I'm personally not a huge fan of musicals as a general rule, but there have been a few things I've encountered in my cinematic travels that have changed my mind a little. First off, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. These two have the potential to convert non-musical fans via the power of their grace and skill alone. The other person that hooked my interest in some musical films was Busby Berkeley. I'm sure that even those that aren't totally familiar with the films he worked on may have seen some bits here and there. Busby Berkeley is a name that is sadly lesser known to non-cinephile's despite his vast impact as a stylist that has carried into a lot of contemporary cinema today. Films as disparate as Spielberg's INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM the Coen Brothers' THE BIG LEBOWSKI and Disney's animated BEAUTY AND THE BEAST all pay loving tribute to Berkeley and his pinache for staging. One of my favorite bands (The Magnetic Fields) even wrote a song about him ("Busby Berkeley Dreams"). The words "visionary" and "genius" are thrown about a lot and thus diluted a bit, but Busby Berkeley was certainly both. Though he apparently couldn't dance a step himself, he managed to choreograph and film some of the most delightful and surreal sequences in all of musical cinema. He was truly a master of "making the camera dance" as it were. It's been said that, as a director, Berkeley could be somewhat unsympathetic to his actors especially in terms of the demands he made of them (many many takes, complicated camera setups). That said and as much as I do feel for the actors, I must admit that what he brought to the screen in his films is still truly dazzling. As much as I think of more contemporary directors and more prolific movers of the camera, Berkeley was certainly no slouch in this department. Though Lloyd Bacon is the credited director on this film and he's certainly overshadowed by Berkeley here (as he was in his film FOOTLIGHT PARADE). Bacon was certainly a workhorse director for Warners though and cranked out a ton of movies for them in his day. He made a handful of Edward G. Robinson movies I really like such as LARCENY, INC., BROTHER ORCHID and A SLIGHT CASE OF MURDER. So Bacon is certainly a capable director when it comes to comedy and other genres, but I can't deny that the parts where 42ND STREET bursts off the screen are the dance numbers. I always forget every time I watch the film that there's all that talking and setup and rehearsals at the front that makes me start asking, "When are we gonna see some Busby Berkeley action?". That's just me being impatient though cause the setup stuff is still pretty jovial and witty and it features Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers, and Ruby Keeler at the pinnacle of her ridiculous adorableness. The backup cast includes pros like Una Merkel, Guy Kibbee and the always reliable Allen Jenkins. I just noticed that the budget was estimated at about $439,000 (which translates to something like $8 Million in today's dollars) and it grossed around $2,250,000 (in the ballpark of $40 Million today). Since $8 Million movies rarely get made today, I guess it wouldn't have been made, which is a shame.
First off, I should mention that this Warner Archive Blu-ray looks quite nice. I know they have a high standard for their Blu-rays and this one is right in line with their best. There are a number of supplements on this disc as well:
-"From Book to Screen to Stage" (18 mins) a retrospective featurette tracing 42ND STREET from its roots as a novel through it becoming a film and the context of what Warner Bros was making at the time.
-Hollywood Newsreel (9 mins) a vintage newsreel.
-"A Trip Thru a Hollywood Studio" (10 mins) vintage short that takes the viewer on a journey through Hollywood, touching on Fox, RKO, Warner Bros, Paramount, MGM and Universal. Lots of aerial footage of each of them.
-"Harry Warren: America's Foremost Composer" (9 mins) quick clip of a club scene featuring composer Harry Warren (who did music in 42ND STREET) playing piano and singing with some backup singers and dancers.
"The 42nd Street Special" (6 mins) vintage short about a train that Warner Bros used to take a whole bunch of its stars and execs to President Roosevelt's
inauguration in Washington D.C.
"Young and Healthy" (8 mins) a vintage Merrie Melodies cartoon.