The joyous, almost buoyant Depression-era musical maintains its charm with rapid-fire wit, sometimes jarringly frank innuendo, and a generous dose of aesthetically and industrially significant Hollywood history.
In 42nd Street (1933), newbie “hoofer” Peggy (Ruby Keeler)–that’s 30s speak for tap-dancer, got me?–breaks her way into the chorus line of a Broadway production. In between grueling rehearsals, she learns the varieties of backstage romance from the well-intentioned to the gold-digging with a few others in-between. Her character’s story as a young gal adapting to life in the Big City is paralleled by a plot concerning threats to the financial future of the show and the secret affair of its female star. These plots converge when Peggy becomes a last minute replacement for the lead and must push herself to discover what she’s made of.
As a “backstage musical” 42nd Street‘s musical numbers occur within the confines of putting on a show rather than the any-minute-now-someone-might-break-into-song type that many non-musical theater types find off-putting. It’s also a Warner Brother’s picture, the studio whose brand was films for “the working man” and also included the original cycle of Hollywood gangster pictures. (Yes: this explains how Jimmy Cagney of Public Enemy (1931) was also famous for his tap dancing a la Footlight Parade (1933): WB had him under contract for the bulk of his career.) Continue reading #TBT Film Rec: 42nd Street