Footlight Parade (1933)

1933 was a very good year for Joan Blondell, who starred in both Footlight Parade and one of its big competitors, Gold Diggers of 1933. (Image via Doctor Macro)

Chester Kent has been flopping on Broadway, so it’s time for a slight career change.

He gets a new gig as the creator of prologues, which are performed in movie theaters before the feature presentation. Chester comes up with the brilliant idea of staging prologues that can be shown around the country, at any theater.

In order to impress the theater circuit interested in his idea, Kent’s business partners put the pressure on him to put together three spectacular prologues. (Those three end up to be the now-famous Busby Berkeley musical numbers “Honeymoon Hotel,” “By a Waterfall” and my personal favorite, “Shanghai Lil.”)

Faced with the task of creating a large number of prologues that can be shown country-wide and sure that there’s a mole leaking information to a competitor, Chester has become more than a little bit overwhelmed by his work – so overwhelmed that he doesn’t realize his secretary, Nan, has been in love with him all along.

Lloyd Bacon directs this spectacular 1933 musical, Footlight Parade. James Cagney gets back to his song-and-dance roots (and is just as impressive as he is in his “tough guy” persona) as Chester Kent, and Joan Blondell stars as ever-supportive Nan. Also appearing are Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell (who are adorable, as usual).

This mix of Cagney with a slew of wonderful staple performers of the musical genre in the ’30s makes for very high expectations. Cagney and Blondell, the leads here, are two of my absolute favorite actors. They’re always delightful to see on screen, whether together as a power couple or appearing separately, and both of them do an amazing job here.

The amazing human waterfall from “By a Waterfall” (Image via Doctor Macro)

I was instantly drawn in by the cast, but the film itself draws the viewer in as well with its high energy and aura of excitement. The song and dance numbers are very fun. In typical Busby style, they’re absolutely extravagant. Flashy costumes and sets catch the viewer’s eye and hold our attention.

There is no way the three huge, signature numbers could have been performed in an actual movie theater, but they are beautifully executed and fun to watch, so it’s easy for the viewer to suspend reality for a moment and pretend that they could actually work as prologues.

That being said, this is a show biz musical through and through, so those who aren’t interested in the behind-the-scenes goings-on will likely find the plot to be dull.

Though Cagney and Blondell’s eventual romance is certainly a big part of the film, it takes a back seat to the drama surrounding the creation of the prologues until the film nears its end. The jealousy and snarky-ness of Blondell’s character is a consistent undercurrent to the film, and they do get together eventually, but I wouldn’t consider this a strictly romantic musical.

Footlight Parade is a wonderful piece of work. It isn’t my favorite from any of the performers or from the Depression era, but it’s a good film with a gripping story and wonderful performances, especially from Cagney and Blondell. The score: 3.5/5

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8 thoughts on “Footlight Parade (1933)

  1. Lindsey, your site is ‘cleaning up’ quite nicely…very sharp! And it took me a moment to figure it out what you’d done with the photo header, but I love how it changes with every page (and yes, I recognized ‘Queen of Outer Space’ and ‘North by Northwest’ up there).

    And now, thanks to this review, I now have been introduced to and educated on prologues! Never heard of such a thing before…and interesting that they based a movie’s plot on it.

    Stellar work with all of your reviews, by the way…you do a great job of making them both informative and entertaining. I have a hard enough time writing one review per week for my site…how you do it nearly every day, along with school and work and sleep, is simply amazing.

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    • Thank you so much, Todd! I didn’t know much about prologues either until I watched this film. It’s an interesting little tidbit of forgotten theater history. I’d love to know if there are any historic theaters that still put them on every now and then. It seems like it’d make for a fun viewing experience!

      I really love the new rotating headers, so I’m glad to hear that someone noticed them :) The dimensions are a little whacky, so I’ve had fun testing out different pictures.

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      • There’s got to be an old-time theater SOMEwhere that re-creates shows like that from the past, I’m in Arizona, so the closest for me would be Tucson, where the old Fox theater was re-opened after being refurbished. A great place to watch an old film…I saw ‘Nosferatu’ there a few years back.

        Yes, those headers are cool…very thin, but it’s fun to try and figure out who the actors are, and what film they’re in. One of them, a color shot showing a woman with green foliage behind her, looks like Faye Dunaway, but I’m not sure. Maybe you can give me a hand with that one…

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        • There are some really great theaters around me that show classic films. The Redford Theater is a favorite. They recently did a showing of The Birds with Tippi Hedren in person. I was so upset that I didn’t get to go! None of the theaters around here still use prologues that I knows of, but I’ll keep searching!

          The picture you saw was Sharon Tate. I did a tribute to her a while back and recycled the image from there. I actually didn’t think of the guessing game aspect of it when I chose to randomize the headers, but that’s kind of fun!

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  2. NOW I see Sharon Tate in that photo! And The Thin Man, Designing Woman, Strangers on a Train, From Here to Eternity, yet another Queen of Outer Spaces pic, and lots of mesmerizing shots of eyes…and Hitchcock’s lips!

    I would’ve LOVED to have been at that screening of The Birds! I just checked out The Redford at Cinema Treasures…looks like a great place! My local oldie is the Valley Art…mostly independent and art-house, but every now and then a classic or a film festival that I check out.

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