Wow, we get to see another backstage musical film! If you liked 42nd Street, then you’ll love this one as we have some of the same cast from the previous film as well as unexpected actors who bring strength and personality into the film. Footlight Parade is about a frustrated director who decides to salvage his career by making musical prologues (musical numbers) to be released in different movie theaters.
Remember when I said for my post on The Public Enemy that James Cagney was typecast as always playing the hardened criminal with a gun always firmly in his hand? Well, Cagney wanted a change of character so he decided to instead play a director that sees his career going up in flames and is determined to change all of that as well as being light on his feet. No gore, no violence. Just ear-catching songs with impressive choreography by the wonderful Busby Berkley who did choreography for 42nd Street. But that doesn’t mean that James Cagney is all soft in this film. He uses the same moxie, same toughness, same intensity he would use than if this was a crime film. Only difference is he’s taking out his irritation on the actors and not crime mobs. He helps bring personality to the part as he’s protecting his show from getting stolen and I can’t imagine anyone else who could fulfill this role.
Another person who impressed me was Joan Blondell who played Cagney’s tough-as-nails secretary. But don’t believe that means she was submissive and a slave to her boss as she had no problem calling him out for his flaws or literally kicking the floozy women in his life out the door. She can match Cagney’s roughness to a T. The only thing she is able to keep from him is his feelings for him. It was also nice to see Dick Powell, whose voice sounded amazing in this film, and Ruby Keeler again as she begins as a schoolmarm and ends up a star. Together, they’ve still got it!
My personal favorite number in Footlight Parade is “By the Waterfall” as you see synchronized swimming choreography of scenes done in the water and scenes like in 42nd Street with the overhead camera capturing geometric shapes and patterns from the hundreds of dancers by the beautiful pool that looks like paradise. So how are you able to tell that this film was made in the Pre-Code era? In the song “Honeymoon Hotel”, you see women in lingerie as they get ready to…well.. you know what happens on a honeymoon as well as the men leaving the morning after. In “By the Waterfall”, women show off their bare legs in sexy bathing suits. Even in the Shanghai Li song, you can tell the women are clearly prostitutes. You won’t see elements like these in upcoming films once the Production Code sets in.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a copy of this anywhere but here is the “By the Waterfall” sequence: