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The Hollywood Musicals of the Great Depression.  Busby Berkeley.  Fred and Ginger.  Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler.  Dolores del Rio.  Gershwin.  Porter.  Irving Berlin!

And Joan Blondell singing The Forgotten Man in the Busby Berkley film, The Gold Diggers of 1933, song by Harry Warren and Al Dubin.

What a cold look she gives at the cop.

There's no doubt about it -- this diary isn't very classical.  But it makes me feel good, so I, Dumbo, am going to indulge myself and let you all take it or leave it today.  In fact, so rude am I, that I might just bring your browser to its knees with all the clips I'm going to post.  If that happens, just exit your browser and come back.  

I know.  Last week I promised you Fred and Ginger.  We'll get to them, but let's linger with the Busby Berkley films for a bit, first.  Berkley staged and choreographed a number of musicals for Samuel Goldwyn and for Warner Brothers.  His "kaleidoscopic" production style overwhelmed all other features of his films such that the plot usually consisted of thin excuses for the production numbers.  

But there is a darkness to his films, too, as witnessed by the clip at the top.  How much input he had in the decision-making as to which stories to produce, I don't know, but however it worked out, the Berkley films from the bottom of The Great Depression are beautiful and cheerful and tinged with darkness.

As in this next hit of his, the final, title number from 42nd Street(1933), sung by the tap-dancing Ruby Keeler.

I remember watching this as a kid.  I was born in 1956.  In the early sixties (and most of you are old enough to know this already, but some kids here don't know these things), non-network TV was often filled with old black and white films like this one.  The film I remembered watching as a child isn't the film I see today.  At some point after growing up, it dawned on me, "Hey, that's sick shit!"  For one thing, just in that clip alone, you see a rape and murder carried out, all while people sing and smile and dance their hearts out.  This is the happy Hollywood ending they gave it, with Keeler and Dick Powell waving a cheery goodbye to the audience because their musical number is a success.  Other parts of the flick are just as cynical.  "Shufflin' Off to Buffalo," for instance, was a cheerful song about divorce.

The parallels between this and what was happening in Germany with Der Neue Sachlichkeit.  There are detectible notes of expressionism in the Berkley artwork.  In fact, many of the expressionists that hadn't deserted Berlin yet would find a homey welcome awaiting them in Hollywood.  "Degenerate artist" extraordinaire Kurt Weill, for instance, the hero in the diary I wrote and just linked to, having lost Brecht as a lyrical collaborator, easily hooked up with Ira Gershwin after coming to the US.

Another interesting thing about the early 1930s musicals is that many of them are what is called Pre-Code, i.e., they were made before the Hollywood studios adopted the Film Code which was meant to clean up some of the more risque nastiness.  

Like Joan Blondell in that clip.  She doesn't have to tell us how she gets by.  A little kid in the sixties sitting on the floor watching this on a black and white vaccuum tube TV might not get it, but everybody else would as soon as they saw her standing under a street light with that blouse.  

Pre-code cartoons could be risque, too.  Mermaid boobage!

Busby Berkley's productions are very sexy.  Another clip from 42nd Street, with Dick Powell and a smoking hot Toby Wing.

What the hell is she wearing?  It looks fluffy as hell, but there are two ermines biting her boobs!  Definitely Pre-Code.  And the tunnel of legs effect, which he uses in his other films.  

Did you catch the blonde at 1:56?  I'll spoil it for you so you don' bother to rewind it.  That's Ginger Rogers.

Here she is in Berkley's Gold Diggers of 1933, performing the opening number, You're In the Money, another Great Depression signature song.

We're in the money, that sky is sunny,: Old Man Depression you are through, you done us wrong. We never see a headline about breadlines today...
Another number from Golddiggers of 1933, my favorite, the Shadow Waltz.  Too bad I don't smoke weed anymore, because this really does require it, I suspect, to be fully appreciated.  If any of you have a doobie, smoke it and report back in the comments on this matter.

And report back on this one, too.  Sweet Marijuana, from Murder at the Vanities (1934), a film that has the typical Berkley-esque cheesecake but I don't see Berkley's name on it.

Another Berkley-esque but non Berkley film that I can't resist posting.  Check Your Man, from Over the Counter(1932).  It's not colorized.  Many of these old films that look colorized are in two-color technicolor.  That's just the way it looks.

Busby Berkley DID do this one, which has a similar latin influence.  In Caliente (1935) starring Dolores del Rio.

I had to include that one if just for the lyrics:

Tonight I gotcha where I wantcha!"
I like the way she slaps the crap out of him, too.  Good touch there.  

Ginger Rogers.  Dolores del Rio.  The only thing we're missing is... Fred Astaire.  Here's the flying airplane wing dance number from their first film together, Flying to Rio (1933).

The quality of the dancing goes way up when we get to the Fred and Ginger films.  As cute as Ruby Keeler may have been flinging those big boots left and right, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were graceful.

At this late point in the diary, I want to dedicate it to Rush Limbaugh, who in his apology over the Sandra Flue incident said (as quoted in the Washington Post, and related by Gene Weingarten):

Perhaps the most surprising, if creepy, revelation involved Limbaugh’s frank revulsion at his own body, which he said resembles “a gelatinous oblate spheroid, a weather balloon filled with tapioca pudding and snot”; creepier, still, was what he said next, which was: “I really wish I could carry myself as gracefully as President Obama, who has an effortless, Astaire-like, achingly beautiful way of moving.”
Thank you, Rush, for so inspiring me.

Gracefulness.  This is Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (by Gershwin), from Roberta (1935).

The whole diary could just be a big excuse to post that.

Here they are in Top Hat(1935), Fred Astaire in tails again, dancing to Dancing Cheek to Cheek.  Music by Irving Berlin.

They're even graceful on skates!

And Astaire playing drums while dancing.  Amazing.  From Damsel in Distress (1937).

Tails and gowns.  Marble columns.  Statuesque and graceful people.  This, too, is a reflection of the time.  Films of the depression were very often like this, showing images of great wealth, with stories about the very wealthy.  This is what people in dire financial straits WANTED to see in their entertainment.  For a nickel, they were part of the world of Fred and Ginger for an hour.

As well as music by Gershwin and Berlin, they also performed some of the great hits of Cole Porter.  

Night and Day (not Day and Night, no matter what the title in the embed says) by Cole Porter, from The Gay Divorcee (1934).

I'm calling it quits here.  I didn't use up all my bookmarks, but this is good enough for one evening, eh?

Next week: I won't commit yet to what, exactly, but I'm leaning toward Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto.

Originally posted to Dumbo on Thu Mar 15, 2012 at 07:57 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA and Theatricals.

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