Thursday, October 2, 2008

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1937 (Warner Bros. 1937) Warner Home Video

Based on a play by Richard Maibaum, Lloyd Bacon’s Gold Diggers of 1937 is a fairly light-hearted and amusing musical diversion co-directed by Busby Berkeley. By 1937, Berkeley’s security at Warner Bros., as their foremost choreographer had begun to wane. Cost cutting on the back lot precluded Berkeley from indulging in the sort of lavish spectacle that had accompanied earlier Gold Digger movies in the franchise. But that did not stop Berkeley from creating his inimitable brand of cinema magic.

Plot wise, the film is on very shaky ground. Dick Powell is Rosmer Peck, an insurance agent whose heart just isn’t in his work. He’d rather be a song and dance man. While on a train, Rosmer meets Norma Perry (the very pert and plucky Joan Blondell); or, that is, she meets Rosmer after ducking into his private compartment to escape a pack of horny insurance salesmen who want to get to know her better. Norma has just been cast out of a seedy Vaudeville show. Rosmer promises Norma that his boss, Andy Callahan (William Davidson) will give her a job as a stenographer.

Indeed, Rosmer is true to his word. Norma gets the job and to repay the favor, she inadvertently sends Rosmer out on a false claim to insure Broadway producer J.J. Hobart (Victor Moore). It seems that Hobart is unaware that his partners have lost all of the backing for the new show on the New York stock exchange. At 59, Hobart signs for a $1 million insurance policy to get his money back, equally unaware that he must die to collect. After an assassination attempt by his partners fails, Norma’s girlfriend, Genevieve (Glenda Farrell) begins to develop affections for the wily old gent. But when Hobart learns that he is broke he suffers a breakdown, forcing Rosmer to go on with the show in spite of their obvious lack of money.

Flimsy at best in terms of plot, the screenplay nevertheless finds plenty of smart-cracking one liners for its cast to rattle off, thereby deterring us from the fact that there is very little to sustain our interest. The film’s other saving grace is choreographer Busby Berkeley’s two mind-boggling musical routines that bookend the story; Let’s Put Our Heads Together and All’s Fair In Love and War; the latter taking Berkeley’s days as a drill sergeant in the army to new and extreme heights. Blondell and Powell act as generals in an all out battle of the sexes set to music. Not much substance here, but oh, how style manages to mask that imperfection in a patina of gloss that continues to shine.

Warner Home Video’s DVD is nicely rendered, though not without its imperfections. Process shots in the film’s finale suffer from aliasing and edge enhancement, and there are times when film grain and age related artifacts seem harsh and distracting. Overall, however, the image is adequately rendered with fine detail throughout. Contrast levels are bang on for the most part. The mono audio is adequately represented. The only extras are a few vintage short subjects and a theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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