Classic Film Review: Cast and rehearse a show, get it ready to premiere on “42nd Street” (1933)

Long before it was a Broadway hit (in the ’80s), “42nd Street” was a musical adapted (from a novel) for the screen. And this 1933 film may be the oldest Hollywood musical to, as we say, “still hold up.”

The acting is OK. The story is pure corn and the songs — most of them — are dated and aging badly. It’s easy to see why other American Songbook tunes from the era were cadged and included in the Broadway adaptation in the ’80s.

“Shuffle Off to Buffalo” and “You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me” are about as good as it got.

But the production numbers, tap-heavy as they are, remain impressive. It’s the cast, the banter and the backstage at-a-musical-revue-in-rehearsal milieu that keep this picture fresh.

Warner Baxter plays a director in desperate need of one last hit, one that’ll set him up for life, even in the middle of the Great Depression.

He casts the show, gets a “star” (Bebe Daniels) who has a sugar daddy (Guy Kibbee) financial backer, lands “the kid” just for that moment when the star’ll have to be replaced opening night.

You know the drill.

Among those in the cast of this “Pretty Girl” are future star Ruby Keeler, future superstar Ginger Rogers, and George Brent and Dick Powell.

But the thing that had me spitting up my beer was the cattle call trash talk among the chorines.

“It seems that little Loraine’s hit the bottle again.” “Yeah, the PEROXIDE bottle.”

“Getta load of Miss Mountaineer here,” says a short chorine to an Amazon. “Ya parents mustabeen disaPOINTED, not having any ‘children.'”

“He looks like a Bulgarian boll weevil mourning its first-born.”

“You remember Annie Lowell?” “Not ‘Anytime Annie?’ Say, who could forget ‘er? She only said “No” once, and THEN she didn’t hear the question!”

Oh yeah, pre-Production Code movies could be pret-TY racy.

Other movies from the era were later adapted for Broadway, but none have the snap, crackle and pop of this “Chorus Line” before its time — no tears, no sentiment, just brassy dancers and singers and a director with a secret driving his mania for getting just one more hit in.

Don’t shuffle off to Buffalo without seeing it, see?

MPAA Rating: approved, and sassy

Cast: Warner Baxter, Ruby Keeler, Bebe Daniels, Una Merkel, George Brent, Ginger Rogers, Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee and George E. Stone.

Credits: Directed by Lloyd Bacon, script by Rian James and James Seymour, based on the novel by Bradford Ropes.

Running time:

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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