I know I wrapped up the Pre-Code marathon the other day, but this one had fallen down a bit on the queue. Made in 1933, and starring the great Jimmy Cagney as Chester Kent. Chester made his living making Broadway musicals, but alas, these new “talking pictures” are stealing all his work. He devises a way to stay afloat, choreographing numbers to play before/after the films. He’ll conceptualize and direct a number, and send that crew out on the road to play all the movie houses. It’s full of little self-aware pokes at the movie business, like the censor who, unbeknownst to the filmmakers at the time, foreshadows the coming Hays Code enforcement: “this is what you can show in Connecticut, this in Massachusetts”. A funny little moment when the censor is caught with one of the girls: “Ah, I was just showing Ms. Rich here what you can’t do in Kalamazoo.”
The cast is filled out by the always sassy Joan Blondell, cute Ruby Keeler, and dashing Dick Powell, and features three huge numbers by the always over-the-top Busby Berkeley. Two of the numbers push the Pre-Code envelope: “Honeymoon Hotel” is about a certain hotel that is used for trysts, and “Shanghai Lil” is a somewhat racist little piece about an American serviceman’s Chinese prostitute. All three of the numbers are too big to be believable. I mean, they’re supposed to be taking place on the stage of a movie theater, in the space behind the screen, and yet there’s impossibly large casts and sets and costume changes. Not only does the third number, "By A Waterfall", consist of huge tanks of water, fountains, rotating tiers, and waterslides, but the plot is to have us believe the entire number was conceived, choreographed, and all the sets built (and filled with all that water) on a movie theater stage in the matter of about 18 hours, tops. Ah, the magic of the movies!