The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Ant-Man and the Wasp
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All Critics (9)
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It's the third successful teaming of choreographer Busby Berkeley with stars Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler.
generates laughs at a criminal rate
Not the best of the Berkeley Warner musicals, but close.
This is a fantastic film that saves its best for last. It starts off as a good Cagney-Blondell pairing, with him playing a theater producer whose job is in trouble with the advent of "talkies", and her playing his hardworking, intelligent secretary. It ends with a couple of absolutely STUNNING musical numbers choreographed by Busby Berkeley - 'By a Waterfall' and 'Shanghai Lil'. The sets are spectacular, as are the visual effects Berkeley creates with overhead camera shots - just have a look on youtube.
Cagney is a delight to watch in his film, which has him in a role different from his usual gangster typecasting. He's marvelously light on his feet, both when he shows performers how it's done early in the movie, and then later when he 'fills in' for a guy who has had too much to drink to perform 'Shanghai Lil', which is set in a Chinese den of iniquity. The banter and comedy throughout the movie keeps it entertaining, with the exception of Hugh Herbert, who's in a whiny, annoying role. There's also lots of 1933 eye candy here, with dancer's legs, skimpy outfits, and bathing suits abounding, helped along by the movie being pre-Code. Related to that and as a small side note, I thought it was funny to see Claire Dodd, wide-eyed, reading a book called "Naughty Stories" with a vamp on the cover.
As for the other leads, Dick Powell is not my favorite but he's passable, and Ruby Keeler is a joy, playing a cute secretary who transforms into a performer. There are some cringe-inducing moments, including Keeler as an Asian woman during 'Shanghai Lil, singing some broken English lyrics which may make you think of the cliché 'me love you long time' (one of the actual lines: "I miss you very much, a long time, I think that you no love me still"). Earlier in the film, Cagney will brainstorm for themes in his musicals and hit upon one with "African slaves" (after other wacky ideas, e.g. "Frankenstein"), and later, after seeing a bunch of African-American kids playing in the water from a fire hydrant, he'll quip "That's what [we] need - a modern waterfall splashing on beautiful white bodies." You have to forgive the film for those transgressions, which are relatively small for the time period.
Overall - very entertaining and an absolute blast in some places, with Cagney and Berkeley turning in outstanding work. Great film.
fun and funny musical with cagney and dick powell. mindblowing busby berkeley numbers in the second half. the last one includes an opium den. also i think joan blondell called claire dodd a bitch :O
Everybody is full of boundless energy and the musical numbers are truly awesome.
Out of Busby Berkeley's early trifecta this is easily his weakest of his plots, but the most imaginative of the musical numbers. But give me the gritty, earthy tap dancing to ridiculous water-sprite synchronized swimming anyway. Doesn't James Cagney remind you of Orson Welles sometimes?
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