Gold Digging: A Treasure Trove of Berkeley Classics


Genius of geometric pulchritude and maestro of the movie-land desiring machine, Busby Berkeley (1895–1976) was not just the reigning dance director of early-’30s Hollywood but America’s most inventive sound filmmaker before Orson Welles—as well as our Leni Riefenstahl. (Mutatis mutandis, that is: As someone sang in one of the songs he choreographed, “They have the goose step but we have the Suzy Q step!”) Let none dare call it camp. Conceived during the depths of the Great Depression and made before the Production Code came into full effect, the three 1933 releases to which Berkeley contributed his fantastic production numbers— 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Footlight Parade—basically saved Warner Bros. from bankruptcy. Who could resist the spectacle of so many people at work, particularly if most of them were prancing around half naked?

Warner’s boxed set includes the ’33 three plus the following year’s Dames, Gold Diggers of 1935, and a two-hour-and-40-minute compilation of 21 Berkeley numbers culled from these and five other films. The selection is somewhat sanitized ( Wonder Bar‘s racist “Goin’ to Heaven on a Mule” is missing) and all Warner’s (you won’t find the sensational bondage number from Roman Scandals, one of the four Goldwyn-produced Eddie Cantor vehicles on which Berkeley worked). Still, the transfers are glorious and the extras—not just trailers, radio promos, and contemporary featurettes but also nine ’30s animations referencing the musicals—are nearly as generous as the Berkeley erotic assembly line itself.