Gold Diggers of 1935
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Yes, there's a plot in Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935). But it doesn't distract from the visual spectacle served up by choreographer-director Busby Berkeley. The movie is really about style. From beautiful geometric-patterned marble floors to gilded elevator doors to extravagant musical fantasies where pianos can dance, Gold Diggers of 1935 shows off the clean, angular Art Deco fashion of the 1930's and 40's with panache. It's an art director's dream, Busby Berkeley-style.
The swank setting for Gold Diggers of 1935 is the Wentworth Plaza, a summer hotel for big tippers. Just ask the staff. There's quite a pecking order to determine who gets what cut of the gratuity pie. But everyone is determined to get their fair share, including medical student/desk clerk Dick Powell. So, when Powell is offered big bucks to entertain sheltered heiress Gloria Stuart for the season, it sounds like easy money. But Stuart has a special pact with her mother: one summer of fun and then she'll marry her fianc¿a stuffy snuffbox expert. As luck, and Hollywood, would have it, Powell and Stuart fall in love and collaborate on a musical revue. Enter Adolphe Menjou as a Russian dance director, who helps orchestrate the couple's romance and the show's production.
And that's where the real story begins - with Berkeley. Gold Diggers of 1935 marked the choreographer's debut as a solo director. He had, of course, directed the dance numbers in many earlier films, including 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933 (both 1933) and received co-directing credit for She Had to Say Yes (1933) with George J. Amy. But Gold Diggers of 1935 would be Berkeley's first film with almost total creative control. And the results are unforgettable. With only three songs, Lullaby of Broadway, I'm Going Shopping With You and The Words Are In My Heart, Berkeley extends the limited production numbers to dramatic effect.
Most visually stunning is the white piano number of The Words Are In My Heart, where fifty-six grand pianos come to life in a deco kaleidoscope. And for Berkeley, the creative impetus for the scene lived for years in his head before it danced on screen. As Berkeley recalled, "one day in New York I was watching an act at the Palace with four men playing grand pianos. I thought to myself then, 'someday I'll do that with fifty pianos,' and when it came time to think of something for this song, the thought came to mind." If you look very carefully, you'll realize how Berkeley pulled this trick off. Under each of the light, specially designed piano shells, was a dancer, wearing black pants and staying in step to black tape marks on the glossy floor. But it's doubtful many viewers noticed. Even after you're let in on the secret, the dance still mesmerizes.
The other pure Berkeley number in Gold Diggers of 1935 is probably among the best remembered sequences of his career – the show stopping finale Lullaby of Broadway. The sequence, which turned out to be a favorite of Berkeley's, was a difficult one to conceive. After composer Harry Warren wrote the tune, and lyricist Al Dubin added the words, telling the story of a Broadway Baby who plays all night and sleeps all day, Berkeley knew immediately how he wanted to stage the main part of the number but was at a loss to find a perfect opening. It took a little friendly competition from Al Jolson for Berkeley to find his inspiration. Jolson had heard Lullaby of Broadway and wanted it for his next movie. Finally, Berkeley agreed that if he didn't find a way to open the number in 24 hours, Jolson could have it. Obviously, inspiration struck; Berkeley opened with singer Wini Shaw's face on a black background.
The fantasy film within a film, which featured over a hundred dancers, provided an unusual, but dramatic, ending to Gold Diggers of 1935 and earned Busby Berkeley an Oscar nomination for Best Dance Direction. The number was also a winner for Warren and Dubin, who received an Academy Award for Best Song. The segment ranks right up there with Berkeley’s best. As the New York Times film critic said of Gold Diggers of 1935, the "master of scenic prestidigitation continues to dazzle the eye and storm the imagination."
And here's an interesting product placement trivia bit: Buick had a 10 picture deal with Warner Brothers; in exchange for being able to associate themselves with Warner Brothers' films, Buick provided the cars to be used as props in the films. Gold Diggers of 1935 is a prime example. Another company with a long- term agreement with Warner Brothers was General Electric - specifically they were trying to promote a new kind of refrigerator. As a result, you often see a kind of refrigerator used in Warner films that wasn't yet widely used by the public.
Producer: Robert Lord
Director: Busby Berkeley
Screenplay: Peter Milne, Manuel Seff, Robert Lord
Art Direction: Anton Grot
Cinematography: George Barnes
Editing: George J. Amy
Music: Al Dubin, Harry Warren
Cast: Dick Powell (Dick Curtis), Gloria Stuart (Amy Prentiss), Adolphe Menjou (Nicoleff), Glenda Farrell (Betty Hawes), Grant Mitchell (Louis Lamson), Frank McHugh (Humbolt Prentiss),Joseph Cawthorn (August Schultz).
BW-95m. Closed captioning.
by Stephanie Thames