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Gold Diggers in Paris

Gold Diggers in Paris(1938)

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teaser Gold Diggers in Paris (1938)

With an all-star cast, great songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, snappy direction and script, and kaleidoscopic musical numbers created by Busby Berkeley featuring acres of dancing girls, Gold Diggers of 1933 was a huge hit with Depression-weary audiences and one of the top-grossing films of the year. Warner Bros. had clearly come up with a winning formula, and stuck with it through three more Gold Diggers movies, though they weren't sequels because the casts, characters, and stories changed. But although each featured memorable musical sequences, none equaled the success of the original. By the time the final one, Gold Diggers in Paris, was made in 1937, Berkeley's budgets for the big dance numbers had been cut, and it was clear that the Gold Diggers craze was over. But like all the films in the series, this one has its charms.

The plot of Gold Diggers in Paris takes the dance troupe from Rudy Vallee's nightclub to the City of Light to take part in a ballet contest at the Paris Exposition, a world's fair "dedicated to Art and Technology in Modern Life" that actually took place from May through November of 1937 in the area around the Eiffel Tower. The film begins with footage of the real Exposition's elegant, Deco-style buildings. In the movie, it turns out that inviting the dancers to take part in the competition is a case of mistaken identity, but the Gold Diggers, with their Yankee charm and hoofing skills, naturally triumph over the snooty classical ballet artistes.

Adding to the fun is the Schnickelfritz Orchestra, a comic band from Minnesota whose wild slapstick musical antics apparently inspired the Spike Jones band of the 1940s and '50s. Strong comedy support is also provided by Hugh Herbert as the befuddled competition envoy, Fritz Feld as a fussy ballet teacher, and Curt Bois, a recent refugee from Nazi Germany, as the conceited "serious" ballet dancer for whom the invitation was actually intended. Even crooner Rudy Vallee, who plays the romantic lead opposite Rosemary Lane, got a chance to show off his comic chops, doing imitations of French singing star Maurice Chevalier and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After his pop singer days were over, it was Vallee's talent for comedy that brought him new success in films and theater, starting in the 1940s.

For the only time in a Gold Diggers film, the seven Gold Diggers who have speaking roles in the movie were listed by name in the opening credits. All of them went on to have minor acting careers. Several retired after marrying well and successfully, including Diana Lewis, who married actor William Powell, and Peggy Moran, who wed director Henry Koster. Only Carole Landis became notorious for her turbulent private life, including multiple marriages and an affair with the married actor Rex Harrison which ended when she took her own life at age 29.As in all the Gold Diggers films, the musical sequences directed by Busby Berkeley were the highlight of Gold Diggers in Paris. There are only two big numbers, "I Wanna Go Back to Bali," at the beginning of the film, and "The Latin Quarter," at the end. The former, which sets up the plot of the shabby little night club troupe, is brisk and fun but intentionally low-rent. Only "The Latin Quarter" finale gets the full Berkeley treatment: the canted camera angle on the endless, kicking line of chorus girls, the high, wide, deep shot of dozens of dancers, and the spectacular grand finale featuring an enormous naval officer cap, closing out the Gold Diggers series in grand style. In a 1970s interview, Berkeley recalled that when lyricist Al Dubin left Warner Bros. later that year, "I guess we all realized that an era was coming to an end. The next year, when Harry Warren and Dick Powell and I all left Warner's, it did."

By Margarita Landazuri

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