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42nd Street

review by Anthony D.

 

Studio: Warner

Running Time: 89 minutes

Starring Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, Una Merkel and Ruby Keeler

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, Chapter Search

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 in 1933.

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 final score)

(4.5/5)

(3/5)

(3/5)

(4/5, NOT an average)

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