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A Movie A Day: Quint on 42ND STREET (1934)
It must have been hard on your mother, not having any children.

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] Today’s flick is 1934’s 42ND STREET directed by yesterday’s AMAD (San Quentin) director Lloyd Bacon. It’s the first of three Busby Berkeley films we’re hitting. If you don’t know Busby Berkeley… well, you do. At least you know his influence. He choreographed dance numbers, incredible intricate things. The beginning of TEMPLE OF DOOM and the Bowling Alley Dream Sequence in BIG LEBOWSKI are both nods to Berkeley numbers. So there are a series of films referred to as Busby Berkeley films (and were even sold as such back in the day) even though he didn’t direct many of the films themselves. However, his imprint is such that some 70 years later 42nd Street isn’t known as a Lloyd Bacon movie, but a Busby Berkeley movie. I have a feeling that I might have seen one of these Berkeley films… I know I’ve seen one of the GOLD DIGGERS movies and I’m pretty sure it was the first (GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933)… I had seen the Berkeley numbers in this film, just hadn’t seen them in context of the film itself. Ruby Keeler plays a green dame who wants to be a chorus girl and is swept up in the production of a show being run by a famous producer, Mr. Marsh, played by Warner Baxter. Although, it’s unfair to say we follow Keeler’s character since this really is an ensemble. It’s almost as if there is no lead character, just a cast of supporting players. The production is a nightmare, everything going wrong, and on top of it all the star of the show, played by Bebe Daniels, is romancing the financial backer (the always great Guy Kibbee) while sneaking off with her vaudeville sweetheart at night. If the financer catches wind of this, then he pulls out and the show is dead. You know I pick a line to put as the subhead for each of these articles and sometimes it’s hard to find something. Not so much with this film. You can’t watch any 2 minutes of dialogue without pulling something golden out. A lot of that has to do with the characters that are allowed to flourish here. You get so much chatter from catty chorus girls… priceless stuff… “Looks like she’s hit the bottle again.” “Yeah, the peroxide bottle.” Plus you get a really nice turn by Ginger Rogers as “Anytime” Annie (“She only said no once and that’s because she didn’t hear the question”). Also giving a good turn here is the immensely likable Dick Powell who is in 4 AMADs in a row starting with this film. He’s a Berkeley regular and went on to play Philip Marlowe in MURDER, MY SWEET 10 years after this film was made. He’s an aw-shucks Jimmy Olsen type here, head over heels for Ruby Keeler. Berkeley’s numbers aren’t the best I’ve seen (FOOTLIGHT PARADE and WONDER BAR are my favorites), but damn does that man know how to stage an elaborate dance sequence. The famous segment of his dance sequence from this film is a train that splits in half on stage as a young newlywed couple sing and dance to each other, innuendo thrown around by the passengers observing. But it’s always the human kaleidoscope stuff he does that blows my mind… the bird’s eye views of the stages as legs and bodies move in time making dizzying patterns and movements. This is a fast, fun and incredibly entertaining flick. I hope a few of you are still following along and will able to dig into these Berkeley films. I look forward to getting to tomorrow’s DAMES following Powell, Berkeley and Ruby Keeler. Here’s the schedule for the next 7 days: Saturday, June 21st: DAMES (1934) Sunday, June 22nd: GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 (1935) Monday, June 23rd: MURDER, MY SWEET (1944) Tuesday, June 24th: BORN TO KILL (1947) Wednesday, June 25th: THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) Thursday, June 26th: TORN CURTAIN (1966) Friday, June 27th: THE LEFT HANDED GUN (1958) -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin

Readers Talkback
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  • June 20, 2008, 11:11 p.m. CST


    by Magic Rat


  • June 20, 2008, 11:31 p.m. CST

    Bugsy Berkley films...

    by depalma25

    have probably the most underrated dance sequences in Hollywood history. If I'm not mistaken' most of the dance numbers come at the end of the movie, but dialogue is sharp and witty enough to keep us interested. I've always enjoyed movies about the "behind the scenes," happenings whether on a stage play or movie.

