Monday, July 04, 2005

Continuing on my James Cagney kick, I recently saw Footlight Parade (1933), and he was excellent as always. Was ever a human being as energetic as Cagney? One of his dances could probably power my entire apartment building for days.

The first half of the film deals with the creation and workings of a kind of factory of musicals--they supply material and talent to perform live "prologues" before movies in chains of theaters around the country. So far, so good. Then we get to see three of these numbers performed, and my jaw dropped. And stayed that way. A long time. The characters go to see these numbers performed on stage, but each one segues flamboyantly, ridiculously into a filmic style (as opposed to the famous number from Yankee Doodle Dandy, which is supposed to take place on a stage and actually looks that way).

The first number is "Honeymoon hotel," in which dozens, maybe hundreds of newlywed couples swarm into said overnighter, and there's a lot of dancing, pre-coital excitement, featuring a midget made up unconvincingly to look like a small boy, making a nuisance of himself and getting chased around with amusingly inappropriate violence.

The second number is "By a Waterfall," a swimming pool number. Did I mention choreography is by Busby Berkeley? The emphasis, as always with BB, is on sheer numbers of pretty gals, but I couldn't help but laugh at the way they come popping out of waterslides in dangerously excessive numbers, emerging from the froth trying to keep their eyes open while smiling for their camera, makeup perfect. In one moment they switch to the trademark overhead angle and go wild with the making of abstract kaleidoscopic patterns. What a strange fad that was. When they started doing this move that resembled nothing so much as a petri dish swarming with microorganisms, I felt it was too much even for me. Priceless.

The final number, "Shanghai Lil," has an American sailor overseas searching every bar for his Asian sweetie, and yes, they roll out the stereotype in all its glory (just go with it), but this time the overhead sequence is beyond belief. It changes into the American flag, suddenly becoming the face of FDR! I mean, he's one of my faves, too, but come on. And this is 1933--there isn't even a war on! Well, some patriotic fervor in the face of the Depression is certainly understandable. But then the formation changes into that of an American eagle and its various sides begin to fire off rifles in a kind of cinematic variation on the 21-gun salute.

I don't usually take pleasure in deriding old films, but this one went way over the top. I still thought it was a good film, even great in places. Cagney is always amazing, and I found Dick Powell really charming for the first time. Joan Blondell was also extremely enjoyable in her rivalry for Cagney's affections.

My only question is, what did they mean by, "deader than chelsea's tonsils"? Was this a reference to some famous horse race? I searched the web for an answer, to no avail. Hmm, I'll track it down.

Check out the excellent poster. Could our taxes be put to any better use than preserving this legacy? I think not. Other images.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars.

Song: "By a Waterfall" sung by Dick Powell (now it's going through my head again!)



Post a Comment

<< Home