Discs Are Rated
review by Anthony D.
Running Time: 89 minutes
Starring Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, Una Merkel and
Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Retail Price: $24.99
Features: Trailer, Notes on Bubsy Berkeley, Hollywood
Newsreel, Harry Warren Featurette
Specs: 1.33:1 Standard, Dolby Digital Mono English,
Once upon a Hollywood, musicals were merely stagebound
revues with Hollywood stars performing scthick that was
usually not suited to their real talents - -I think of Joan
Crawford' "s singing" in "Hollywood Revue of 1929" - -or Al
Jolson, down on one knee, in blackface no less! - -
"Mammy"-ing to the rafters. All of that changed because of
one "little" Warner Bros. 1933 production: "42nd Street."
"42nd Street" contained razor-sharp dialogue, tons of
gorgeous chorus girls, two handsome leading men and the
first of many "You're going out there an understudy, but
you're coming back a star!" cliches.
The story of a dying Broadway producer/director (Warner
Baxter) putting on one final extravaganza fraught with
problems at every turn, "42nd Street" invented the backstage
musical. The show that Julian Marsh is preparing, "Pretty
Lady," is merely an excuse for tons of semi-clad chorines,
dewy-eyed ingenues, ribald one-liners and the golden tones
of a brash young tenor.
The plot of "42nd Street" follows the course of "Pretty
Lady" from auditions to opening night, with a keen sense of
theater. Catty chorus girls (Una Merkel & Ginger Rogers)
sling slurs at unsuspecting would-be chorines, amongst them
a fresh-from-the-country Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler in a
stunning film debut). Peggy follows the "advice" of these
quick-wits and ends up walking in on a half-clad Dick
Powell, he of the over-ripe tenor pipes. Following this
"cute" meeting, Peggy is promptly cast in the chorus of
"Pretty Lady," and troubles double: when the leading lady, a
beautiful Bebe Daniels injures her foot, it is up to little
Peggy Sawyer to save the show, and save the day.
Warner's release of "42nd Street" boasts one of the most
pleasing black & white transfers in existence. Very few
signs of the age of this film are evident, thanks to a
direct digital transfer from the restored original camera
negative. Blacks are solid throughout, with a pleasant
emphasis on the grayscale. One or two occasional speckles
will appear, but nothing to distract from the otherwise
gorgeous transfer. Clothing patterns occasionally moire as
well, but not enough to strike a complaint. "42nd Street" in
its digital format probably looks better today than it did
Taken directly from the optical audio tracks, the film is
presented in firmly centered 1 channel Dolby Digital. With
only a minor hiss here and there, the soundtrack more than
lives up to the picture quality.
For fans of the time period, three remarkable extras are
featured: "Harry Warren: America's Foremost Composer," a
virtual mini-movie musical, "Hollywood Newsreel," and "A
Trip Through a Hollywood Studio," where we even get to meet
"42nd Street's" choreographer - - Busby Berkeley. A cute
trailer is also included, but don't forget to check out the
"Notes on Busby Berkeley" and the sentimental "Coda."
Full of song and dance, well at least the second half,
which is ALL song and dance, "42nd Street" marked the
beginning of a new era of musical films. Ruby Keeler made
her film debut as Peggy Sawyer, a hefty role for a newcomer,
and in my humble opinion, ALMOST carries it off. What Ruby
lacked in talent, she more than made up for in dedication.
Not the greatest dancer, not the best looking kid and with a
voice that wouldn't carry past the first row un-ampliphied,
Ruby tears into the musical numbers with an energy that
cannot adequately be put into words. She becomes "Peggy
Sawyer" only when in the film's musical numbers.
But what musical numbers they are! All standards now,
these productions numbers were staged by veteran Broadway
choreographer, Busby Berkeley, also making his cinematic
debut. Of course, none of what Mr. B.'s imagination came up
with could EVER fit on a Broadway stage, "42nd Street's"
camera-work would be made bigger and gaudier by Berkeley
throughout the remainder of his years with Warners. Though
"42nd Street" boasts no mirrored-floor shots, the fluent
camera work that would be a near trade-mark for Busby, is
shown here in it's infancy.
Frothy songs such as "You're Getting to Be a Habit with
Me," "Shuffle off to Buffalo," "Young and Healthy" and the
dazzling title song - - tap danced to a tee by Ruby Keeler
on top of a taxicab - - make this film a must-see for
musical theater fans. Warner Home Video's nearly immaculate
transfer of the film, makes this one a title to buy and
savor over and over again as we take up that invitation to
"Come and meet those dancing feet!"
(5/5, NOT included in
NOT an average)