Musical Monday: Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935) – Musical #149

Warner Brothers

Busby Berkeley

Dick Powell, Gloria Stuart, Adolphe Menjou, Alice Brady, Hugh Herbert, Glenda Farrell, Grant Mitchell, Wini Shaw, Frank McHugh, Joseph Cawthorn, Dorothy Dare, Virginia Grey (uncredited), Dennis O’Keefe (uncredited)

The luxury hotel, The Wentworth, opens to wealthy patrons. Rich Mrs. Prentiss (Brady) is controlling of her daughter Ann Prentiss (Stuart) and is pushing her to marry T. Mosley Thorpe (Herbert). Mrs. Prentiss relents to letting Ann have a fun and free summer as long as she marries Mosley at the end of the summer. Mrs. Prentiss strikes a deal with hotel desk clerk Dick Curtis (Powell) if he agrees to escort Ann through the summer.

Dick Powell and Gloria Stuart

-Chorus dancer Jack Grieves died at age 26 on the set of “Gold Diggers of 1935” while Berkeley was directing “Lullaby of Broadway.” The cause of Grieves’ death was written as “acute indigestion,” according to Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley by Jeffrey Spivak

-Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell were originally set to star in this film. But after Flirtation Walk, Keeler and Powell asked to not star together for a little while because they were being type-cast. Gloria Stuart replaced Ruby Keeler for the film, according to The Women of Warner Brothers by Daniel Bubbeo

-Busby Berkely’s first film directing the entire film (both the dance numbers and narrative)

-Busby Berkeley used 56 pianos (that didn’t have to play music) in the “Words Are in My Heart” number, according to Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley by Jeffrey Spivak

-In the “Lullaby of Broadway” number, Wini Shaw’s head turns and she starts smoking a cigarette. This was supposed to model Man Ray’s 1920 photograph “Woman Smoking a Cigarette,” according to Spivak’s book.

-The fourth “Gold Diggers” film in the series that began in 1929 and ended in 1938.

-Music by Harry Warren and Al Dubin

-Costumes by Orry-Kelly

-Film begins with people at the hotel dancing
-The Lullaby of Broadway number

Notable Songs:
-“The Words Are in My Heart” performed by Dick Powell and ensemble
-“The Lullaby of Broadway” performed by Wini Shaw and Dick Powell, ensemble
-“I’m Going Shopping with You” performed by Dick Powell and Gloria Stuart

My review:
“Gold Diggers of 1935” is a funny and entertaining musical filled to the gills with 1930s Warner Brothers stars. The storyline is similar to other Warner Brothers musicals starring Dick Powell in this time frame. Powell is the clean-cut young man and falls in love with a wealthy young girl (Gloria Stuart) that he’s supposed to be chaperoning. Alice Brady plays the girl’s wacky, penny-pinching mother trying to get her to marry Hugh Herbert. And Adolphe Monjou is a Russian dance director. In this film, the gold diggers aren’t showgirls as they are in the previous films. The gold diggers are the hotel workers who don’t receive a salary and only work for tips.

Adolphe Menjou, Joseph Cawthorn, Alice Brady, Grant Mitchell and Glenda Farrell in Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)

While the storyline has several humorous moments (especially Adolphe Monjou directing chorus girls with a meat cleaver), the truly memorable segment of this movie is the 9-minute long “Lullaby of Broadway” number.

It begins in darkness with only Wini Shaw’s face as she sings “Lullaby of Broadway.” From there, the number tells a story of a “Broadway Baby” and her boyfriend who enjoy the nightlife of New York (all filled with Busby Berkeley’s imaginative shots and designs). The couple’s story ends rather grimly.

While “The Words Are In My Heart” features ladies at rotating pianos, “Lullaby of Broadway” is the Berkeley highlight in this film. It’s funny, I can think of this number and know the choreography, visuals, costumes and story by heart…but I often can’t remember which Berkeley film it’s frome. That’s how memorable it is…and it also speaks to how the film is entertaining, but not easy to distinguish from other films starring Dick Powell with direction by Berkeley. (I actually thought this number was in another film because I didn’t remember Gloria Stuart’s story being remarkable).

Pianos for the The Words Are In My Heart number

There are only three actual songs performed in the film, which is surprising especially for a Dick Powell film. But this is undeniably a musical, especially because it opens with groundskeepers and staff of the hotel dancing as they prepare for the opening.

I do have one beef with this film: Glenda Farrell was completely wasted. Farrell plays Hugh Herbert’s chiseling stenographer but has very little screentime. At one point, it had been so long since we had seen her that I forgot she was in the film!

Something else odd about this film: a dancer Jack Grieves collapsed on the set on Jan. 10, 1935, while filming the “Lullaby of Broadway” number. I wasn’t able to find much on Grieves, except for Jan. 11, 1935, news clippings that said Grieves collapsed and died from “acute indigestion” and was survived by wife Feleta Crawford and had an 11-month-old baby.

If you are a fan of Busby Berkeley musicals, don’t miss this one. Especially since it includes some of his best directed numbers.

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3 thoughts on “Musical Monday: Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)

  1. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this one! I wonder if it would be better had it starred Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler. I can understand their desire not to be typecast.

    Great piece JP! I used to have a Gold Diggers of 1935 postcard up in my work cube for years. Not sure why I shared that but here we are.


  2. Good movie. Love precode and 30s musicals. I enjoy reading the trivia seeing the videos of scenes.


  3. The Lullaby of Broadway number was amazing, all those skilled tap dancers and their tapping sounds in unison. The ending of the number was tearjerking, because of Wini Shaw’s fall off the balcony, and because there was a brief moment where it looked like Wini’s night out and her fall was all a dream, but it then surprised us.

    The words are in my heart was also amazing. First, the very nice scenes with all the girls on the pianos while they moved around creating great kilidoscope Busby patterns. Then, Gloria Stuart, even though she was only in the two bookends of the number, she looked like an angel. Dick Powell sitting under that blossom tree singing to the beautiful Gloria in her beautiful, very large ruffled dress.

    Outside of these two fabulous numbers, the main story was just ok, but “Lullaby of Broadway” and “The words are in my heart” made this a sensational memorable film


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