Gold Diggers of 1933 is a classic musical with a goofy, fun charm anchored by several lavish Busby Berkeley numbers and a lively story. The film opens on Gingers Rogers's beaming face as she sings “We're in the Money” with a trail chorus of girls in tiny coin costumes tap dancing behind her. The irony (we quickly discover when rehearsal gets shut down by the coppers) is that no one is really in the money at all – it's the Depression, darling, and Barney, the show's producer, hasn't paid his bills.
This leaves our four little actresses: innocent Polly (Ruby Keeler), sultry Fay (Rogers), sassy Carol (Joan Blondell), and the magnificently named Trixie Lorraine (Aline MacMahon) who's wise and funny (she remarks a portly dance partner: “Why, you're as light as a?heifer,”) out of work until Barney can come up with the money for a new show. Enter Dick Powell as Brad Roberts, the seemingly hard up neighbor and songwriter who comes to their rescue. But how? Did he rob a bank to impress his sweetheart, Polly? Or is there some other secret he's been hiding?
We find out soon enough (though I won't spoil it for you here), but the story roller-coasters through mistaken identity, star crossed love affairs, and more than one topsy turvy romance. Chorus girls and high society men mix even though the upper class considers our heroines to be “parasites”, “chiselers”, and “gold diggers”. While much of the story, despite its considerable age, is still relatable and surprisingly fresh, humorously enough the one bit of life that's changed the most is high society's aversion to fame and entertainment. Nowadays the rich can't wait to be splashed all over TV and date celebrities.
Also, even in a Depression, the clothing is spectacular here – even a “bad dress” sports amazing sleeve details and tailoring, while more fun frocks (particularly worn by the statuesque Blondell) are wild and stunning. In one scene two of the girls, in a ruse to fool a couple of Boston high society men, insist on new adorable hats and refuse to leave the apartment with out corsages – corsages, I might add that sit prettily atop fur stoles at lavish night clubs.
The cast is wonderful and I was particularly taken with Warren William's leading man snob (see this week's hunk), but the musical numbers are the real show stealers. The first, “Petting in the Park” features: kissing monkeys, dapper singing cops, roller-skating girls, a freaky man-baby on roller-skates, an on-stage blizzard and rainstorms, a strip tease in silhouette, innumerable garter belts, and bathing suits made of tin!
Another number “The Shadow Waltz” is kind of a boring song, but it's saved by discus skirts and neon violins! The final number, “Remember My Forgotten Man” is the best song and Joan Blondell's spoken word lament reminds us of the actual pains the Depression brought so many.
This popular film spawned three sequels that I haven't seen yet.