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Favorite Busby Berkeley musicals


Toto
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 What is your favorite Busby Berkeley musical?   Mine is "Gold Diggers of 1933".   This musical is many different things to me.  It is amusing, unusual and haunting.  It was released during the Depression era and rather than just trying to take people's minds off the Depression, it addresses economic hard times head on in the big musical number that ends the movie "Remember My Forgotten Man" - a musical number which shows widows and downtrodden veterans.  It feels dark and pessimistic .  The song is haunting and you feel the marching of many tired feet.  This film also contains the humorous and surprisingly sexually suggestive musical number "Pettin' in the Park" with a naughty, voyeuristic baby and shots that are close to showing nudity.   "Gold Diggers of 1933" was a huge hit when it was released so the creative risks taken in the making of this film were loved by the public.  Any thoughts or feelings about this film or other Busby Berkley musicals?

Also, if anyone knows.  I loved the singing voice of an African American woman in the number "My Forgotten Man" (after Joan Blondell she is shown sitting in a windowsill while she sings).  Who was this wonderful singer?

Gold Diggers of 1933 - Trailers From Hell     image.jpeg.2cc36b27b57f538d08311590350d7a67.jpeg     Forgotten man - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia   image.jpeg.9113a5f41be9c3e390e29b219ab949fc.jpeg  

 

image.jpeg.6bdb5bd600bb3096b03ae2e754372171.jpeg     image.jpeg.bde96f5e1547e2b44ecced5ea87c9ee1.jpeg

 

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26 minutes ago, Toto said:

 What is your favorite Busby Berkeley musical?   Mine is "Gold Diggers of 1933".   This musical is many different things to me.  It is amusing, unusual and haunting.  It was released during the Depression era and rather than just trying to take people's minds off the Depression, it addresses economic hard times head on in the big musical number that ends the movie "Remember My Forgotten Man" - a musical number which shows widows and downtrodden veterans.  It feels dark and pessimistic .  The song is haunting and you feel the marching of many tired feet.  This film also contains the humorous and surprisingly sexually suggestive musical number "Pettin' in the Park" with a naughty, voyeuristic baby and shots that are close to showing nudity.   "Gold Diggers of 1933" was a huge hit when it was released so the creative risks taken in the making of this film were loved by the public.  Any thoughts or feelings about this film or other Busby Berkley musicals?

Also, if anyone knows.  I loved the singing voice of an African American woman in the number "My Forgotten Man" (after Joan Blondell she is shown sitting in a windowsill while she sings).  Who was this wonderful singer?

Gold Diggers of 1933 - Trailers From Hell     image.jpeg.2cc36b27b57f538d08311590350d7a67.jpeg     Forgotten man - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia   image.jpeg.9113a5f41be9c3e390e29b219ab949fc.jpeg  

 

image.jpeg.6bdb5bd600bb3096b03ae2e754372171.jpeg     image.jpeg.bde96f5e1547e2b44ecced5ea87c9ee1.jpeg

 

Always amazed by the "Shadow Waltz" number.  It was a dangerous number to stage.  Neon violins were used while the dancers wore metallic wigs.  Not a smart idea.   Marathon filming sessions.  LA experienced an earthquake during the filming of this number.   You'd never know it from the result, amazing considering it was 90 years ago.

Gold Diggers of 1933 - MoviedivaGold Diggers of 1933 (1933) | Hometowns to Hollywood

100 Ragyogj klip képek ideas | couple pictures, classy outfits, koponyarajz

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38 minutes ago, Toto said:

Also, if anyone knows.  I loved the singing voice of an African American woman in the number "My Forgotten Man" (after Joan Blondell she is shown sitting in a windowsill while she sings).  Who was this wonderful singer?

The singer in that number is Etta Moten Barnett. I agree that she has a fantastic voice and did such an amazing job in that song!

Gold Diggers of 1933 is my favorite Busby Berkeley musical as well for many of the same reasons you posted. The "Remember My Forgotten Man" number is, in my opinion, the best musical number of all time. I've had a screenshot from it as my background on my TCM forum profile for quite some time, and I actually just recently made an art project based on the same shot. This number was a very different tone and style than the other Busby Berkeley musical numbers and I think it really had a powerful message. The fact the the whole film ends with this song and no other plot afterward is quite affecting.

