Chester Kent produces Musical Comedies on the stage. With the beginning of the talkies era he changes to producing short musical prologues for movies. But this is stressing him, because he always needs new units and his rival is always stealing his ideas. So he can get an contract with a producer, if he is able to stage in three days three new prologues. In spite of great problems he does it.
James Cagney ... Chester Kent
Joan Blondell ... Nan Prescott
Ruby Keeler ... Bea Thorn
Dick Powell ... Scott \'Scotty\' Blair
Frank McHugh ... Francis, dance director
Ruth Donnelly ... Harriet Bowers Gould
Guy Kibbee ... Silas \'Si\' Gould
Hugh Herbert ... Charlie Bowers
Claire Dodd ... Vivian Rich
Gordon Westcott ... Harry Thompson
Arthur Hohl ... Al Frazer
Renee Whitney ... Cynthia Kent
Barbara Rogers ... Gracie
Paul Porcasi ... George Apolinari
The Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Depression following almost ruined the American Musical Theater, in fact it was the final death blow to vaudeville. Those behind the curtains were hit as bad as those in front.
In an effort to stimulate the show business economy and his own personal economy, out of work theater director James Cagney comes up with a brilliant idea. Stage live relevant prologues to the movies that are being shown at the various movie theaters that are springing up overnight from the old theaters. Some other competitors get wind of it and the competition is on.
Footlight Parade is my favorite Busby Berkeley film. It gives James Cagney a chance to display some of his versatility as a dancer as well as a tough guy. In his retirement Cagney said that while he screened his few and far between musicals a lot, he could barely be bothered with some of his straight dramatic films. He wished he\'d done a few more musicals in his career and I wish he had.
Of course the staging of these Busby Berkeley extravaganzas on the stage of a movie palace defies all logic and reason. But it\'s so creative and fun to watch.
Dick Powell gets to sing three songs in Footlight Parade, Ah the Moon is Here, Honeymoon Hotel, and By a Waterfall, the last two with Ruby Keeler further cementing that screen team. Ruby sings and dances with Powell in the last two and she partners with James Cagney in my favorite number from Footlight Parade, Shanghai Lil.
Joan Blondell is Cagney\'s no nonsense girl Friday at the theater. Like in Blonde Crazy, she\'s the one with the real brains in that duo and it\'s her quick thinking that bails him out of some domestic problems he has on top of his theatrical ones. One of Blondell\'s best screen roles.
Look for Dorothy Lamour and Ann Sothern in the chorus as per the IMDb pages for both of them. John Garfield is seen briefly in the Shanghai Lil number. And in a scene at the beginning of the film, producer Guy Kibbee takes Cagney to a movie theater where they are showing a B western starring John Wayne. The Duke\'s voice is unmistakable. But what\'s even more unusual is that the brief clip shows him in a scene with Frank McHugh who plays another Cagney assistant in Footlight Parade. I think the brothers Warner were playing a little joke there. I\'ve got to believe that clip was deliberate.
Footlight Parade is Busby Berkeley at his surreal best.
Footlight Parade is among the best of the 1930\'s musical comedy extravaganzas. A snappy script and an all-star cast including Jimmy Cagney, the lovely Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, and Ruby Keeler make this film a cut above the rest. Directed and choreographed by the creative genius Busby Berkeley, this film will have you grinning from ear-to-ear from start to finish.
Busby, of course, is the undisputed master of the Hollywood musical with \"Gold Diggers of 1933\" and \"42nd Street\" to his credit (as Dance Director). Footlight Parade is graced by hundreds of scantily-clad chorus girls, a Berkeley trademark. The elaborate dance numbers were shot with only one camera and Busby was the first director to film close-ups of the dancers. His obsession with shapely legs and \"rear-view\" shots is amply demonstrated here. The overall effect is highly erotic and mesmerizing.
Our boy Jimmy Cagney plays Chester Kent, a producer of \"prologues\" or short musical stage productions that were performed in movie theaters to entertain the audience before the talkies were shown. He\'s surrounded by crooked partners, a corporate spy, and a gold-digging girlfriend. Although Cagney had a solid background in vaudeville, this was the first film in which he showed his dancing talents. Joan Blondell is memorable as Cagney\'s wise-cracking, lovestruck secretary. And Ruby Keeler is adorable, as always.
