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The quintessential "backstage" musical, 42ND STREET traces the history of a Broadway musical comedy, from casting call to opening night. Warner Baxter plays famed director Julian Marsh, who despite failing health is determined to stage one last great production, "Pretty Lady." Others involved include "Pretty Lady" star Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels); Dorothy's "sugar daddy" (Guy Kibbee), who finances the show; her true love Pat (George Brent); leading man Billy Lawlor (Dick Powell); and starry-eyed chorus girl Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler). It practically goes without saying that Dorothy twists her ankle the night before the premiere, forcing Julian Marsh is to put chorine Peggy into the lead: "You're going out there a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!" Delightfully corny, with hilarious wisecracking support from the likes of Ginger Rogers, Una Merkel, and George E. Stone, 42ND STREET is perhaps the most famous of Warners' early-1930s Busby Berkeley musicals. Based on the novel by Bradford Ropes (which was a lot steamier than the movie censors would allow), 42ND STREET is highlighted by such grandiose musical setpieces as "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," "Young and Healthy," and of course the title song. Nearly fifty years after its premiere, it was successfully revived as a Broadway musical with Tammy Grimes and Jerry Orbach. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Disc #1 -- 42nd Street
Cast & Crew
"Harry Warren: America's Foremost Composer"
"Trip Through a Hollywood Studio"
Art Director - Jack Okey
Book Author - Bradford Ropes
Choreography - Busby Berkeley
Cinematographer - Sol Polito
Costume Designer - Orry-Kelly
First Assistant Director - Gordon Hollingshead
Makeup - Perc Westmore
Musical Direction/Supervision - Leo F. Forbstein
Songwriter - Alexis Dubin
Songwriter - Harry Warren
Sound/Sound Designer - Nathan Levinson
If MGM's 1929 "The Broadway Melody" invented the musical, Warner Bros.' 42ND STREET saved it. The four years between the two movies had seen the genre driven practically into the ground, as the studios, still struggling with synchronized sound and what to do about it, ground out one ill-advised musical after another, few terribly good as music and most even less impressive as movies. It had gotten so bad that by 1932, theater owners were protecting their box office with signs announcing, for any "suspect" title, "NOT A MUSICAL!" It was into that environment in 1933 that Warner Bros. released 42ND STREET, directed by Lloyd Bacon and choreographed by Busby Berkeley--and it revived and revolutionized the whole musical genre, by taking it to the long-delayed next step. It was during the making of "The Broadway Melody" that filmmakers discovered that they could separate the shooting of a musical number from the recording of its music. Berkeley and cinematographer Sol Polito took this notion to the next step by removing the camera from the studio floor. Under their direction, shots were done from overhead angles and other locations from which no person could ever actually observe in real life, and the dancers' motions were, in turn, designed to exploit those angles; in effect, they created the true movie musical, as opposed to a musical that happened to be on film. Bacon's direction of the dialogue portions of the story, with both dramatic and comic content, was also very sure, no surprise for a man later responsible for dramas like The Fighting Sullivans and comedies with Red Skelton, which meant that the movie held up even when there was no dancing or singing on the screen; and when there was, the music by Harry Warren and Al Dubin was downright clever; and the acting, though a little broad by modern standards, was of first caliber, also unusual for a musical, ranging from serious dramatic lead Warner Baxter to comic relief from George E. Stone as the mousy, lecherous stage manager and Guy Kibbee's befuddled, lecherous backer, with Bebe Daniels, Ruby Keeler, and Ginger Rogers at their most delectable. The audience devoured it, and Warner Bros., Berkeley, and company rose to the occasion of delivering more and better musicals like it for much of the rest of the decade. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
Nathan Levinson : Best Sound - Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sc, 1932-1933