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My favorite is actually DAMES.   I love how slyly Busby and the scriptwriters deal with the Production Code encroachment, actually satirizing it but in a rather whimsical way, especially with the deliberately old-fashioned (and quite charming) Joan Blondell ironing board number.   They also have Dick and Ruby "outside" in natural surroundings (the park and then a subway car) instead of "on stage".   His first song to her is sweet and harkens back to an earlier, turn-of-the-century time.   And the brilliance of the title song acknowledges frankly that sex sells!  "What do you go for?  Not the music, not the production, but the gorgeous girls!"   As it did during the Florenz Ziegfeld era.   Berkeley still manages to have his cake and eat it too, as well as the audience!   Very clever all around!

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More musings......I probably shouldn't say this, but Ruby looks adorable as an "Oriental" in FOOTLIGHT PARADE.   The best number has to be "Shanghai Lil" -- it's hard to get that song out of one's mind.   I also think Keeler does some of her best dancing here, not solo but in tandem with Cagney, then unfortunately they're interrupted much too soon with that outrageously patriotic finale. 

Busby had some interesting....I won't call them "quirks" but several of these musicals have women jumping out of windows.   Also, the use of little people who were "surreally" peppered throughout some of the productions.

42nd Street is the most iconic of course, and as pre-code as can be -- Ginger Rogers (playing Anytime Annie) waltzing into Julian Marsh's office with new sugar daddy Guy Kibbee:  "As I was saying to Abner.....over breakfast...."  

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2 hours ago, _Broadway_ said:

The singer in that number is Etta Moten Barnett. I agree that she has a fantastic voice and did such an amazing job in that song!

Gold Diggers of 1933 is my favorite Busby Berkeley musical as well for many of the same reasons you posted. The "Remember My Forgotten Man" number is, in my opinion, the best musical number of all time. I've had a screenshot from it as my background on my TCM forum profile for quite some time, and I actually just recently made an art project based on the same shot. This number was a very different tone and style than the other Busby Berkeley musical numbers and I think it really had a powerful message. The fact the the whole film ends with this song and no other plot afterward is quite affecting.

Hard call for me here,  but I would say Footlight Parade is my favorite followed closely by Gold Diggers of 1933.     Cagney brings so much energy into  his pre-code film roles and of course Cagney and Blondell have great screen chemistry.    Then we have the Shanghai Lil routine.

But Gold Diggers is solid gold for the reasons many here have mentioned. 

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Love your reminisces & screen shots! I love all that has been mentioned for much the same reasons. 

I can never get over FOOTLIGHT PARADE '33 and it's over-the-top "stage" numbers, most notably the "By The Waterfall" where beautiful gals pee off the giant cake-

FOOTLIGHT-PARADE-web1520.jpg

..and especially love when they swim smiling through the crotch tunnel. Absurd yet mesmerizing. You need pistols like Cagney & Blondell to pull this silliness off.

I used to think Berkeley was just smoking ganja but have come to realize his choreography combines military precision with unique patterns & movement, similar to Japanese art ascetics to me.

I'm tickled to pieces that The Syracuse Cinephile season closer 6/20 we're screening Footlight Parade.  It's going to be a huge hit with the crowd whose probably never seen it before! My Mother loves Shanghai Lil number & I often tease her by singing (with gestures) "I've been lookin' high, I've been lookin' low, gotta find my Shanghai Lil" and then she whines it'll play over in her head for DAYS!

 

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Everyone (well, everyone here) points to the deleted "Pumpkin dance" as example of how Busby did uncredited musical-number doctoring on The Wizard of Oz at MGM.

