Warner Home Video presents
The Busby Berkeley Collection (42nd Street / Gold Diggers of 1933 / Footlight Parade / Dames / Gold Diggers of 1935) (1933-1934)
"You're going out there a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!"- Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) in 42nd Street
Stars: Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Bebe Daniels, Warner Baxter, George Brent, Ginger Rogers, Una Merkel, Warren William, Aline MacMahon, ZaSu Pitts, Adolphe Menjou, Gloria Stuart, Alice Brady
Other Stars: Guy Kibbee, Ned Sparks, Frank McHugh, Ruth Donnelly, Hugh Herbert, Glenda Farrell, Joseph Cawthorn, Grant Mitchell, Dorothy Dare, Winifred Shaw
Director: Busby Berkeley, Lloyd Bacon, Mervyn LeRoy, Ray Enright
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 7h:56m:00s
Release Date: 2006-03-21
DVD ReviewAfter the dawn of sound, the next big thing to revolutionize the motion picture medium was the Hollywood arrival of Busby Berkeley. A bundle of nervous energy with a keen imagination, sharp temper, and drill sergeant's tongue, Berkeley flipped the movie musical on its ear...literally. The former Broadway dance director took the camera where it had never gone before, up, up, and away to a bird's-eye perch, and—thanks to a bevy of contorting chorus girls down below—created dazzling kaleidoscopic fantasies that captivated Depression-era audiences desperate for escape. In the blink of an eye, a static, dull genre became an art form, as Berkeley single-handedly rejuvenated the film musical, sparking a renaissance that would last a generation. Sure, he went overboard on occasion, but his outlandish concepts and set pieces retain their luster, and the passage of time only enhances our appreciation of his creativity and vision.
The Busby Berkeley Collection showcases that vision, packaging together the director's five musical masterpieces from the early 1930s. Though Berkeley would later defect to MGM, his glory years were at Warner Bros., where his opulent, eye-popping production numbers stunningly contrast with the studio's tough, realistic backstage stories. And the granddaddy of all backstage dramas is 42nd Street, the film that cemented Berkeley's reputation and allowed him to write his own ticket at Warner for several more years.
42nd Street chronicles the evolution of a Broadway production from the embryonic stages of financial backing and auditions all the way through grueling rehearsals, personal turmoil, and the climactic out-of-town tryout. Though escapist in nature, the film never shrinks from addressing the issues of the Depression and how they affect the characters and theatrical industry, and it's that brash topicality that gives 42nd Street welcome bite. In her screen debut, Ruby Keeler portrays Peggy Sawyer, the wide-eyed novice pushed into the leading role vacated by diva Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels) just hours before opening night, and Warner Baxter plays Julian Marsh, the high-strung director always on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Keeler's clunky dancing, off-key singing, and golly-gee-whiz acting make her ultimate success hard to swallow, but her peaches-'n'-cream loveliness keeps us rooting for her throughout the picture. The eminently hummable Harry Warren-Al Dubin score includes such standards as You're Getting to Be A Habit With Me, Young and Healthy, Shuffle Off to Buffalo, and the toe-tapping title tune, and Berkeley brilliantly employs revolving stages and inventive camera angles to bring the numbers to life. Berkeley often infuses his routines with dramatic vignettes, and 42nd Street includes such brutal slice-of-life episodes as rape and murder to illustrate the "naughty, bawdy, and gaudy" atmosphere of the immortal New York thoroughfare.
Gold Diggers of 1933 came hot on the heels of 42nd Street, and though it seems more reluctant to fully embrace the musical form, it succeeds quite well as a snappy period comedy. A forerunner of sorts to How to Marry a Millionaire, the story follows a trio of down-on-their-luck showgirls—the hoofer (Ruby Keeler), the comic (the marvelous Aline MacMahon), and the beauty (Joan Blondell)—who share a brownstone apartment and bemoan the lack of theatrical opportunity and dearth of eligible bachelors in Depression-ravaged New York. A struggling songwriter (Dick Powell), who turns out to be a wealthy Boston blueblood, puts up money for a new revue, which enables the three chorines to find work—and ultimately romance and financial security. The breezy script takes plenty of potshots at the Depression, yet beneath the jaded wisecracks, the girls harbor a plucky, optimistic spirit that sees them through their troubles. Director Mervyn LeRoy employs lots of severe, in-your-face close-ups (one of Ginger Rogers singing We're In the Money is downright frightening), but keeps the action moving at Warner's customary brisk pace.
