#29 Footlight Parade

Watched: September 3 2016

Director: Lloyd Bacon & Busby Berkeley (choreography)

Starring: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell

Year: 1933

Runtime: 1h 43min

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We reiterate: we cannot put into words our newfound love of Busby Berkeley, and we cannot believe it took us this long to find out about him. Thank you, Mr Wright!

Chester Kent (Cagney) is a musical director who is quickly becoming obsolete with the rising popularity of talkies. In addition, his wife wants a divorce, but this doesn’t seem to faze him significantly.

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Who needs a wife when you can have all this?

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He changes his business venture into producing musical “prologues” for movies, dealing with creative exhaustion, corrupt business partners, rival spies and romantic complication along the way. When secretary Nan’s (Blondell) old frenemy Vivian decides to crash at her place, Kent is duped by her perceived worldliness into giving her a job and a marriage proposal, much to the chagrin of Nan who is deeply in love with her boss.

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Luckily, Nan is a saucy minx who knows how to divert his attention away from Vivian

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In order to save the business, Kent and his company need to wow cinema mogul Apolinaris with three spectacular shows to play in all his cinemas, but a rival company has infiltrated the chorus and all their ideas are being stolen. It’s pretty much Bring It On (2000) with better costumes and more sensational routines.

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There’s also a production of Cats before it was cool

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In addition to the main story, there’s a sub-plot romance between secretary-cum-leading lady Bea (Keeler) and juvenile lead Scotty (Powell) which is very sweet, but not that important to the overall plot.

In the end, we are treated to three fantastic Berkeley numbers: “Honeymoon Hotel,” with lots of innuendo; “By a Waterfall,” which features some amazing water scenes; and our personal favourite (mainly for the music) “Shanghai Lil,” in which Cagney himself stars.

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We are beginning to suspect that these films were all a flimsy, high-budget excuse to feature scantily clad ladies, though

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Despite some casual racism, “Shanghai Lil” amazing!

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Like 42nd Street, you can watch this for the story and performances (which we personally thought were slightly better in Footlight Parade), the banter and jokes, or just for the truly spectacular dance numbers. Either way, they should both definitely go on your to-do list. We’re off to watch Gold Diggers of 1933, and we can’t wait!

What we learned: As long as there are sidewalks, we have a job.

Next time: Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933, surprisingly enough)

#27 42nd Street

Watched: August 27 2016

Director: Lloyd Bacon & Busby Berkeley (choreography)

Starring: Warner Baxter, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Bebe Daniels, George Brent

Year: 1933

Runtime: 1h 29min

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Second musical on the list, and we have a new favourite choreographer. Luckily for us, there are several Busby Berkeley films on the list so we have a lot to look forward to.

The plot isn’t the most inventive, but it works. We follow several people involved in the production of a stage musical as they battle financial problems, heart conditions, the problems faced by chorus girls (which are many), romantic complications and gangster thugs.

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All of which can be spotted in this picture if you look closely

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Inexperienced chorus girl Peggy (Keeler) is helped by two lovely and catty colleagues to get her first job in new musical Pretty Lady. However, the star’s dalliance with a former vaudeville co-star (Dot and Pat – Daniels and Brent, respectively) threatens the financial situation of the show as the main backer is basically Dot’s sugar-daddy.

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“We are totally in the same league – money has nothing to do with it!”

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The night before the opening, Dot breaks her ankle and Peggy has to step in as the leading lady. The last 30 minutes or so of the film are dedicated to Berkeley’s spectacular stagings of the numbers “Shuffle off to Buffalo,” “I’m Young and Healthy” and “42nd Street,” all of which are completely incredible to watch.

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The budget was blown on dancers, choreography and film, so there was nothing left for costumes. Instead, they recycled the fur from old Santa Claus suits to cover up the crucial bits and called it a day.

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As for the plot of Pretty Lady, the musical-within-the-film, we have no idea. Suffice to say, it involves a Niagara Falls honeymoon, a girl juggling several guys, lots and lots of legs, and Gandhi. Your guess is as good as ours.

We loved this one. The outfits! The comebacks! The cattiness! The tremendous amount of legs! The three main chorus girls! The choreography! The camera work! We cannot use enough exclamation points to describe our love.

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We will attempt to embody the sass of Una Merkel and Ginger Rogers from here on out!

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What we learned: we are officially in love with Busby Berkeley. How can we not have known about this man before?

Next time: Duck Soup (1933)