The film climaxes with three outstanding production numbers, \"Honeymoon Hotel\", \"The Waterfall\", and \"Shanghai Lil\", each one a masterpiece and not likely to be duplicated in today\'s Hollywood where so-called \"special effects\" have replaced creative cinematography.
Claudia\'s Bottom Line: Clever and erotic, with some of the best musical production numbers ever put on celluloid. A thoroughly enjoyable Depression era romp.
An opium den, a dirty little boy (actually a midget), prostitutes galore, a violent fracas in a dive, a motel for sexual shenanigans, scantily clad babes with cleavage a lot, a boozer falling down the stairs, a racially mixed clientèle in a bar with Asians, Africans, and Anglos treated equally, does this sound like a film playing at the local shopping mall? Wrong. These are all scenes from a 1933 musical.
The first half of \"Footlight Parade\" is preparation for a musical extravaganza which occupies the last half of the film. Chester Kent (Cagney) is about to lose his job and does lose his playgirl wife as a result of talking pictures squeezing out live stage musicals. His producers take him to see a popular talky of the day, John Wayne in \"The Big Trail.\" Before each showing of the flick, a dance number is presented as a prologue. Shorts, news reels, serials, and cartoons would later serve the purpose. Kent gets the idea that a prologue chain would be the road to salvation for the dwindling live musical business. Kent is basically an idea man along the lines of choreographer Busby Berkeley. Could it be that Cagney\'s character is patterned after Berkeley? Could be.
In preparation for the prologues, Kent learns that his ideas are being stolen by a rival. He uncovers the traitor, fires him, then unbeknown to him a new leak is planted in the form a dazzling temptress. His assistant, Nan Prescott (Joan Blondell - soon to be Mrs. Dick Powell) has the hots for Kent and is determined to expose the wiles of the temptress. A new singer from Arkansas College shows up in the form of Scotty Blain (Dick Powell) who turns out to be a real find and is paired with Bea Thorn (Ruby Keeler). The resulting three prologue musicals, which couldn\'t possibly have been presented on any cinema stage of the day, are as fresh and enjoyable today as they were over seventy years ago, \"Honeymoon Hotel,\" \"By a Waterfall,\" and \"Shanghai Lil.\"
Of special note is the song and dance of tough-guy James Cagney. Like Fred Astaire and Bill \"Bojangles\" Robinson, Cagney\'s dancing appeared natural and unrehearsed, although hours went into practice to get each step just right. Not as good a singer as Astaire, Cagney\'s singing, like Astaire\'s, sounded natural, unlike the crooning so popular at the time. It\'s amazing that one person could be so talented and so versatile as James Cagney.
Most critics prefer the \"Shanghai Lil\" segment over the other two. Yet the kaleidoscopic choreography of \"By a Waterfall\" is astonishing. How Berkeley was able to film the underwater ballets and to create the human snake chain must have been difficult because it has never been repeated. The close up shots mixed brilliantly with distant angles is a must-see. The crisp black and white photography is much more artistic than it would have been if shot in color.
Though not nearly as socially conscious as \"Gold Diggers of 1933,\" \"Footlight Parade\" stands on its own as one of the most amazing and outrageous musicals ever put on the big screen.
* John Garfield is often credited as being an extra in this film, five years before signing a Hollywood contract with Warner Brothers, but researchers are in dispute over whether it is actually Garfield in the shot, which lasts 5/6 of one second onscreen.
* In a documentary, The John Garfield Story (2003) (TV), actress Julie Garfield denied that her father, John Garfield, is the sailor-extra he is often credited with being in the \"Shanghai Lil\" production number. Whoever the extra is, he\'s a dead ringer for Mr. Garfield.
* The film that Guy Kibbee and Arthur Hohl takes James Cagney to see is The Telegraph Trail (1933).
* This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1992.
* The actress who successfully auditions in the \"Ah the Moon is Here\" number is Gracie Barrie. She is not credited but a 1933 press release identifies her.