42nd Street

Dir. Lloyd Bacon; writ. Bradford Ropes (novel), Rian James & James Seymour; feat. Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, George Brent, Ruby Keeler, Guy Kibbee, Ginger Rogers (NR)

"Jones and Barry are doing a show! Jones and Barry are doing a show!"

Few of us live in a world where news of an upcoming stage production sets tongues wagging. For those who wish they did, the backstage musical is one of Hollywood's greatest creations. The once-flourishing genre transports viewers to an age when Broadway really mattered - all for a tiny fraction of the price of plane fare, dinner at Elaine's, and a Times Square hotel room.

42nd Street
Tuesday, January 27
$10 Texas Public Radio members
$12 non-members
The Bijou at Crossroads Theatre
4522 Fredericksburg 737-0291
42nd Street stands as one of the genre's best-known films, and its plot elements read like a recipe: Take one lecherous financier, suspiciously friendly with the leading lady; one brilliant director for whom the play's success is a matter of life or death; and one girl straight off the bus whose shyness hides a truckload of moxie. Stir together with backbiting and wisecracking, two- and three-timing stage door romances, and a pinch of mobster menace, and let simmer. Then - wait for it! - have the star of the show sprain her ankle the morning of opening night.

If the plot and atmosphere are familiar, with certain tropes ("You're going out there a youngster, but you've got to come back a star.") feeling as ritualistic as Christmas mass, the movie surprises with the occasional left-field zinger ("He looks like a Bulgarian boll weevil mourning his first born.") or unusually frank sexual innuendo.

It also derives charm from its own flaws: A long party sequence features some of the worst drunk-acting in history; the ingénue is a horrible flirt, and her introduction to Suitor Number Three is clumsier than a cow on roller skates; the ladies in the chorus sing like the Little Rascals. (All the folks who like to say of contemporary musicals that "so-and-so can't sing" should take a look at the genre's landmarks.)

And it has Busby Berkeley, the legendary choreographer who convinced studios to let him direct the filming of his routines. Berkeley creates winning set-ups for memorable songs like "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" and the title tune, but it is on the weaker ditty "Young and Healthy" that he really wows us - with an astonishing set piece incorporating three concentric revolving platforms, dozens of dancers, and Berkeley's trademark overhead camera. (Big Lebowski fans will grin at the scene's final camera-through-legs shot.) Broadway may be a bloated, Disneyfied shadow of its former self these days, but 42nd Street lives on. •

Scroll to read more Movie Reviews & News articles
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join SA Current Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.