But if you watch enough of his Warner musicals, especially the pre-codes, you start to spot some of his recognizable shticks:

  1. Big crowds,
  2. Making a "story" out of the musical numbers, with characters reciting the lyrics as dialogue, or singing new verses to the song as "dialogue",
  3. At some point, the cute couple will silently whisper a fun flirty suggestion in the others' ear, and the other nods yes excitedly,   🤫☺️

And then you start to realize just about all the Oz numbers have Busby's fingerprints all over them:  We get 1 and 2 as the Munchkin number is drawn out, we get the Wash & Brush Up Co. singing new verses to "The Merry Old Land of Oz", and Dorothy even cutesy-whispers to the Scarecrow while the Tin Man is doing his "If I Only Had a Heart" dance.

4kwizardoz-movie-screencaps.com-4313.jpg

On 5/3/2022 at 11:41 AM, Toto said:

"Gold Diggers of 1933".   

This film also contains the humorous and surprisingly sexually suggestive musical number "Pettin' in the Park" with a naughty, voyeuristic baby and shots that are close to showing nudity. 

   image.jpeg.bde96f5e1547e2b44ecced5ea87c9ee1.jpeg

The "naughty" baby becomes a running gag in Berkeley's Warner musicals--returning for a callback gag in the "Honeymoon Hotel" number from Footlight Parade--and was played by 9-yo. child star Billy Barty.  You probably remember him from when he was a bit older.

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For me it's a toss-up between Footlight Parade and Gold Diggers of 1933.   While the chemistry and energy of Cagney is irresistible, I'm beginning to look at Gold Diggers as the first feminist musical.  I love how Trixie and Carol use the stereotypes of the gold digging promiscuous showgirl against the men they snare.   Aline MacMahon really steals this picture, and it's a pleasure to see Warren William finally at the receiving end of a seduction scam.   "Forgotten Man" number is haunting and powerful, a bit out of place in all the shenanigans, but a true classic.  BTW, I noticed that Gold Diggers was rate TVG - did the board in charge of ratings go to sleep on that one?  Semi-nudity, implications of premarital sex, and plenty of saucy dialogue.

 

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On 5/3/2022 at 10:10 AM, Bronxgirl48 said:

My favorite is actually DAMES.   I love how slyly Busby and the scriptwriters deal with the Production Code encroachment, actually satirizing it but in a rather whimsical way, especially with the deliberately old-fashioned (and quite charming) Joan Blondell ironing board number.   They also have Dick and Ruby "outside" in natural surroundings (the park and then a subway car) instead of "on stage".   His first song to her is sweet and harkens back to an earlier, turn-of-the-century time.   And the brilliance of the title song acknowledges frankly that sex sells!  "What do you go for?  Not the music, not the production, but the gorgeous girls!"   As it did during the Florenz Ziegfeld era.   Berkeley still manages to have his cake and eat it too, as well as the audience!   Very clever all around!

Dames is also my favorite. Gold Diggers of 1933 is the most realistic; Dames is the most surrealistic. Surrealism is as natural to Busby Berkeley as breathing. He makes those who strive to be surrealists (calling Luis Bunuel!) look like graduate student wannabes. How could anyone dream up those production numbers?

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1 hour ago, rosebette said:

For me it's a toss-up between Footlight Parade and Gold Diggers of 1933

Forgotten Man" number is haunting and powerful, a bit out of place in all the shenanigans, but a true classic.

If we have to have politics in Busby numbers, I still like the Shanghai Lil number from Footlight Parade for giving us the sampler plate of pre-code Busby-drama setup, Cagney's tapping toes, and a big flag-waving salute to our gallant Navy and the New Deal:

(And, getting back to the Oz theory, anyone spot a little of "O-wee-o" when Ruby Keeler marches out in disguise with the sailor drills?)

Although, TBF, since Busby didn't direct the Warners, we judge by the numbers--If we had to pick one for the plot, obviously 42nd St. is the strongest, but we don't.

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"Lullaby of Broadway" is probably one of Berkeley's top numbers, from the maddening stamp of the taps to the dark ending.  However, the film that surrounds it is one of the weaker Warner's efforts.

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19 hours ago, EricJ said:

If we have to have politics in Busby numbers, I still like the Shanghai Lil number from Footlight Parade for giving us the sampler plate of pre-code Busby-drama setup, Cagney's tapping toes, and a big flag-waving salute to our gallant Navy and the New Deal:

(And, getting back to the Oz theory, anyone spot a little of "O-wee-o" when Ruby Keeler marches out in disguise with the sailor drills?)

