From director Mervyn LeRoy comes this all-at-once serious and hilarious Depression-era film. Gold Diggers of 1933 is based on the play by Avery Hopwood and choreographed by Busby Berkeley, featuring a fantastic cast and extravagant musical numbers.
The cast and crew of a new Broadway show suddenly find themselves unemployed when the set and costumes of their show are all confiscated due to unpaid bills. Led by a few fiesty chorus girls named Carol (Joan Blondell), Polly (Ruby Keeler) and Trixie (Aline MacMahon), the gang struggles to create jobs for themselves by putting on a new show.
The trick is, they must write the show and find a financial backer for it first. Luck befalls them when Polly enlists her friend Brad (Dick Powell) to write the music, only to find that he has been hiding from his very rich family to pursue his stage-oriented dreams. Hijinks and romance ensue as the girls plot to make better lives for themselves, hopefully with help from Brad and his family.
The ensemble cast of this film is top-notch. Blondell and MacMahon give particularly funny performances that endear the audience to themselves as actresses and to their characters, but stellar performances are given across the board.
Some of the work is done for them, in the already hilarious and very forward dialogue (particularly from the three main chorus girls) and charming musical numbers, which require no elevation from the cast in order to be great on their own.
However, the delivery still works to push everything over-the-top. With perfectly on-point performances, the viewer is given a sense of fun and excitement, which in combination with the believability and charisma of the cast makes for a very enjoyable viewing experience.
Hilarity aside, the romantic element of the film also works very well. Each couple has very good chemistry, and the budding romances are adorable to watch.
But the real kicker here comes from the fact that Gold Diggers of 1933 is Depression-based through and through, and not afraid in the least to show it. While providing an escapist outlet for audiences during its original run through its comedic moments and songs, the film does not ignore the issues that the country was dealing with at the time in the least.
In fact, it very starkly makes note of the Depression on more than one occasion – from the way that the original show is halted, to the struggle to find the finances for a new show, to the very unconventional ending. The final musical number is unlike any other that I’ve seen in a musical film, and very explicitly discusses the country’s troubles.
Gold Diggers of 1933 is, on one hand, a very fluffy and fun watch. But at the same time it is fantastically intense, and is a rarity in the way that it handles the subject matter of the Great Depression.
The score: 5/5