GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935, THE
(director: Busby Berkeley; screenwriters: Peter Milne/Manuel Seff/story by Robert Lord and Peter Milne; cinematographer: George Barnes; editor: George J. Amy; music: Harry Warren/Al Dubin; cast: Dick Powell (Dick Curtis), Gloria Stuart (Ann Prentiss), Adolphe Menjou (Nicoleff), Glenda Farrell (Betty Hawes), Grant Mitchell (Louis Lamson), Alice Brady (Mrs. Mathilda Prentiss), Frank McHugh (Humboldt Prentiss), Hugh Herbert (T. Mosely Thorpe), Joseph Cawthorn (Schulz), Wini Shaw (Winny), Arlene (Dorothy Dare); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Lord; Warner Brothers; 1935)
“For the most part a smashing spectacle.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Busby Berkeley’s debut as solo director (he previously only directed the dance numbers) is for the most part a smashing spectacle consisting of screwball comedy, a satisfying love story, lavish sets, and elaborate song and dance numbers (“The Words are in My Heart,” featuring rows of twirling white baby grand pianos, and the Oscar-winning showstopper sung by Wini Shaw, “The Lullaby of Broadway,” featuring the suicide of a Broadway babe). What surprises is Berkeley’s persistence in pushing to extremes the mercenary motives of the characters. Of note, Gloria Stuart, of future fame for her supporting role in Titanic, co-stars with crooner Dick Powell as her love interest.
The film opens as the summer season begins for the elite at the seaside resort Hotel Wentworth, and it is quickly learned that everyone on the staff hopes to milk the rich guests for as much as they can. Hotel manager Louis Lamson (Grant Mitchell) explains to the staff that the hotel bends over backwards to serve their wealthy pampered guests and there are no wages; but, workers depend on tips which it’s understood they’ll split with their supervisors. The rich are perceived as insensitive types, who deserve to be taken for as much as possible. Dick Curtis (Dick Powell) is the nice guy medical student earning money to pay for his education by being a desk clerk. His fiancée is the hostess Arlene, who won’t marry him till he graduates and can provide for her.
The plot centers around a tightwad multi-millionaire widow, Mrs. Mathilda Prentiss (Alice Brady) and her two grown children, the four times divorced Humboldt (Frank McHugh) and the bored and single Ann (Gloria Stuart), who are guests for the summer. Mathilda is interested in having her daughter marry the even richer eccentric T. Mosely Thorpe (Hugh Herbert), even though Ann finds him unattractive as a suitor. Thorpe is only interested in writing the definitive book on snuff, and has the hotel provide him with perky stenographer Betty Hawes (Glenda Farrell). Ann tells her haughty and stingy mom (tips four porters a quarter to divide amongst themselves), that she wants to have fun this summer and buy a snazzy new wardrobe. Mom makes a deal that she can have fun this summer if she agrees to marry the scatterbrained Thorpe in the fall. After Ann agrees, mom takes a shine to Dick because he’s a gentleman and seems honest. She talks him into taking the extra job for the summer of being Ann’s chaperone and protector for $500. After talking it over with Arlene, he agrees and immediately goes on a shopping spree with Ann where he sings “I’m Going Shopping With You.” She buys to her heart’s content and tops it off by buying a $12,000 diamond bracelet, which causes mom to faint when she gets the bill. Soon they fall in love and Arlene has no problem with that, because she grabs the wealthy Humboldt as her new man.
Mathilda is again in charge of running the annual milk-fund charity theater show and the hotel manager talks her into hiring for $2,500 the impoverished mad Russian director Nicoleff (Adolphe Menjou). Nicoleff gets Schultz (Joseph Cawthorn) to design the sets, which Mathilda expects to be cheap. Instead the hotel manager, the stenographer, and the two Broadway personalities plan on ripping the wealthy lady off for as much as they can. The stenographer even schemes against Thorpe, getting him to write a song which sounds like a wedding proposal and then getting him to sign it, whereby she frames it as a letter and sues him for breach of promise as regards to marriage.
The comedy was a bit heavy-handed at times but it’s excellent lighthearted escapist fare for a Depression audience, as they can howl with delight upon seeing the wealthy being taken advantage of by their social inferiors. The happy ending has the only one who is not a gold digger, the earnest medical student marrying Ann for love–who turns out be a sweetie, after all.
REVIEWED ON 3/7/2005 GRADE: B+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/