  • June 20, 2008, 11:32 p.m. CST

    I meant Busby, but Bugsy Malone with jodie foster

    by depalma25

    is pretty awesome too.

  • June 20, 2008, 11:46 p.m. CST

    Finally a truly great film

    by Outside

    I'm a big fan of these films and glad that Quint finally got around to them. My favorite is Dames, though 42nd Street is right up there. Love Dick Powell and Joan Blondell. Highly recommended!

  • June 20, 2008, 11:55 p.m. CST

    i saw the broadway musical about 30 years ago

    by bacci40

    that was when you didnt have to mortgage your house to see a was great

  • June 21, 2008, midnight CST

    quint watches too much torture porn

    by bacci40

    which is how he missed all these films...although, quint is also too young to remember the late, late show, on local tv, when they used to run these flicks, or dialing for dollars, when they used to run them too...or saturday mornings and sunday afternoon movies...those days are long that time is filled in with late night shite and infomercials....god, give me the good old days of the test pattern...of waking up right before dawn on a saturday morning, turning on the tv really low so my parents couldnt hear and watching that indian dude just sit there...and then bam...cartoons...non pc cartoons...and then, the bowery boys and some b film...ahhh, times were so much easier my nieces and nephews watch ugly betty...they are fucked

  • June 21, 2008, 7:14 a.m. CST


    by redfoxone

    Hey now, looks pretty good to me! JT http://www.FireMe.To/udi

  • June 21, 2008, 8:07 a.m. CST

    I watched this one last week

    by PaulW

    in addition to Footlight Parade. Yeah, 42nd Street a great movie. It's fun to watch and gets better the more often I see it. I have a personal interest in this movie since it was primarily filmed on Stage 11 of the WB lot where I have been able to do a bunch of work in the past. Fun stuff!

  • June 21, 2008, 8:09 a.m. CST

    Continuing on....

    by PaulW

    I haven't seen WonderBar yet but of the 10 or so Berkely movies I have seen my favorite numbers might be the ones for Dames although Footlight has a lot of good stuff as well. Anyway, keep the columns coming. You are doing some great work Quint.

  • June 21, 2008, 8:52 a.m. CST


    by BizarroJerry

    It's funny to see that on a site like this, even this type of movie will bring interested parties to the talk backs. I like this column, by the way, Quint. Considering how some people look at "old" movies as some dumb old things, or can't even watch black & white. Just like in music, I think you should be able to appreciate different genres and different eras.

  • June 21, 2008, 10:48 a.m. CST

    Not nearly as good as Footlight Parade.

    by Smerdyakov

    With Cagney, Glorious Jimmy Cagney.

  • June 21, 2008, 11:19 a.m. CST

    This is awesome.

    by buffywrestling

    I can't believe you're doing musicals now - I grew up on those. There's been a brief resurgence of Broadway to the big screen - I really enjoyed Hairspray when I finally got around to see it - but for awhile, the only *new* musicals you could get were all animated. And I'm not trashing them because of that but there really is a difference to see a full screen of people singing and dancing together flawlessly. And sometimes, I just love a movie where people break out into song for no apparent reason. It's just so cool.

  • June 21, 2008, 11:27 a.m. CST


    by Quint

    It's weird that there hasn't really been a resurgence of the musical... with Chicago, Dreamgirls, Moulin Rouge and Hairspray all doing big business and gathering awards. Can you count Once as a musical? It's about musicians, but I wouldn't call it a musical... anyway, it seems that instead of musicals we're getting that sub-sub genre that I think started in the '80s with stuff like Breakin' and Breakin' 2. Dance off movies. There seems to be a huge audience for dance off movies (Step Up, etc), but not for song and dance movies... I'd love to see more musicals done today.

  • June 21, 2008, 12:01 p.m. CST


    by Quint

    Split the difference. :) Let us know how you like it (or don't). Gooooooodddd mornin'! Good moor-ornin', let's laugh the whole day through. Good mornin'. Good mornin' to you!

