1001 Films – 42nd Street (1933)

42nd streetA director puts on what may be his last Broadway show and, at the last moment, a naive newcomer has to replace the star.

Brief Thought

Before: To my shame I don’t really know anything apart from the most basic of basic plots of this story. Also the show is full of tap dancing.

After: This was so much fun! Not as much singing as I was expecting but the finale was great.

 

Idea

This is a really simple and good idea; made in the 30’s where America was struggling with the great depression and New York had the best and the worst this film focuses on the ‘glitz and glamour’ of Broadway and what happens behind the scenes. What’s happening outside the theatre doesn’t matter, it’s just about putting on the best show possible.

And that finale? Damn! I can believe that it mas made for the stage – even if at the end it’s not a Broadway stage. It deserves to be so.

It makes complete sense that this film has been turned into a hit West End/Broadway show and I regret having not seen it yet, but I am glad I got a chance to watch the film first.

Plot

I think the reason this works is because it is such a simple plot. Peggy, a young lady (maybe 18/19) gets a part as one of the backing dancers in the show ‘Pretty Lady’. She gets to know Pat Denning who is having an affair with the leading lady Dorothy who is worried about being past her prime. When Dorothy falls over and hurts her ankle unable to walk Peggy takes her place at the 11th hour and the show goes on.

The simple plot means the focus is on the characters and the glitz. Plus the at the time the plots were much simpler, not because people wouldn’t understand the stories but because the technology wasn’t there to tell the more complex stories.

What I was surprised at was just how late in the game Peggy takes over. It’s the day of the show. I kept waiting for it to happen, it’s in the tagline of the film, and yet it still kept not happening. It reached a point where I thought that I clearly didn’t know the one thing that I thought I knew.

Character

Although this film has a full assembly cast there are really only three main characters. Peggy, Denning, and Dorothy.

Peggy is the main main character, she’s the new girl to the scene and is the lone who links a lot of the assembly cast.
It’s clear from the beginning that her growth is the focus of the story she starts as this really naive girl who’s come from the country and doesn’t really know what to expect. To the point that she nearly walks in the blokes toilet and literally walks into one of the men’s dressing rooms to a half naked man – Billy one of the dancers. Her growth at times seemed a bit quick and she had moments of literally swooning – but as she’d been dancing for hours without eating or drinking I can understand why.

Denning is the man supposedly in the middle between Dorothy and Peggy but he clearly only has eyes for Dorothy. When we first meet them they are in bed together talking about how life has taken them different ways and how their relationship has struggled. I feel like the way he’s looking at Peggy is much more in a familial way, he’s trying to look out for this young talented woman who isn’t jaded by the business yet.

Dorothy is great. She’s been in the business a long time and has had to put it ahead of her relationship with Denning, to the point where she’s having to go out with the man financing the show and keep Denning secret. Her best line which sums up most of her character is right before the finale when Peggy is worried about going on stage ‘go out there and be so good I hate you’ or words to that effect. I love how she’s not a stereotypical diva but clearly has power in the theatre.

Music

I’ve been writing this review with the West End soundtrack on in the background. Which I know isn’t exactly the same but the finale pretty much is and it expands on the bits of songs that are in the films.
For a film with a premise of putting together a musical comedy there was much less music than I was expecting – apart from the finale which was a big extravaganza. Generally speaking there was a bit of light backing music now and then at particular times, especially when it was at all romantic, but mostly you’d get the end of a song as the scene was starting, or the beginning of a song when the scene ended.

The finale is insane and I’ve been singing ’42nd Street’ all day. I’m not quite sure how big the stage is though because there is too much happening and many many cars and shops and basically too much. But it’s great so I don’t care.

Awards:

Oscars: NOMINEE – Best picture, Best sound recording

Did I enjoy it? Yes. I had a lot of fun with this film
Am I glad I watched it? Definitely
Would I watch again? I rented this one off amazon but I think I’ll probably buy it at some point so I can watch it multiple times
Would I have watched it if not for this challenge? I probably would have got round to this one eventually, but it might have been a long wait.

I feel bad that this is a much shorter review than normal but it’s a fairly simple fun film. I know it’s going to be a while before it comes back to the West End as it was on a couple of years ago. But I’ll definitely try to see it when it does.

My film next week my first translation, the French film ‘A bout de souffle’. I do wish my French was good enough to watch the original, I always worry about losing something in translation

 

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