I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Movie Musical Challenge: 42nd Street

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
In Movie Musical Challenge, I'm watching all 25 picks for AFI's greatest musicals starting from the bottom.  Number 13 is the oldest film on the list - 42nd Street from 1933, starring Warner Baxter and Bebe Daniels.  With memorable visual musical sequences by Busby Berkeley.

The story for 42nd Street is fun, lighthearted fare.  There's a director who is desperate to get a hit, a young, inexperienced chorus girl ready for the big time, and ... a bunch of other people.  It was funny to me that the two people I named above have the real arc of the story.  With something to lose, yet there are quite a few other characters that are important to the story, yet have their own separate storylines.  It's an interesting intersection of backstage drama and what it takes to put on a show during the 1930s.  It may not be entirely accurate, but it is very entertaining.

The film features lots of great dancing and some catchy, memorable music, but I feel like the real interest in this is the work of Busby Berkeley and his signature stage creations.  The sheer amount of dancers and time it must have taken to set up the camera shots is mind-boggling.  And I can see his influence in a few movie musicals I've watched.  The last half hour of the film is devoted to 'seeing' the stage show the whole movie has been building towards, and it's a showcase of Berkeley's stylized kaleidoscope and geometric effect.  I really enjoyed watching it.

The other thing I remarked while watching this, were the innuendoes which I would have thought would be too much for the time.  It seemed a little too risque to show Abner, the show's main producer, as quite so lecherous, and there was more than one moment in the film when some man was very predatory towards a woman.  Not that it was the main focus of the story or anything, just sort of ancillary and brief.  But because it was just there and unremarked upon, I suppose I felt it was weird because it felt like it was supposed to be normal.  Which is surprising to me, but perhaps it shouldn't be because it was a time when women were more objectified.

I don't know if I have a favorite song in this, but I really enjoyed the "Young and Healthy" sequence with it's stark black backdrop, and glittering chorus girls.  And the famous through-the-legs tracking shot.  Such an interesting number.  I'm really unsure about how I will rank this on my list at the end of the year, but I am of course glad to have finally watched it!

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