  • June 21, 2008, 12:21 p.m. CST

    hey quint....our pal thomas jane needs our help

    by bacci40

    the dude wants to be jonah hex in the worst way...we need to start some serious online buzz for him

  • June 21, 2008, 12:44 p.m. CST

    I loved Footlight Parade too...

    by Manos

    Cagney doing comedy was priceless. Quint - KEEP THIS THING GOING. This is hands down one of the best columns this site has had in ages. Good work.

  • June 21, 2008, 12:48 p.m. CST

    Is 42nd Street even a musical?

    by PaulW

    I was thinking about this just last night. All of the singing happens in realistic real world contexts (on the stage for instance). Obviously there is some fantasy involved in the movie since the stage at the end really opens up to present musical numbers that could never be presented on a regular theatrical stage but in terms of singing there seems to be realistic context for that. Footlight Parade is like that as well. Now Dames on the other hand is a genuine musical.

  • June 21, 2008, 1:05 p.m. CST


    by PaulW

    I would call 42nd Street a pseudo-musical. It's not as strictly realistic as Once but not quite a pure musical like Sound of Music or Hairspray.

  • June 21, 2008, 1:58 p.m. CST

    they need to remake singing in the rain

    by bacci40

    with shia labouf as the new gene kelly...or how about west side story, but instead of sharks and jets, its the east coast rappers vs the west coast rappers....vanilla ice can play tony, and everyone will cheer when he dies in the end

  • June 21, 2008, 3:46 p.m. CST

    Off we're gonna shuffle...

    by Bob Loblaw Law Blog

    shuffle, shuffle, shuffle...<p>shuffle off to Buff-a-lo!!!<p> Ahh... good stuff, even if you end up with that song in your head for weeks afterward.

  • June 21, 2008, 8:42 p.m. CST

    i directed the stage version of this show...

    by maxwell's hammer

    ...with middle schoolers, and debated long and hard on whether to include the "She only said no once..." line. I left it in and probably corrupted a whole class of upcoming actors in the process. I was amazed that no parents complained. Next season: "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom!!"

  • June 21, 2008, 8:51 p.m. CST

    I grew up withthe Jackie Gleason Show

    by Napoleon Park

    and the June Taylor Dancers. it wasn't until later that I realized they were doing low budget Busby Berkeley routines.<p>Yeah, that human kaleidoscope stuff is groovy.

  • June 21, 2008, 8:54 p.m. CST

    The modern musical

    by Napoleon Park

    So where to films like "Across The Universe", "I'm Not There", "Ray" and "I Walk The Line" fit in to the pantheon of musicals? Sub-genre?<p>Seems like a lot of musical movies, just not traditional "Broadway musical" type flicks. Except for the movie remakes of "The Producers" and "Hairspray", which, oddly enough, were.

  • June 21, 2008, 9:41 p.m. CST

    Rock operas?

    by buffywrestling

    I always thought of some "music" movies in that term since "Streets of Fire" with Diane Lane and William Dafoe. "Velvet Goldmine" directed by Todd Hayes is my personal favorite. Not only does it have brillant actors but the tunes are great.

  • June 21, 2008, 9:58 p.m. CST

    oops! Rock and Roll Fable!

    by buffywrestling

    Was how they tagged "Streets of Fire". (Wow, 1984 was a long time ago.)However, I still think the tag kinda works though for others in this subgenre.

  • June 21, 2008, 11:27 p.m. CST

    Soylent Mean

    by Paul Bucciarelli

    Singin' in the Rain alright? It's great and you should have seen it a long time ago instead of wasting your time with an overrated clunker like Once. People who normally hate musicals and complain about how unrealistic musicals are with everyone breaking into song and dance numbers all love that fucking piece of shit. Once is as corny, contrived and unrealistic as any backstage musical from the 40's. The loser busker who's been annoying passersby for years until that fateful day when he meets his muse and suddenly gets his shit together. Then he hooks up with a Thin Lizzy cover band and despite the totally different type of music they play and their never having played together as a unit lay down some tracks that are so mind-blowing that the jaded producer not only stays up all night recording them but plays Frisbee with them in the morning. And don't get me started on how absolutley awful those songs were.