Aside from a couple of informal ballads sung by Powell, only four fully realized musical numbers grace the film, but all provide Berkeley ample opportunity to flex his creative muscle. The opening We're in the Money showcases scantily clad chorus girls wearing oversize coins to cover their incidentals, while the shockingly risqué yet interminable Pettin' in the Park features some of Berkeley's trademark overhead camera angles to capture his inventive formations. Of course, LeRoy saves the best numbers for last, beginning with The Shadow Waltz, a gorgeously inventive, elegant piece, in which a sea of neon violins seem to dance on their own in the dark. Nothing, however, can eclipse that powerful ode to the Depression, Remember My Forgotten Man, which foregoes glamour and escapism to focus on the very real plight of valiant common men striving to eke out a living in the face of financial despair. Rarely, if ever, has a production number addressed such a sober topic, as Berkeley depicts destitute war veterans standing in bread lines and sleeping in doorways. Forget the kaleidoscopic fantasies; Remember My Forgotten Man is arguably Berkeley's masterpiece, and it still packs a punch today.
Footlight Parade retains the services of Blondell, Keeler, Powell, and Guy Kibbee, but adds the charismatic James Cagney to the mix, and his presence lends the proceedings a much-needed jolt. Almost a decade before Yankee Doodle Dandy, Cagney unveils his terpsichorean talent, dazzling audiences heretofore only familiar with his tough guy persona. Yet unfortunately, the stale storyline puts a damper on his coming out party. Footlight Parade marked Warner's third backstage foray of 1933, and though it contains a few fresh elements, the tale of a feisty impresario (Cagney) who must battle embezzlers and an in-house spy possesses a formulaic feel, and lacks the sass, vitality, and originality of its predecessors. Once again, Berkeley's musical numbers—with the exception of the feline-themed Sittin' On A Backyard Fence—are saved until the end, thus upsetting the film's balance, but the dance director outdoes himself with a trio of intricate, flawlessly executed tableaux. The fiercely imaginative By A Waterfall tops them all; in fact, no other number better exemplifies Depression-era escapism or Berkeley's genius. With astounding creativity, he designs a spectacular water ballet marked by synchronistic, serpentine formations, revolutionary underwater photography, and a lavish aquatic set piece that looks like a prototype for Disneyland's Splash Mountain. The number reportedly received a standing ovation at the film's premiere, and must be seen to be believed. Shanghai Lil, which quickly follows, begins in a brothel and features a full-scale barroom brawl, before evolving into a shameless flag-waving salute to both America and FDR, replete with rifle drills, marches, and patriotic formations. Cagney gets a chance to brandish both his tap shoes and fists in this robust finale, which caps a solid half hour of mind-blowing musical fantasy.
Refreshingly, Dames departs somewhat from the backstage blueprint, and substitutes screwball comedy for realism. Not once does a character utter the word "Depression" in Delmer Daves' script, which immerses us in the zany world of the idle rich. The silliness begins when an eccentric tycoon (Hugh Herbert) promises his cousin, Horace P. Hemingway (Guy Kibbee), a $10 million gift if he can maintain a high moral standard for several weeks. That means severing ties with another cousin, Jimmy Higgens (Dick Powell), a singer-songwriter who has disgraced the family by entering the depraved world of show business, and keeping his own dancer daughter (Ruby Keeler) out of both Jimmy's musical and Jimmy's arms. Things really get out of hand when a sexy chorus girl (Joan Blondell) blackmails Henry for the funds Jimmy needs to mount the show.
