So, I’ve been trying to re-watch a lot of films lately. And for some reason, this was one of those films that I kept forgetting to re-watch. I saw it millions of years ago, probably 2009 or 2010, and then I just forgot to watch it again. I liked it the first time, so I don’t know why I left it this long. But this week, I finally saw 42nd Street again.
The grand-daddy of all showbiz musicals takes us through the production, rehearsals and backstage antics of Pretty Lady, Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter)’s last Broadway show. At the last minute, newcomer Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler) has to replace leading lady Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels), when the latter breaks her ankle. Welcome to show-business.
Despite it being a great film overall and throughout, it’s the final moments that firmly cement 42nd Street in its iconic place. Those wonderful, extravagant, lavish Busby Berkeley numbers that everybody loves, not to mention Ruby Keeler’s rendition of the title number. This is what makes 42nd Street what it is. The plot it as straight-forward as can be, and some say there are a few clichés here and there. And of course there are, but this is where they came from.
I like those 1930s showbiz movies (Stage Door (1937) comes to mind). I think they’re as timeless and current as ever. I’m talking about the ‘behind-the-scenes’. You know, sleazy producers, casting couches and all that. I mean, sure, 42nd Street is lovely and adorable and full of great numbers, but it also shines a light on that, with plenty of suggestive scenes and carefully placed innuendo. Right off the bat, in the opening scene, Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee), the show’s producer, tells Dorothy that he wants her to do something for him… Cut to the next scene, and we see that they’re going ahead with the stupidly named Pretty Lady and that it’s going to be a success. Obviously.
I like 42nd Street. It’s not one of my biggest favorites (no particular reason), but I like it. I’m glad I could finally watch it again, after so many years. I like this ‘re-watching’ thing. When your ‘to re-watch’ list gets nearly as big as your ‘to-watch’ list, it’s quite nice to finally get through it.