[box cover]

Gold Diggers of 1935

The Busby Berkeley Collection

The finale of Gold Diggers of 1935, "Lullaby of Broadway," begins with a face in extreme distance, barely discernable. The face is that of Winifred Shaw, playing Winny, and the camera moves closer and closer to her, until it becomes an extreme close up in this sustained two-minute shot. Winny then turns her head around and smokes a cigarette, with the outline of her face becoming a cityscape. Dutch angle shots of the town — with an expressionist shot of a beat cop with a shadow that stretches across frame and someone shoving their alarm clock in a drawer — show the world readying itself for its day, and eventually Winny returns home after a night out with her beau (Dick Powell), which segues into another night out where the two go to Club Casino to watch the show. There, performers dance across a stage of many platforms until dozens of pairs decide to dance in synchronicity across the large stage in a sequence that can't help but retroactively remind of Leni Reifenstahl's Triumph of the Will. Eventually the couple have to join in, and they do, but somehow Winny gets outside on the balcony, and when the rest of the dancers decide to join her she falls to her death, leaving the stray cat she takes care of to starve. The film then returns to the outline of her face, and she returns to finish the song as the camera pulls out to its original starting place. It's an insane piece of business with its heightened angles and meticulous synchronicity, and all told it's a 14-minute sequence — almost a sixth of Gold Diggers of 1935's running time. It's also the best reason to watch the movie, which has no connection (beyond the title) to Gold Diggers of 1933, and is also the only film in Warner's "Busby Berkeley Collection" that was directed entirely by Berkeley. The film itself is a trifle, easily the weakest of the set. At a vacation resort, Matilda Prentiss (Alice Brady) takes her two grown children Ann (Gloria Stuart) and Humbolt (Frank McHugh) to rest. Ann is promised to T. Mosley Thorpe III (Hugh Herbert), who is more interested in snuff boxes than his fiancée. Ann tells her mother that she wants to have fun before she gets married, so Matilda offers hotel staffer Dick Curtis (Powell) $500 to look after her for the summer. He's got a girlfriend too, but eventually Ann and Dick fall for each other, while Thorpe is snookered by his secretary and Matilda is convinced to put on a big show by stage director Nicolai Nicoleff (Adolph Menjou), who is mostly a chiseler. There's also the great number "The Words are in My Heart," in which dozens of pianos act as Berkeley dancers. However, there's a catch-22 to the Berkeley box set: The best place to see the highlights of Gold Diggers of 1935 is on the Busby Berkeley Disc, which is exclusive to the box, and an attractive "Greatest Hits" collection. And there's doubtless many who would rather have this platter, since — without the extravagant set-pieces — movies like this on probably wouldn't be remembered. Everything surrounding the sequences is passable, and in some ways it enhances the overall experience. Since the surrounding story doesn't contextualize the musical presentations, the divide between reality and fantasy enhances the musical sequences' otherworldliness. In the disc's supplements, the word "genius" is thrown around a lot — after watching these numbers, Berkeley's gifts are inarguable. He had a tremendous skill at conceptualizing music for the stage (drawing from Ziegfield and others), which transformed a line of chorus girls into something so cinematic that its power to enthrall remains timeless. Warner presents Gold Diggers of 1935 in a nicely restored full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) with Dolby Digital 1.0 audio. Extras include "(buzbe burkle) n. A Study in Style" (19 min.), the vintage Bob Hope short "Double Exposure" (20 min.), vintage cartoons "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" (7 min.), and "Gold Diggers of 1949" (8 min.), both of which are preceeded by a warning about their racist content, the radio promo "Direct from Hollywood" (11 min.), two theatrical trailers for the film, and one for Gold Diggers in Paris. Keep-case.
—DSH



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