Though director Ray Enright intersperses a few songs throughout the story (including an especially cute Powell-Keeler duet and the velvety romantic ballad I Only Have Eyes for You), once again the bulk of the numbers transpire in a half-hour block at the end of the film. Dames are, of course, the focus, with nary a male face besides Powell's appearing in any of the pieces. The Girl at the Ironing Board is an innocuous but whimsically staged showcase for Blondell and a bevy of fellow laundresses, but it's merely a warm-up for a lavish reprise of I Only Have Eyes for You. Never has a leading lady received such an effusive on-screen tribute, as Berkeley bombards us with an orgy of Keeler images in various shapes, sizes, and formations. The lilting title tune receives an equally extravagant treatment, with Berkeley glorifying the American girl while using her to construct an array of mind-boggling geometric patterns. Dames may not be the best known Berkeley musical, but its buoyant energy and madcap humor keep us engaged and entertained throughout.
By 1934, Berkeley had achieved such renown, Warner elevated his status to full-fledged director for Gold Diggers of 1935, another pleasant trifle that adopts a screwball slant. The money-grubbing and swindling in this installment of the series isn't confined to females, and revolves around the production of a charity show at a swanky New England resort. Alice Brady plays the harried, penny-pinching dowager who finances the musical, and must deal with its shady director (Adolphe Menjou) and the bourgeois leading man (Dick Powell) who has designs on her daughter (ingénue Gloria Stuart 63 years before Titanic). Only two big production numbers—instead of the usual three—grace the film, but they're whoppers, and stand as some of Berkeley's finest work. The iconic Lullaby of Broadway takes the slice-of-life approach à la 42nd Street, as it chronicles a (tragic) day in the life of a Broadway party girl. Berkeley begins the piece with a pin spot on the faraway face of vocalist Winifred Shaw, who's engulfed in a sea of blackness, then slowly zooms into her imagination, where hordes of frenetic tap dancers mirror the doomed heroine's out-of-control existence. The number's shocking violent turn lends it an edgy depth (as well as a unique poignancy) that's the polar opposite of the similarly stylish but shamelessly romantic The Words Are in My Heart. Here, Berkeley sets 56 white grand pianos on a bank of revolving platforms and manipulates them into stunning formations. Though the plot of Gold Diggers of 1935 may be pedestrian, the musical interludes are anything but.
Any way you slice them, the five films contained in The Busby Berkeley Collection represent a staggering creative achievement. It's one thing to dream up such elaborate ensembles, but finding a way to execute them in the primitive environment of 1930s Hollywood—and with such precision and artistry—remains mystifying. Audiences of the period may have appreciated Berkeley, but it's impossible not to revere him today. His work endures, and this wonderful DVD tribute puts it back in the spotlight where it belongs.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: These are old, old films, but Warner's technical wizardry restores their original luster. Most scenes look as smooth as silk, with terrific clarity, vivid contrast, and only a hint of grain. Rich black levels and a wide gray scale lend Berkeley's ensembles wonderful presence and depth, and allow us to drink in all the details. 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933 look especially good, while Gold Diggers of 1935 displays the most wear and tear, but all the movies in this collection benefit from the same TLC. At times, without rhyme or reason, a cut will suddenly bring with it heavy grain and an antique fuzziness lasting anywhere from five seconds to several minutes, but such is the nature of vintage films. (Dissolves often suffer from this affliction, but then magically wash clean.) Though it's impossible to eliminate every nick, speck, and scratch, these transfers remain remarkably clean and vibrant, and will thrill fans of both Berkeley and classic film.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The mono sound also has been freshly scrubbed, and though fidelity isn't great, the music enjoys fine presence, and lacks the tinny quality so often associated with films from the early 1930s. Some hiss and mild surface noise can be detected if one really pricks up one's ears, but annoying pops and crackles have been thankfully erased. Dialogue is always clear and comprehendible, Keeler's rough-and-tumble taps sound crisp and distinct, and distortion is kept to a minimum, even when Powell stretches his tenor range. Considering these films are more than 70 years old, this is first-rate audio.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 122 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
6 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Fashions of 1934, Wonder Bar, In Caliente, Gold Diggers of 1937, Gold Diggers in Paris
Packaging: Box Set
- The Busby Berkeley Disc, a compendium of Berkeley's musical numbers from his years at Warner Bros.
