Busby Berkeley worked with director Mervyn LeRoy to create another classic Hollywood backstage musical. Based on a successful Broadway show, Gold Diggers of 1933 follows the adventures of four aspiring female actors who will go to almost any ends to find fame or fortune against the backdrop of the Great Depression. The film famously contains the classic number We’re in the Money.
This film is one of our Staff Picks! Read on to find out what HOME’s very own have to say…
Musicals! HOME Staff Pick: Garry Watson, Chief Projectionist
“The period between approximately 1929-1934 in American film history is usually referred to as the pre-code era. The production code was established by Hollywood studios to regulate ‘indecent’ content in American films; this included portrayals of sexuality, drug and alcohol consumption, violence against the law, salaciousness, and pretty much anything else which (in their eyes) would bring down the very structure of society. But during this period it wasn’t actually legally enforced, so many studios simply ignored it. This golden age produced a plethora of wonderful and free spirited movies, the like of which soon disappeared in 1934 when the code was amended. From that point on a seal of approval was required and the films changed accordingly…
Gold Diggers of 1933 (dir. Mervyn LeRoy and Busby Berkeley) may well be the absolute quintessential Depression era pre-code musical. Made the same year as 42nd Street (in 1933!) but released a few months earlier, it features the classic song We’re in the Money, sung by Ginger Rogers in the fantastic opening sequence. And, as this is a pre-code film, it blatantly disregards the production code of the day. In other words, it’s slightly racy… and it’s a joy from beginning to end.
1933 was a particularly strong year for American pictures, especially Warner Brothers films. There was much pre-code gold to be found there. That year alone saw the release of King Kong, Bombshell with Jean Harlow, the scandalous Baby Face with Barbara Stanwyck, The Marx Brother’s Duck Soup, Laurel and Hardy’s Sons of the Desert, Design for Living, Queen Christina with Greta Garbo, I’m No Angel with Mae West… and dozens more. Many of these films pushed the edicts of the code as far they could, but by 1934 the party was effectively over, and the code was pretty much adhered to until the mid-sixties.
In the classic 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, the Barrow gang take refuge in a movie house after a particularly fraught bank robbery, in which a man is killed; the film showing is Gold Diggers of 1933, and its opening number We’re in the Money plays out over the scene. I mention this because it was probably my first introduction to Gold Diggers (I first saw Bonnie and Clyde in around 1973) and made me want to seek it out… and pretty much every other Warner Brothers (and non-Warner Brothers) pre-code film I could get my hands on. I’ve a cupboard full of them now. They’re all over the place. And I still buy them.
But Gold Diggers of 1933 is still my favourite early 1930s musical, although I’m probably more predisposed towards the gangster and horror films, comedies, and dramas of the period generally. But this one has the songs, the spirit of the times, the charming performances of Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers and, of course, the dazzling Busby Berkeley production numbers.
It’s a classic for sure.”
Screening as part of BFI Musicals! The Greatest Show on Screen, a UK-wide film season supported by National Lottery, BFI Film Audience Network and ICO.