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FOOTLIGHT PARADE (director: Lloyd Bacon; screenwriters: Manuel Seff/James Seymour/story by Robert Lord and Peter Milne; cinematographer: George Barnes; editor: George Amy; music: Leo F. Forbstein; cast: James Cagney (Chester Kent), Joan Blondell (Nan Prescott), Ruby Keeler (Bea Thorn), Dick Powell (Scotty Blair), Guy Kibbee (Sy Gould), Arthur Hohl (Frazer), Ruth Donnelly (Harriet Bowers Gould), Claire Dodd (Vivian Rich), Hugh Herbert (Charlie Bowers), Frank McHugh (Francis), Renee Whitney (Cynthia Kent, Kent’s ex-wife), Paul Porcasi (Appolinaris); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Lord; Warner Bros.; 1933)
It’s the third successful teaming of choreographer Busby Berkeley with stars Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s the third successful teaming of choreographer Busby Berkeley with stars Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, after 42nd Street and Gold Diggersof 1933. It offers a snappy Warner Bros. backstage musical, that’s noted for three stunningly marvelous Berkeley kitschy musical numbers: ‘Honeymoon Hotel’ ( Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler keep getting disturbed by outsiders while in their hotel room on their honeymoon), ‘By a Waterfall’(100 chorus girls swimming in innovative dance formations inside a giant studio tank) and‘Shanghai Lil‘ (Cagney wearing a sailor’s uniform and tap dancing for the first time on screen, as he chases after Keeler dressed in a Chinese costume).

Lloyd Bacon(“San Quentin”/”Give My Regards to Broadway”/”Cain and Mabel”) does the directing honors, keeping the dull routine story as a fast-paced comedy about a struggling vaudeville producer during the Great Depression faced with all sorts of difficulties in surviving the popularity of talkies, as he puts on prologues (live performances put on before the movie) for first-run movie houses in big cities like New York. Bacon lets the musical numbers for the prologues give the film all the energy it needs. Because it’s a pre-Code movie, sex talk is allowed.

Broadway musical producer Chester Kent (James Cagney)is put out of business when talking pictures arrive. His nagging gold digger wife (Renee Whitney) goes to Reno to get a divorce. To survive, Chester hits upon the idea that he’ll stage musical “prologues”for all the major movie houses in New York City. To do this he partners with the oily Gould (Guy Kibbee) and Frazer (Arthur Hohl), his former Broadway partners.Though Chester has good ideas, his competitor Gladstone steals them by planting a mole in Chester’s outfit. Things start improving when Chester’s secretaryNan Prescott (Joan Blondell) discovers his partners are cheating him by cooking the books and Chester discovers that his new love interest Vi Rich (Claire Dodd) is a phony only after his money. Chester dumps her and turns his romantic attention on the deserving Nan, and decides to risk everything by putting on three different prologues, in three different theaters, in one night, and locks the cast in the studio for three days of rehearsals to prevent any leaks.

For comic relief, Chester’s flabbergasted assistant Francis (Frank McHugh) keeps moaning “It’ll never work.” Gould’s brother-in-law, Charlie Bowers (Hugh Herbert) is the priggish censor, who in the end gets caught in a compromising position with gold digger Vi. Meanwhile big-time theater chain owner Appolinaris (Paul Porcasi) is pleased with all three shows he attends and signs Chester’s team to a contract to produce the shows. The film concludes with a wonderfully staged salute to FDR and the NRA.

It shows off the spectacular choreography of Busby Berkeley when he was on top of his game, and for that alone it’s worth savoring as a classic musical.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”