Footlight Parade - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Footlight Parade Reviews

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Antonius Block
Super Reviewer
½ October 23, 2016
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.
August 22, 2016
The music is nice, but nothing is quite memorable. I was visually impressed by the water musical sequence with the swimmers, which is the best thing about the film. Aside from that it's not something I would watch again. (First and only viewing - 6/30/2010)
August 20, 2016
Wonderful musical prologues, especially the gigantic cast waterfall/pool number. Last of the pre-code comedy banter as well. Cagney and especially Blondell are great. Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler together again.
June 2, 2016
Footlight Parade is the story of a theater producer who moves into the business of producing prologues, which apparently are short stage shows that the movie houses would present before the feature film. The greatness of this film basically begins and ends with the marvelous musical dance numbers that were choreographed by the amazing Busby Berkeley. In particular there is one routine in the water (to the tune of "By a Waterfall") which had me positively dumbstruck. The story of the film feels like a rather unimaginative stage play, and the way the characters interact just reinforces that feeling. In many ways this is something that could easily be pulled off in a theater production because there are limited sets, and the dialogue and overall plot would fit in with other Broadway-style musicals. But those final 3 dance numbers that we are shown are the one thing that could never have the same impact unless you see them presented on film. Perhaps that's another flaw of Footlight Parade, because it seems to imply that all these prologues are some kind of live performance, but the way it is presented would never work for an audience in a theater to see, particularly the one in the pool.

To reiterate, the music numbers were one of a kind. I only wish they were scattered throughout the picture, instead of lumped one-after-another at the end. Also when you have a truly remarkable number like "By a Waterfall" it should be the finale of your film, but they actually sandwich it in the middle of the three big performances. I understand why they did it story-wise, because they wanted the moment that James Cagney took the stage to be momentous and be the thing that turns the tide, but it didn't work for me as a final climax. Speaking of Cagney, I think he does good enough with what he's given. He might have an overly gruff personality for some of the more delicate moments he is given, but when he takes on his "partners" it is a moment that totally suits him. Joan Blondell is charming but under-utilized. I think most of the humorous moments were because of her character, and she did well with that. Honestly I didn't have any huge problems with the cast, the sets, or the cinematography. I just didn't care about the story. I was uninterested, and I genuinely think that offering those big brash musical numbers more frequently might have made the experience better.
October 28, 2014
With James Cagney dancing for the first time on screen, Joan Blondell cracking wise as only she could, and 100 chorus girls swimming through a gigantic studio tank in the spectacular 'By A Waterfall' number, this is the ultimate Warner Bros. musical.
October 4, 2014
Rapid-fire dialogue and the presence of James Cagney elevates this Warner Bros. backstage musical to perfection; Busby Berkeley production numbers include "Shanghai Lil," "Honeymoon Hotel," and the spectacular "By a Waterfall."
July 13, 2014
Just great movie fun, with a little of everything. Spectacular show numbers.
March 29, 2014
This classic Warner Brothers musical is the third and last of 1933 to be choreographed by Busby Berkeley, and he does a bang-up job. The musical numbers are so elaborate and unique that it is amazing the man pulled all of this, "42nd Street" and "Gold Diggers of 1933" in one year. This was probably my favorite of the three films because James Cagney gives such a great performance in the leading role. He is charismatic and fast paced and holds the whole picture together, even if none of the songs are as good as "We're In the Money" or "42nd Street". Classic Hollywood in it's finest form.
½ March 20, 2014
Although extremely fast-paced and sometimes confusing to follow, Footlight Parade is still before it's time in cinema. Catchy musical numbers and work from a talented James Cagney made this film really something.
½ December 8, 2013
Only interesting in the last 3rd of the film when it gets to the real musical numbers. The water sequence is pretty amazing for 1933, something they won't get back to until Ester Williams in the 50's; it's ridiculous that we're supposed to believe it's all happening on a theater stage (as a "prologue" show before a movie no less), but it doesn't truly matter. This is probably the least impressed I've been with Cagney, but I think it's a fault on the script and not on his acting or potential charisma, the movie unfortunately just fails to utilize Cagney's full potential.
June 24, 2013
Here is another Busby Berkeley spectacular from Warner Brothers. This time, Jimmy Cagney plays the musical theatre impresario who is on the ropes, struggling to stay in business against competition from the new rage of "talkies" that has eliminated the audience for musicals. So, he creates "prologues" (basically song and dance numbers) to run before the film and he rolls these out across the country using performing "units". Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell are here to sing and dance and there is the usual bevy of showgirls. Oddly, the Berkeley numbers are saved for the final 30 minutes and they are pretty great (and somewhat lewd) as usual; all symmetrical designs formed by arms and legs and shot from above to look like flowers and even patriotic symbols. Cagney can dance (as later displayed in Yankee Doodle Dandy) but I still prefer Gold Diggers of 1933.
May 20, 2013
Very fun movie with great musical numbers. Be forewarned, there is so period racism in the film. Well written, well acted, amazing film. Highly recommended to fans of movie musicals.
May 6, 2013
Quite frankly, the best choreography I've ever seen.
February 11, 2013
Choreography is top notch here with good music and a decent story. If you like it 42nd Street is more of the same. Fountain scene alone is worth it.
January 13, 2013
James Cagney + Dick Powell + Busby Berkeley = Hellyeah!
½ January 5, 2013
towards the end it becomes incredibly hard to sit through. leading up to that, "footlight parade" isn't terrible, but it's also not good enough to make up for it's overly long and boring conclusion.
October 30, 2012
Cagney's theatrical acts are impressive and its musicale is vividly entertaining.
August 15, 2012
This is an example of one of those "super cutesie" type of flicks. Every character is loveable and silly in their own way. Though the Busby Berkeley dance numbers aren't the best, the achievement of complexity and style is still in others choreographers left field.
August 14, 2012
the BEST busby berkley's 3 pic 4 WB.
½ April 15, 2012
An outstanding film with great choreography and funny charming story led by the amazing James Cagney.
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