Gold Diggers of 1937
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The good spirits, good jokes and great dance numbers in Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936) were enough to cure even a hypochondriac. In fact, that's exactly what they did when legendary stage clown Victor Moore returned to the screen after a two-year absence to star as a chronically ill producer whose maladies are all in his head. Dick Powell takes top billing as the insurance man conned into selling Moore a million dollar policy and then has to keep him in good health by turning his latest show into a smash. With numbers by two of the world's best songwriting teams -- Harry Warren and Al Dubin and Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg -- it couldn't miss.
Gold Diggers of 1937 was the third entry in Warners' profitable musical series and raked in the cash just like its predecessors. This entry had an unusually strong script, adapted from the minor stage hit Sweet Mystery of Life. Among the play's three authors was Richard Maibaum, later the writer of such James Bond favorites as From Russia With Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964).
Although he was trying to move into directing, Busby Berkeley was confined to staging the musical numbers for this outing, with Lloyd Bacon -- who had teamed with him on Warners' first great musical, 42nd Street (1933)-- in the director's chair. Initially Arlen and Harburg, who would later team up for The Wizard of Oz (1939), had been signed to provide the score, but Berkeley didn't care for their work. Instead, he brought in the team of Warren and Dubin, who had done the songs for the previous two Gold Diggers films as well as Dames (1934) and 42nd Street. They provided him with the hit " With Plenty of Money and You," subtitled "The Gold Diggers' Lullaby," and the finale, "All's Fair in Love and War."
For the latter, Berkeley staged one of his most grandiose numbers. Leading lady Joan Blondell led a chorus of 104 women in white military uniforms as they tapped their way through a series of military formations with Berkeley's trademarked geometric patterns. Berkeley used Warners' largest soundstage to create an all-black space for the number. Fifty-foot tall black drapes created the backdrop, while wind machines made the dancers' military flags wave impressively. And between shots, a team of moppers wearing only lambs' wool socks on their feet, swarmed over the black floor to eliminate any scuff marks.
Aside from Moore, most of the cast came from the Warner Bros. stock company of contract players. Powell was still the studio's most popular musical leading man, years away from the image change that would turn him into a tough detective in Murder, My Sweet (1944). Blondell, who was married to Powell off-screen, had risen from the ranks of supporting players to a starring role as Moore's wisecracking secretary and leading lady. Glenda Farrell played a gold-digging chorus girl, a staple of the Warners' musicals of the '30s and a role she had played many times before.
Buried in the chorus was an unbilled actress destined for greater things. Although she only had one line in Gold Diggers of 1937, "Girls, we're saved!" Jane Wyman would soon catch the attention of Warners' producers and begin a slow climb to the top. She had only recently signed with Warners. When she tested, the studio's casting director said, "She has something. Now let's find out what the hell it is!" By the time she made this, her fourth Warner Bros. film, her co-stars were already impressed with her discipline and high spirits. Someone in the publicity department dubbed her "The Hey-Hey Girl," and when asked her ambitions, she stated, "To be not just an actress but the actress at the studio." (Quoted in Lawrence J. Quirk, Jane Wyman: The Actress and the Woman). It would take more than ten years, but by the time she won her Oscar® for Johnny Belinda in 1948, the once-unbilled chorus girl would indeed be the studio's top dramatic star.
Producer: Earl Baldwin
Director: Lloyd Bacon
Screenplay: Warren Duff
Based on the Play Sweet Mystery of Life by Richard Maibaum, Michael Wallace, George Haight
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Art Direction: Max Parker
Music: Leo F. Forbstein, Harold Arlen, Harry Warren
Principal Cast: Dick Powell (Rosmer Peck), Joan Blondell (Norma Perry), Victor Moore (J.J. Hobart), Osgood Perkins (Morty Wethered), Iris Adrian (Verna), Jane Wyman, Marjorie Weaver (Chorus Girls).
BW-101m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller