Directed by: Lloyd Bacon, Busby Berkeley
Starring: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Frank McHugh
Right after the success of 42nd Street (1933), Warner Bros. tackled Golddiggers of 1933, and when that clicked, they wasted no time in putting together Footlight Parade. What is remarkable is that all three pictures came out in one year. I admit to having a preference for Golddiggers of 1933, but a case can certainly be made for Footlight Parade as the best of them all. Its story is no better or worse than the others, but its screenplay gives the pre-code barbs of Golddigers a run for its money. Certainly, it was the biggest box-office hit of the three films when they were re-issued in the late 1960s and early ‘70s to cash in on a nostalgia craze. Part of that may be attributable to the presence of James Cagney as the film’s star, but really it’s the combination of Cagney, the bright dialogue and two of Berkeley’s best — and wildest — production numbers, “By a Waterfall” and “Shanghai Lil.” In the first, he outdid himself in terms of pure spectacle. The second takes his ability to tell a story with his numbers to new heights, with its account of a sailor searching through opium dens, dives and whorehouses for his missing Shanghai Lil. If that’s not enough, it climaxes with sailors forming the NRA (National Recovery Act) eagle, the American flag and even FDR’s picture (the Warners were nothing if not staunch Democrats). To say that one has never seen anything like it is probably an understatement.
In Brief: The third — and in some ways the best — of the big Warner Bros. musicals with outlandish production numbers by Busby Berkeley. This one cashes in on the brief vogue for live shows in the movies, which, of course, means that the climax of the film will be a series of Berkeley numbers that couldn’t possibly be taking place on a stage. James Cagney and Joan Blondell lead a solid cast and the dialogue is fast, funny and very pre-code racy.