Introducing the grandmother of all musicals that saved Warner Brothers from bankruptcy. Warner Brothers musical film 42nd Street is about what occurs backstage as the making of the stage musical “Pretty Girl” is in the works.
I love everything about this musical. We are introduced to characters that become archetypes later such as the frustrated director, the diva star, the up-and-comer. We are able to feel the stress and drama that occurs behind the scenes of a musical as the dance numbers have to synchronized with each other perfectly, no one can get sick, and each number must have multiple rehearsals to make it a flawless show.
Film critic Greg S. Faller made a great point in how this movie really does hit audiences home in how it relates to the Great Depression. That if the cast and crew all work together under a leader, then the show will go on smoothly. This film makes the film debuts of Ginger Rogers who would be in many musicals with Fred Astaire, Ruby Keeler who was a Broadway favorite, and Dick Powell who would appear in many movie musicals. I liked what Ruby Keeler brought to the role as she brought innocence and an adoring nature to her as well as being quite a toe-tapper. I love his chemistry with Keeler, making me more anxious to see them in Gold Diggers of 1933. Since this musical is on film and not the stage, the camera is truly the dancer than the cast. If you look above, you can see the camera take many bird’s eye view shots so the cast can make geometric shapes and patterns as they move around their space- something that would never be seen on a Broadway stage.
You can tell how Busby used the Pre-Code era to his advantage to make this film a sexy musical using many sexual innuendos. For example, if you have a leg fetish, you would be the perfect voyeur for this film because there are so many bare legs! In fact, the character of Julian Marsh wouldn’t have even noticed newcomer Peggy if he didn’t see her bare legs in his view as she lied down. When Billy and Peggy pull down a blind that says “asbestos”, that was their way of sending a message to the audience that something hot is going on behind. Even listen to the songs if you need more proof. Such as, what do you think a man means when he reassures a girl that he’s “Young and Healthy”? For those who are a fan of the stage musical and love theatre, this is the film to see.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a copy anywhere but here’s a clip from the number Young and Healthy: