FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933) B/W 104m dir: Lloyd Bacon
w/James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Frank McHugh, Guy Kibee, Ruth Donnelly, Hugh Herbert, Claire Dodd, Gordon Westcott, Arthur Hohl, Lorena Layson, Renee Whitney, Pat Wing, Barbara Rogers, Paul Porcasi, Philip Faversham, Herman Bing
An immensely entertaining backstage musical whose straight sequences are every bit as entertaining as the musical segments. With his fabulous flying feet, Cagney stars as a producer specializing in creating live stage shows to be featured between films at double features.
From The Movie Guide: "Following its success with the blockbuster backstage musicals 42ND STREET and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933, Warner Bros. launched this lavish production, with Cagney marvelous in the lead. ...
"Seemingly schizophrenic in form, with a gritty, backstage saga yielding to three flights of Busby Berkeley fantasy, FOOTLIGHT PARADE is actually an amazing cultural index of the Depression. All the wisecracking, all the struggle, all the buildup find a remarkable payoff when the film shifts gears into la-la land. The 'Honeymoon Hotel' number is standard risque fare, but 'By a Waterfall,' with Berkeley doing a 'wet run' for his later Esther Williams spectaculars, is an astounding surrealistic kaleidoscope. 'Shanghai Lil,' meanwhile, adds a Warner Bros. toughness to Paramount's Shanghai Lily (Marlene Dietrich in SHANGHAI EXPRESS) of the year before.
"Cagney is in great acting, comic and dancing form throughout and Blondell, as [his] devoted secretary, proves that she has few peers at wisecracking or conveying low-key warmth. A great supporting cast and Bacon's well-judged direction help make FOOTLIGHT PARADE one of the greatest of the Berkeley extravaganzas."
From the Filmsite website (www.filmsite.org), this introduction to the film by Tom Dirks:
"Footlight Parade (1933) is one of the three most spectacular musicals in 1933 from Warner Bros. and legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley, alongside Lloyd Bacon's 42nd Street (1933) and Mervyn LeRoy's Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) --- with this briskly-told entry often considered the best and most extravagant of all three. These three energetic, fast-paced song/dance films all featured performers Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Guy Kibbee, and three chorus girls or 'golddiggers' (Lorena Layson, Renee Whitney and Pat Wing). They also featured songs written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, and conducted by Leo F. Forbstein.] Each movie attempted to outdo the previous extravaganza in exotic, erotic flamboyance.
"The un-PC musical comedy, an escapist Depression-Era diversion, was set at the time of the arrival of talkies, when a brisk, fast-talking Broadway impresario-producer, with some semi-crooked financiers, convinced them to produce brief live musical 'prologues' for movie houses. In a giant, assembly-line styled production house studio, he directed numerous song-and-dance musical shows throughout the country in various stages of completion, employing hundreds of dancers, chorines, and musicians. The idea was to give stage performers work who had been rendered unemployed by the advent of the 'talkies.' In the finale, the enterprising stage producer was compelled to prove himself by showcasing a triple-whammy of his 'prologue' shows. [Note: In some markets, the film was titled 'PROLOGUES.']
"The film's taglines were:
"'YOUTH CHARM AND BEAUTY DANCE THEIR WAY INTO YOUR HEART IN "FOOTLIGHT PARADE"'
"'SEE 300 BEAUTIES LIKE THIS IN "FOOTLIGHT PARADE"'
"'Jimmy Cagney singing and dancing for the first time on the screen!'
"Former Broadway dance director Busby Berkeley, a transplant from Broadway musical-directing, was the one responsible for the show-stopping 'prologues' in this film. He was the first to truly realize that a filmed musical was totally different from a staged musical, with the camera becoming an integral participant with the choreography. He was becoming known for his trademark sensual, kaleidoscopic patterns of carefully-positioned, often scantily-clad chorus girls with props photographed from above (his 'top shot'), from swooping cranes, from the trench below the stage, or from cameras placed on specially-designed tracks to capture audacious camera movements. He was also responsible for the 'chorine close-up' shot.
"In most of Berkeley's unique and highly-stylized productions including this one --- particularly in his climactic 'By a Waterfall' number, emphasis was placed on very outlandish sets and props, including a giant waterfall and a five-story rotating human-water fountain. He used his chorines not as individuals but as attractive parts of large yet abstract geometric patterns moving with precise choreography. The images could be animated tiles in vast, ever-shifting mosaics, fanciful screen compositions or cascading designs. Often, he would use his legendary cinematic 'top view' shot to capture the kaleidoscopic views. He was able to display the female form through these abstract designs, many with legs wide open or body parts seen in close-up. He dressed his actresses often in preposterous costumes, sometimes as coins or musical instruments (or as swimmers). It was commonplace to see the chorus girls wearing next to nothing but scanty lingerie, wisps of gauze, or barely-there bathing suits.
"The star of director Lloyd Bacon's backstage, behind-the-scenes show-business musical was James Cagney in his first on-screen singing-and-dancing musical role. Cagney's varied career featured him in both tough guy roles, such as Tom Powers in Public Enemy (1931) and Cody Jarrett in White Heat (1949), as well as in song-and-dance roles such as this one --- and perhaps his most famous musical role was as real-life Broadway impresario George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). In this first musical portrayal, he starred as briefly-unemployed, enterprising and lively (yet crazed) Broadway theatrical-musical producer Chester Kent, with Joan Blondell as his loyal, faithful, dedicated and long-suffering secretary Nan Prescott who looked after him. [Note: Cagney's role was allegedly patterned after Chester Hale, a well-known, real-life impressario, or even after choreographer Berkeley himself. The role also could later have served as the model for Bob Fosse's alter-ego in All That Jazz (1979).]
"Its familiar plot was a typical-for-the-time backstage tale about putting on a lavish show --- in this case, touring stage productions for major motion-picture houses. The eventual premise was that Kent was compelled --- in only three days --- to create three complete, fantastic, live, spectacular and show-stopping miniature musicals (known as 'prologues') for movie theatres as an added pre-show featured attraction for their patrons during the early days of talkies.
"[Note: The plot was modeled after Los Angeles' Fanchon and Marco production company located on Sunset Boulevard, that actually created staged musical 'prologues' for performances in movie theaters. In the early days of cinema, live mini-musical 'prologues' were often presented on stage in the larger movie houses (a carry-over from vaudeville says) --- full-scale productions with costumes and scenery and thematic content related to the feature film. The 'prologue' era was short-lived, however, when cheaper B-pictures were adopted and became the second featured film attraction.]
"The thin plot was an excuse to show off the elaborate and extravagant choreographed Berkeley production numbers. [Note: Realistically, it was unlikely that any of the elaborate concluding numbers could be performed in any existing movie house.] In fact, there were four musical 'prologues' in the film --- although the first one, a cat-themed song-and-dance, was very brief ('Sittin' on a Backyard Fence') and part of a rehearsal. The extravagant musical finale was capped by three tremendous, back-to-back performances:
"'Honeymoon Hotel' --- by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics)
"'By a Waterfall' --- by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
"'Shanghai Lil' --- by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics)
"For the five years before the Hays Production Code of 1934 went into effect, the film's dance choreographer Busby Berkeley had already been featuring barely-clad bathing beauty starlets in his extravagant productions. And now, he climaxed his techniques in Footlight Parade (1933), especially in its teasing and naughty 'By A Waterfall' sequence. The film was also notable for its suggestive pre-Hays Code risque dialogue and some of the questionable relationships --- parts of which were heavily edited or disguised by censors.
"The musical was budgeted at $703,000 (estimated), mostly because the three production numbers that comprised the last 30 minutes of the film each cost about $10,000/minute, and each of them lasted at least 12 minutes (the length of a reel of film). The film's box-office revenue was $1.6 million (domestic), and it was ranked as the # 8 film at the box-office for 1933."