- Vintage shorts
- Vintage cartoons
- Radio promos
In addition to the original theatrical trailer, a cast and crew listing, text-based mini-bio of Berkeley, and a blurb about the 1980 Broadway production of 42nd Street, a trio of vintage featurettes comprise the disc supplements. The first is a nine-minute salute to Harry Warren: America's Foremost Composer, in which the songwriter himself sits at the piano and performs a medley of his best-known tunes, while a succession of mediocre singers try their best to interpret the material. A Trip Thru A Hollywood Studio gives us aerial views of the major studios, then takes us behind the scenes at Warner Bros., where we see stars such as Pat O'Brien, James Cagney, and Dolores Del Rio rehearsing, shooting, and being photographed in the portrait studio. We also get a look at the editing and printing process, and catch a glimpse of Berkeley taking a group of dancers through their paces during the 10-minute featurette. Hollywood Newsreel promises "intimate glimpses of your favorite stars behind the scenes of Movieland," but it's really little more than nine minutes of Warner promotional drivel. A brief clip of Joan Blondell thanking her fans for their support during an illness, and Berkeley welcoming the newest Rose Bowl champions to his set highlight this rather dull one-reeler.
GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933
The original DVD release of 42nd Street did not include a making-of featurette, but Warner has righted that wrong by squeezing one onto the Gold Diggers of 1933 disc. 42nd Street: From Book to Stage to Screen charts the compelling history of the beloved musical, beginning with the rather racy novel upon which it is based. A host of film historians, choreographers, and such noted directors as John Landis and John Waters discuss the movie's production, analyze its numbers (and the distinct Berkeley style), and address the social, political, and industrial climate in which 42nd Street was made. The 18-minute piece also touches upon the hit Broadway adaptation choreographed by Gower Champion in 1980, and the more Berkeley-esque 2001 revival. Gold Diggers of 1933: FDR's New Deal...Broadway Bound employs the same crew of commentators as it examines how Berkeley's dance numbers mirror FDR's New Deal ideology, which sought to merge America's traditional individualism with more progressive, collectivist movements. A look at the dawn of the motion picture production code, and how one number in particular—the lascivious Pettin' in the Park—escaped its constraints, makes this 15-minute featurette more substantive and involving than many in the same vein.
The 42nd Street Special is a five-and-a-half-minute short that allows us to share in the bon voyage festivities of a Warner Bros. promotional train headed to FDR's inauguration in early 1933. Several notable personalities bid us a fond farewell, including studio chief Jack Warner, head of production Darryl F. Zanuck, a very young (and platinum blonde) Bette Davis, Preston Foster, Claire Dodd, and Olympic swimming star Eleanor Holm. The vintage nine-minute short, Rambling 'Round Radio Row #2, showcases a variety of oddball musical talent, while the 20-minute Seasoned Greetings chronicles the efforts of a card shop owner (Lita Grey Chaplin, a former wife of Charlie Chaplin) to revitalize her business by selling "talking" greeting cards. On its own, the film isn't much, but it's noteworthy today because it marks the screen debut of eight-year-old Sammy Davis, Jr. (billed here as simply Sammy Davis), whose impish charm easily steals the picture.
Three vintage cartoons—We're in the Money, I've Got to Sing A Torch Song, and Pettin' in the Park—are interesting examples of early black-and-white animation, and contain some amusing moments, such as a spot-on parody of Greta Garbo. Completing the supplements are six Berkeley trailers for such films as Fashions of 1934, In Caliente, and Gold Diggers of 1937.
Another spate of fine extras enlivens this disc, beginning with Footlight Parade: Music for the Decades, a solid 15-minute featurette that, among other things, outlines the symbiotic marriage between Warren-Dubin songs and Berkeley's lavish inventions. The piece also provides brief bios of Warren and Dubin, looks at Cagney's contribution to the film, and analyzes the social, political, and sexual connotations pervading the various numbers. The 10-minute Rambling 'Round Radio Row #8 is another collection of oddball talent, but performances by perky 11-year-old singer Baby Rose Marie (who would grow up to co-star on The Dick Van Dyke Show—yes, that Rose Marie!) and Irish tenor Morton Downey (father of the chain-smoking, controversial talk show host) make this edition noteworthy, while another vintage short, the 11-minute Vaudeville Reel #1, features a lineup of novelties that include an acrobatic family, wandering minstrels, and a couple of acts that defy description. Two Merrie Melodies cartoons, Young and Healthy and Honeymoon Hotel, use their popular title tunes as springboards for a silly royal fairy tale and matrimonial romp, respectively. Footlight Parade's original theatrical trailer, which heralds Cagney's "surprising" singing and dancing talent, rounds out the supplements.
The substantial extras kick off with the 12-minute featurette, Dames: Busby Berkeley's Kaleidoscopic Eyes, another absorbing examination of the director's "alien" imagination. This time around, we get a mini-biography of "Buzz," which addresses his military background, subsequent tenure at MGM, and the personal problems that spawned his decline. Then it's on to Dames, and an analysis and fervent appreciation of Berkeley's amazing numbers. Three vintage shorts follow, beginning with the nine-minute And She Learned About Dames, a breezy yet inane promotional one-reeler that chronicles how a plain-Jane student gets a makeover so she can win the Miss Complexion contest, claim the first-prize trip to Hollywood, tour the Warner studio, and kiss Dick Powell. Equally ridiculous but oh-so-lovely to look at, Good Morning, Eve, a beautifully preserved early Technicolor short, runs 19 minutes, and follows a rather hip Adam and Eve as they walk through history and encounter such characters as Emperor Nero, King Arthur, and a bunch of bathing beauties who perform a Berkeley-esque number with beach balls. The 10-minute Don Redman and His Orchestra showcases the all-black band performing such standards as Ill Wind and Harry Warren's nonsensical Nagasaki. Once again, Warner digs through its vaults for two complementary Merrie Melodies cartoons—Those Beautiful Dames and I Only Have Eyes for You—both of which capitalize on the success of their respective title songs. (The latter includes a funny parody of actress Katharine Hepburn.) Finally, the film's original theatrical trailer and an 11-minute Direct from Hollywood radio promo, which includes "stars, scenes, and songs" from Dames, completes the supplements.
GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935
How's this for a featurette title: Gold Diggers of 1935: (buz'be bur'kle) n. A Study in Style. Another insightful, slickly produced piece, this 19-minute examination of Berkeley's inimitable élan highlights the wizardry of The Words Are in My Heart and Lullaby of Broadway, but also delves deeper, even addressing the fascist imagery and tone that pervades many of Berkeley's numbers. (John Landis even compares Berkeley to the notorious director of Nazi propaganda films, Leni Reifenstahl.) Up next is the rare 1935 short, Double Exposure, which features a young Bob Hope (in only his third film appearance) as an opportunistic photographer trying to earn $100 by snapping the picture of a former gold digger.
Select either of the two vintage cartoons on the disc and up comes a thoughtful written introduction alerting viewers that the animated shorts are "of their time," and contain prejudicial treatments of certain ethnic and racial minorities. The first, Shuffle Off to Buffalo, depicts the assembly line nature of a heavenly baby factory, and presents uncomfortable caricatures of blacks, Jews, and Eskimos (as well as more comfortable and amusing imitations of Eddie Cantor, Ed Wynn, and Maurice Chevalier), while the milder Gold Diggers of '49 (that's 1849!) follows frenzied prospectors as they mine for precious nuggets in the Old West. Despite the controversial elements of these cartoons, Warner deserves credit for putting them in their proper context and exhibiting them. It would have been easy to keep these shorts locked in the vault, but part of combating prejudice is confronting it, and the folks at Warner seem to realize this as they continue to honor America's film heritage.
Another Direct from Hollywood radio promo and a Gold Diggers Trailer Gallery, which includes the Gold Diggers of 1935 domestic preview, a "special trailer" that recaps a Warner beauty contest (and includes appearances by Dick Powell, Busby Berkeley, George Brent, Joe E. Brown, and Joan Blondell) and a trailer for 1938's Gold Diggers of Paris with Rudy Vallee, wraps up the supplemental material.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsOne of the few bona fide Hollywood originals, Busby Berkeley pushed his imagination to the limit, fashioning wildly inventive musical fantasies that lifted the motion picture medium to a new level of artistry. Warner's definitive, six-disc DVD collection preserves and celebrates his astounding achievements, while reinforcing his status as a cinematic genius. High quality transfers and extras galore enhance this essential release, which is truly the stuff of which dreams are made.
David Krauss 2006-03-19