  • June 22, 2008, 12:23 a.m. CST


    by Paul Bucciarelli

    When you see a movie with good acting and a good story, let me know coz Once isn't one of them

  • June 22, 2008, 6:07 a.m. CST

    Kudos Quint

    by DGrayson

  • June 22, 2008, 6:16 a.m. CST

    by DGrayson

    I'll just echo the comment that it's great to see some classic examples of different genres reviewed on this site. I played Marsh in high school and despite the more serious theatrical work I've done since then it still remains a sentimental highlight. The work by the cast in this film is truly a top-notch example of how to treat, what can be ham fisted in the wrong hands, with aplomb. All those dance-off films would never exist without Berkley's influence. Of course than might not be so bad either.

  • June 22, 2008, 6:18 a.m. CST

    Definitive Musical

    by DGrayson

  • June 22, 2008, 6:20 a.m. CST

    by DGrayson

    Sorry Soylent, you just saw it. Maybe try Guys and Dolls, if you really want to see Brando out of his depth.

  • June 22, 2008, 7:28 a.m. CST


    by Paul Bucciarelli

    He would not like Guys and Dolls. He would not be able to appreciate the fact that Damon Runyon's characters do not use contractions.

  • June 22, 2008, 8:25 a.m. CST

    Dancer in the Dark

    by Knuckleduster

    My favourite "anti-musical".

  • June 22, 2008, 10:13 a.m. CST

    SoylentMean, Once IS a musical.

    by Lenny Nero

    Musicals are not exclusively defined by "breaking the reality" so many people refer to (most of those people who don't like musicals, that is). This would exclude such movies as Cabaret, Phantom Of the Paradise, 42nd Street and, yes, Chicago (since all the songs are fantasy numbers). <p>Via Merriam Webster: "a film or theatrical production typically of a sentimental or humorous nature that consists of musical numbers and dialogue based on a unifying plot." <p>There are countless musicals that don't have people break out into song. It's a common misconception, but yes, for instance, Once is a musical. The songs frame their love, they fit into the plot, they are sung onscreen, etc. etc. etc. <p>What these people try to desperately define as musicals are just one sub-genre of the main genre. <p>I'm going to keep saying this on the boards until people get it.

  • June 22, 2008, 12:15 p.m. CST

    No, Soylent, they are talking about...

    by Lenny Nero

    ...a subsection within the musical genre. One section. I know it's hard to believe, but, and I mean this with all honesty, take this as something to learn. Musicals ARE as pervasive as I might think, but did, in fact, fall away for a few decades. So did good horror movies. But I am saying what is definitive, and the common misconception is wrong. The "unifying plot" as in the songs are the movie. <p>What people "ARE talking about" is a mistaken understanding of something broader. <p>To go into your examples, the films you mentioned, for the most part, do not have enough of the songs and dancing to qualify as musicals (such as the songs in "Cold Mountain" that have NOTHING to do with the plot) but that's where we're just splitting heirs. "Once" is about music, about the songs, about the lyrics, etc. etc. etc. You hit the nail on the head. They are part of the movie AND sung, therefore they make it up as a musical. Are you telling me that when the woman is walking down the street, alone, singing to herself, the only thing that makes it a movie about music instead of a musical is that she has headphones on? <p>And to be fair, I do not like all musicals. Just like any genre, ANY, there are good an bad. If you've been to this column often (which you have), you would know I absolutely DESPISE stuff like Rodgers & Hammerstein, family heartwarming stage bullshit, and especially have it out for the overblown and pretentious (and poorly scored) Les Miserables. <p>But you are right. If you like Once more calling it a drama, then that's your right. But if we're talking criticism and history, that's another thing. <p>But, once again, I think to say one doesn't like an entire genre is shortsighted and not in the true spirit of being a film connoisseur or all-encompassing film fan.

