Saturday, June 6, 2015

#1,755. Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)

Directed By: Busby Berkeley

Starring: Dick Powell, Adolphe Menjou, Gloria Stuart

Trivia: Wini Shaw's recording of "Lullaby Of Broadway" was an unlikely hit in Britain in 1976

After creating the elaborate musical numbers for such films as 42nd Street and Footlight Parade, Busby Berkeley finally got his chance to direct the whole she-bang with Gold Diggers of 1935. And even though only a handful of his stock players returned, the patented Berkeley formula is alive and well in this spirited musical / comedy.

The Wentworth, a high-class summer resort that caters to the rich and famous, has just opened for the season, and one of the first guests to arrive is widowed millionaire Matilda Prentiss (Alice Brady), who, despite being filthy rich, is so cheap that she shudders at the thought of tipping the porters a whole dollar for carrying her 16 suitcases upstairs. Joining her for the summer are her son, Humbolt (Frank McHugh), who, after four failed marriages, is in the market for wife #5; and daughter Ann (Gloria Stuart), who’s none too happy that dear old mom is marrying her off to the rich but eternally stupid T. Mosely Thorpe (Hugh Herbert). Hoping to have some fun during her last summer of freedom, Ann convinces her mother to hire Dick Curtis (Dick Powell), the hotel’s desk clerk, to act as her guide for the season. A medical student, Dick is already engaged to Arline (Dorothy Dare), also an employee of the Wentworth, but things take an unexpected turn when Dick falls for Ann, and Arline catches the eye of Humbolt, who, from day one, claims to be head over heels in love with her.

As it turns out, this is only the beginning of Miss Prentiss’s troubles, because along with trying to squash her children’s new romances, she’s also expected to flip the bill for the Wentworth’s annual charity show, which is being directed by Nicolai Nicoleff (Adolphe Menjou), whose theatrical experience is matched only by his dishonesty. Hoping to make a bundle off of the rich widow, Nicoleff brings in his longtime business partner, Schultz (Joseph Cawthorn), and together the two set to work running up an enormous bill for their services. Add to the mix a shifty stenographer (Glenda Farrell) intent on taking T. Mosely to the cleaners, and you have the makings of a very memorable season at the Wentworth Summer Resort.

Aside from Powell, McHugh, and Hugh Herbert (all of whom appeared in his previous movies), Berkeley assembled a brand-spanking new cast for Gold Diggers of 1935 (gone are Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell and Guy Kibbee, replaced this time around by Gloria Stuart, Dorothy Dare and Adolphe Menjou). Fortunately, the new players were up to the challenge. Stuart is lovely as the heiress engaged to a dolt, and Adolphe Menjou is positively off-the-wall as Nicoleff, whose Russian accent is almost as phony as his credentials. In their capable hands, Gold Diggers of 1935 proves every bit as funny, and equally as romantic, as Dames, Footlight Parade, and the original Gold Diggers of 1933.

Berkeley also gives us a song and dance routine right out of the gate, a catchy instrumental that plays while the resort’s staff (moving in tune with the music) prepares the grounds for their grand opening. But, as usual, old Busby saves most of his magic for the film’s final act: the stage show itself. “The Words Are in My Heart” features dancing pianos that move in unison around a large stage (though I’m betting the guys in black pants walking underneath them needed a chiropractor by the end of it all). And to top it off, we’re treated to a brand spanking new rendition of “The Lullaby of Broadway”, a number starring Winifred Shaw that contains some of the most unusual imagery Berkeley ever devised. It begins with a disembodied head off in the distance, floating in the darkness as it sings the song, the camera slowly closing in on it as the tune continues. From there, it’s off to the streets of New York, and one of the more bizarre night club routines ever captured on film, with hundreds of dancers coming together on an empty stage, moving in perfect harmony as Powell and Shaw, initially seated at a table high above, join the action below. With a few dark twists and turns thrown in for good measure, odds are you’ll never hear “The Lullaby of Broadway” again without thinking of this amazing sequence.

Not even the pressure of calling all the shots could damper Busby Berkeley’s genius, and Gold Diggers of 1935, like 42nd Street and all the others before it, is a tremendous amount of fun as a result.

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