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Gold Diggers of 1937

Gold Diggers of 1937

Gold Diggers of 1937

1936 / 101min / 35mm

DIRECTOR: LLOYD BACON

CAST: DICK POWELL, JOAN BLONDELL, GLENDA FARRELL, VICTOR MOORE

Gold Diggers of 1937 is a screwball comedy, directed by Lloyd Bacon, with filmic genius Busby Berkeley handling the major production numbers such as the party scene where numerous couples break into song and the final production number where all is fair in love and war, which tries to equate the two and also denature the harsher memories of The Great War, more than half-a-dozen years before World War II transformed the designation “The Great War” into World War I. In the film a group of penniless women, only one of whom wants what we would recognize as a real job, are nevertheless the driving machinery behind the development of all the major incidents—using the money of the men who work.

If there is one serious note in the film, it comes at the 71st minute when Genevieve Lark, played by Glenda Farrell, declares, “It’s so hard to be good under the capitalistic system.” The film is about Lee Dixon’s dancing and Dick Powell’s dislike of insurance, even though, however comedically, he is roped into the capitalistic system much the same as the heroines Genevieve and Norma Perry (played by a very young Joan Blondell). The formal integrity of the final production number is in the image of the erasure of “No Man’s Land” and “No Woman’s Land” when the two rows of men and women collide. In that number, besides the usual cascade of female and male bodies and mostly feminine faces and smiles, there are also sudden displacements of scale to encompass Dixon’s Boop Oglethorp’s tap-dancing: Lee Dixon again. At the same time, the “theater” in which we watch all this unfold has no physical delimitations so that it appears far larger on the inside than it does on the outside. We see a number both close up and far away that has far more people than could ever fit on an actual Broadway stage, where it is presumably occurring. Genevieve’s plummet from gold digger to truth teller and Victor Moore’s (Mr. Hobart) rise up out of his slapstick hypochondria to become downright sympathetic—if not heroic—are remarkably satisfying given the absurdities of the caricatures.

The justification of the final number is one that supported dozens and dozens of films, which turned on the line, “Hey, come on, kids! Let’s put on a show!” with Dick Powell preceded by dozens of actors in similar structural roles ranging from Bobby Breen to Mickey Rooney.

The eruption of precision movement is what will go on to produce the endlessly popular dancing of the Radio City Rockettes, raised to exponential complexity of the sort you only get in an Esther Williams film (there is a hint of it in the party scene with the swimmers appearing in their backstroke one after the other in the pool) or, indeed, in half-a-dozen other Berkeley extravaganzas, in any number of his other sumptuous production numbers, in any of his Ruby Keeler or Eleanor and Dick Powell vehicles.

Notes by Samuel R. Delany

Screening in the series Delanymania.