  • June 22, 2008, 12:33 p.m. CST

    Splitting hairs.

    by Lenny Nero

    "Splitting heirs"? Why did my mind automatically go to a shitty Eric Idle/Barbra Hershey movie from the 90s?

  • June 22, 2008, 12:56 p.m. CST


    by thegreatwhatzit

    Sample the climactic "Shanghai Lil" number (remember, absolutely no CGI). Cagney was/is the best (ever), a true icon. Today's "stars" are bereft of his talent(s); who ya gonna call, Tom Cruise? (still hiding in the closet)...Brad Pitt? (yawn)...Don't want to even think about it. Love the character actors from the WB ensemble, e.g. Ned Sparks, Hugh Herbert (as long as his hoo-hooing isn't out of control, see SH! THE OCTOPUS), Frank McHugh, etc., etc. It isn't waxing nostalgic to notice that NOTHING today evokes the same sort of rapport (certainly not those damn OCEAN'S II bores with a clutter of overpaid actors winking at one another).

  • June 22, 2008, 3:04 p.m. CST

    From the ONCE DVD special features:

    by Lenny Nero

    "Featurette (Making a Modern Day Musical)." <p>So I'm going to go with the "creators" of the film on this. Why didn't I use this earlier? <p>And I still think you confuse what I'm saying. A musical isn't defined by otherworldly aspects. It's defined by music and its connection to the story. So the headphone scene does indeed make it fit. I'm just saying that if one simply took the headphones off of her, that would make it a musical in your eyes? Just one little thing? I consider that elitist, which I know is not your intention. But "farfetched"? That's not what defines a musical. Tell that to Kander & Ebb. <p>Some Broadway musicals that you could consider not over-the-top, garish or vaudevillian: Closer. Spring Awakening. Cabaret. Jersey Boys. Passing Strange. 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Falsettos. Parade. Noise/Funk. Most Sondheim works. Hedwig (well, that is garish, but it is done as a concert, but it has a story, and is a musical). etc. etc. etc. You just have to know where to look if you don't like something like "The King & I" or "Hairspray." It's all out there. <p>And I'm from a metropolitan area and have lived in five other ones across this great nation. Still living in one, in fact. And I wish there were more musicals that spoke to our generation. That's why the recent winner of Best Musical, "In The Heights," is so fucking good.

  • June 22, 2008, 7:25 p.m. CST do "dance numbers" define a musical?

    by Lenny Nero

    That is just absurd. Most of the Sondheim canon has no dance numbers, and those, sir, are musicals. How about "Evita"? No dance numbers there, save for maybe one third of a song early on. A musical. <p>I find it weird that the filmmakers who made "Once," who called it a musical, cannot sway your opinion of what the movie is, when they, the creators, say that it is a musical. <p>Fine, then I will start calling How Green Was My Valley science-fiction. Sheesh...

  • June 22, 2008, 7:26 p.m. CST

    Unless you are joking...

    by Lenny Nero

    ...which means the joke is on me. <p>Why am I unable to use my apostrophe key? This is absurd, too!

  • June 22, 2008, 10:28 p.m. CST

    ...stopped caring?

    by Lenny Nero

    Then I have failed as a teacher. *pouts and sighs* <p>btw, my video store has it under musical AND drama. But it's an independently run store staffed with well-paid workers who are required to have a near-encyclopedic knowledge of film and a well honed critical eye. <p>But I would say that a filmmaker's intention is the be all and end all of what a movie is intended to be, especially when they make their own special feature with the argument in question in the title. But that's just splitting heirs, starring Rick Moranis.

  • June 22, 2008, 11:40 p.m. CST

    Absolutely, sir. Quite rollicking good film.

    by Lenny Nero

    And a film at that. <p>Except I'm right. <p>nananananananana

  • June 23, 2008, 9:53 a.m. CST

    See, that's the problem with the argument.

    by Lenny Nero

    You say it's a delusion. I go for the director saying "What we're making here is a musical." <p>Great job. And House Of Sand And Fog is a romantic comedy.

  • July 5, 2008, 11:01 p.m. CST