (including Una Merkel but there’s like a dozen more).
The best! Ruby Keeler, Ned Sparks, Ginger Rogers, Dick Powell, Joan Blondell etc. directed by Mervyn Leroy, choreography by Busby Berkley. Here Sparks is a producer who needs cash to put on a musical about the Depression. Songwriter and juvenile Dick Powell turns out to be a Boston blueblood and underwrites the show. Unfortunately his conservative brother (the incomparable Warren William) and family lawyer want to break up his romance with Keeler. As they try to do so, gold-diggers Joan Blondell and Aline McMahon kick into action and eventually get both of the fuddy duddies to marry them. There is something ugly about it, though. Doesn’t that make them, well, gold-diggers? On the other hand, it beats starving. And, while they do these Depression numbers, like “Remember my Forgotten Man”, but it’s really just paying lip service to the Forgotten Man…the Forgotten Man has been quite forgotten while these girls go throwing their bodies at millionaires. Anyway, I’ll reserve judgment until the next time the national unemployment rate is at 25%. Besides, its gorgeous to look at! The big hit from the show is “We’re in the Money”, with a beautiful production number that goes with it, including Ginger Rogers singing in pig latin. However the most pernicious of the numbers is perhaps “Pettin’ in the Park”, which is sickeningly treacly…but then won’t stop tortuing you for several days afterward.