One of the best musical comedies of the 1930's, "Gold Diggers of 1933" pulls off quite a difficult feat: it has the Great Depression is a huge component to the plot. Yet, it stills manages to have the feel-good tenderness and zany humor a musical should have. It features show-stopping musical numbers, great tunes, and fantastic comedic performances. It packs a heck of a punch, and it's only 96 minutes long.
The film focuses around three gorgeous young showgirls; the sexy Carol (Joan Blondell), ingenue Polly (Ruby Keeler), and the wisecracking Trixie (Aline MacMahon). Unfortunately, the show they were performing in gets shut down, thanks to the spiraling economy. So they're out of the job; but things quickly pick up.
The women's neighbor, Brad (Dick Powell), is a songwriter, and he mysteriously funds their new show. He falls deeply in love with Polly, and of course she does back. As it turns out, Brad comes from a family of wealth, and so his elder brother (Warren William), who gives him most of his money, is suspicious that Polly is just a gold digger.
But fear not! Polly's friends aren't as dumb as the public might view them. They devise a scheme to distract Brad's brother from the truth, and so Carol pretends to be Polly while Trixie romances his partner in crime. Yet somehow, everything works out in the end.
Around the time the Great Depression rolled around, films never focused on what was truly happening in America, and instead made sure that everything on the screen was highly sophisticated -- not to mention the fact that 90% of movies had characters that were super rich (it's not hard to look towards the Astaire & Rogers movies). "Gold Diggers of 1933" flips that mindset completely around, and it's somewhat ingenious.
After all, the film focuses around a group of showgirls eager to get jobs after the economic drop lost them. The film itself ended up being one of the highest-grossing films of 1933, and it's easy to see why. While the movie itself did feature some of the most glamorous stars of the day, they portrayed characters that were believable and relatable. It's refreshing even today to see that a filmmaker such as Mervyn LeRoy could see that real-life didn't have to be romanticized for audiences to fall in love.
Though "Gold Diggers of 1933" DOES boast self-referential intelligence, it still is one of the most dazzling musicals of all-time. One of famed choreographer's Busby Berekley's first gigantically popular films, the routines are simply marvelous to look at. The opening "We're in the Money" number features beautiful girls dressed to the nines in coin-themed costumes, pulling off dance moves not even thought of today, while Ginger Rogers sings the theme of the routine with glee. The highlight for sure, is the closing showpiece, the touching "Remember My Forgotten Man," which pays tribute to those we lost in World War I. Though these two numbers are certainly excellent, the total four of them are so outrageous that it would be impossible to praise them highly enough. Berkeley has outdone himself here.
Sure, what happens on stage in the film is most likely too over-the-top to really be serious, but "Gold Diggers of 1933" is a movie; and it's a great one. It's rare that a musical can be so intelligent while still being lightweight, spectacular, and downright funny.