His Dark Materials
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Quite a lot of ingenuity and talent in "Footlight Parade". A picture never replicated and one that should be seen by generations to come. Genius.
The best musical movie ever made!
James Cagney stars as a producer of stage musicals who finds the demand for his product diminished by the growth of the movie business. He figures out that there's a market for staging musical numbers between the showing of films, and creates a business that tours these numbers around the country. A wonderfully frenetic showbiz comedy musical that has an amazing cast. Joan Blondell plays Cagney's secretary who loves Cagney despite him never noticing. Dick Powell plays a young man who gets a job due to family connections with the company management and starts a love/hate relationship with Ruby Keeler as an office girl turned musical star. Frank McHugh, Guy Kibbee and Hugh Herbert all have strong supporting comic performances. The plot builds up to the staging of 3 incredible musical numbers staged by Busby Berkeley ,,, each quite different and showing off different aspects of his talent. A very young Billy Barty appears in the first of these.
What a gem! Saw it in the TCM's on demand line-up, started it and just was transfixed. Dated, but in a timeless way that goes back not just to the 1930's but to what it must have been like in vaudeville. Cagney is in top form and terrifically supported by Blondell, Keeler and a all round great cast. Powell is ok, being not nearly as annoying as he usually is. Great music/dance numbers with pussy cats, a honeymoon hotel, a waterfall and - the topper - Shanghai Lil. All of it wrapped up in snappy, risqué dialogue.
9 out of 10:
Imperfect but still funny and well acted. Plus the dance scenes at the end are so worth it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."