Although, TBF, since Busby didn't direct the Warners, we judge by the numbers--If we had to pick one for the plot, obviously 42nd St. is the strongest, but we don't.

I also like spotting John Garfield as an extra.  And in the restored, uncut version, you have some pretty racy shots of ladies lounging in what is an opium den/brothel.  Keeler in yellow face, though, is definitely disconcerting.

 

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53 minutes ago, rosebette said:

I also like spotting John Garfield as an extra.  And in the restored, uncut version, you have some pretty racy shots of ladies lounging in what is an opium den/brothel.  Keeler in yellow face, though, is definitely disconcerting.

 

Actually that brief shot of a sailor in the Shanghai Lil number is not John Garfield, as you can tell from this image. There has been a lot of speculation for years that it was a young Garfield since there is  a superficial resemblance and we only see him for two or three seconds. I don't know if anyone has identified the name of this extra.

Sorry if I've taken some of the fun out of that moment for you, Rosebette.

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Not intending to start a lot of negative posts, but how about least favorite Berkeley musical numbers. By far the worst for me is the "Girl At the Ironing Board" number from DAMES. Terrible! Bad tune, bad words, just completely ill-advised! The worst 5 minutes in any Berkeley movie, in any Warner Bros. movie, in any 1930s movie, in any movie shown on TCM, well, you get the idea. I had to force myself to think of something to do to get myself out of the room so I could miss it when the movie was on TCM a few nights ago!

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17 minutes ago, musicalnovelty said:

Not intending to start a lot of negative posts, but how about least favorite Berkeley musical numbers. By far the worst for me is the "Girl At the Ironing Board" number from DAMES. Terrible! Bad tune, bad words, just completely ill-advised! The worst 5 minutes in any Berkeley movie, in any Warner Bros. movie, in any 1930s movie, in any movie shown on TCM, well, you get the idea. I had to force myself to think of something to do to get myself out of the room so I could miss it when the movie was on TCM a few nights ago!

Busby liked using whimsical special effects once in a while--It was still more than the usual musical directors were doing at the time.

Even boring old MGM let him do it in Strike Up the Band (1940):

 

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2 hours ago, musicalnovelty said:

Not intending to start a lot of negative posts, but how about least favorite Berkeley musical numbers. By far the worst for me is the "Girl At the Ironing Board" number from DAMES. Terrible! Bad tune, bad words, just completely ill-advised! The worst 5 minutes in any Berkeley movie, in any Warner Bros. movie, in any 1930s movie, in any movie shown on TCM, well, you get the idea. I had to force myself to think of something to do to get myself out of the room so I could miss it when the movie was on TCM a few nights ago!

You mean you haven't seen Berkeley's "Going to Heaven On A Mule" number from Wonder Bar? Embarrassingly politically incorrect prolonged number with Al Jolson and cast in blackface and every imaginable black stereotype on display, including huge watermelon rinds. A classic in bad taste.

Wonder Bar (1934) | CarensClassicCinema

WONDER BAR -1934 Stock Photo - Alamy

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5 hours ago, TomJH said:

You mean you haven't seen Berkeley's "Going to Heaven On A Mule" number from Wonder Bar? Embarrassingly politically incorrect prolonged number with Al Jolson and cast in blackface and every imaginable black stereotype on display, including huge watermelon rinds. A classic in bad taste.

Wonder Bar (1934) | CarensClassicCinema

WONDER BAR -1934 Stock Photo - Alamy

OMG!  This is terrible!

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10 hours ago, TomJH said:

You mean you haven't seen Berkeley's "Going to Heaven On A Mule" number from Wonder Bar? Embarrassingly politically incorrect prolonged number with Al Jolson and cast in blackface and every imaginable black stereotype on display, including huge watermelon rinds. A classic in bad taste.

Wonder Bar (1934) | CarensClassicCinema

WONDER BAR -1934 Stock Photo - Alamy

This number is so awful that it's featured in TCM's mini-documentary on blackface and racial stereotypes.  

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