42ND STREET (director: Lloyd Bacon; screenwriters: from the book by Bradford Ropes/James Seymour/Rian James; cinematographer: Sol Polito; editors: Thomas Pratt/Frank Ware; music: Al Dubin/Harry Warren; cast: Warner Baxter (Julian Marsh), Ruby Keeler (Peggy Sawyer), Bebe Daniels (Dorothy Brock), Dick Powell (Billy Lawler), Guy Kibbee (Abner Dillon), George Brent (Pat Denning), Ginger Rogers (Ann Lowell/Anytime Annie), Una Merkel (Lorraine Fleming); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Darryl F. Zanuck; Warner Brothers; 1933)
One can’t say enough good things about what Busby Berkeley did for the musical.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A delightfully energetic showbiz musical from Hollywood on Broadway, that takes us backstage to witness the bitching and travails and glories of those in the acting business. It’s directed by Lloyd Bacon and written by Rian James from Bradford Ropes’ novel. The musical film was changed forever by this innovative one, while due to its tremendous box office appeal it not only saved Warner Brothers from bankruptcy but made it into a major studio. Busby Berkeley is the uniquely gifted choreographer who staged the snappy musical numbers, featuring extravagant sets and fascinating surrealistic imagery of dancing girls forming abstract designs and patterns, synchronized dancing steps, and the use of striking overhead camera images to follow the seemingly kaleidoscopic action. Busby created numbers tailored-made for this film that exceeded the previous conventional limits. Through a spectacular mise-en-scéne and lively songs carried out by the superb cast, such numbers as the following become unforgettable: “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me,” “Shuffle off to Buffalo,” “It Must Be June,” and “Young and Healthy.” The music and the witty dialogue is the thing here, as the ordinary plot and trite story are swept away by Busby Berkeley’s splashy musical touches and the wonderful showbiz feel of the film. One can’t say enough good things about what Busby Berkeley did for the musical.

Producer Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee) is funding a new Broadway musical, “Pretty Lady.” The star is Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels), who happens to be the sugar of sugar daddy Dillon. Dorothy’s true love is Pat (George Brent), as she tries to ward off the lecherous Dillon and keep Pat interested in her. Veteran Broadway notable Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) is recruited to direct, despite chronic health and mental problems over depression and a reputation for being a tyrant. World-weary showgirls Lorraine (Una Merkel) and Annie (Ginger Rogers) are cast for the show, as well as starry-eyed newcomer Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler) as a chorus girl. The leading man is Billy Lawlor (Dick Powell), known for playing juveniles. The cliché story has the temperamental Dorothy twist her ankle the night before the opening, which forces Marsh to put in understudy Peggy. Marsh gives the anxious gal a Knute Rockne-like pep talk to succeed: “You’re going out there a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!” Well, that’s just about the story, as Peggy takes advantage of the break to go on to stardom. On the way to Peggy saving the show there are some romantic entanglements, as Brent seeks out Keeler when he’s more suited for Daniels and is not as well-suited for her as is the interested Powell. But don’t worry, there’s no real tension as it’ll all work out by the end on cue. The unneeded melodramatics get in the way of the musical numbers and the fun atmospheric backstage happenings. But when the music is blasting away, this becomes a magical picture and all is forgiven.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”