Thursday, October 2, 2008

GOLD DIGGERS IN PARIS (Warner Bros. 1938) Warner Home Video

Arguably one of the most light-hearted movies in the ‘gold digger’ series from Warner Bros., Ray Enright’s Gold Diggers In Paris (1938) is a sprite and obtuse romp through the glittery backdrop of gay Paree; employing a tried and true formula of mistaken identity – jam packed with talent and a really snappy screenplay by Earl Baldwin and Warren Duff.

Musicals in general tend to get a bad wrap from the critics for sacrificing plot in favor of spectacle. But this critic would remind of the fact that musicals are hardly meant to be practical. They are never grounded in realism. Hence, the best level of expectation is to simply go along for the ride with a smile. The best of the genre balance spectacle with moderate substance – but the latter is hardly required to get the best bang for one’s buck.

Plot wise: when overzealous ham Maurice Giraud (Hugh Herbert) is sent as a representative of the Paris International Dance Exposition to America to invite its ballet to compete in France for cash prizes, he accidentally arrives at the Club Balle instead – a New York hot spot where nightclub entertainer Terry Moore (Rudy Vallee) is performing a rather goofy south seas routine. The club’s owner Duke Dennis (Allen Jenkins) is beside himself. His establishment is on the verge of declaring bankruptcy. But then an idea strikes the boys; why not go to Paris and wow the French with their show?

To this end, Terry and Duke hire ballet instructor Luis Leoni (Fritz Feld) to educate their chorines on the boat ride across the Atlantic. Luis brings his protégée Kay Morrow (Rosemary Lane) for company. Also along for the trip is Terry’s ex-wife, Mona (Gloria Dickson); a tough gal determined that her alimony checks keep coming. Predictably, Terry and Kay strike up a winning friendship that quickly translates into a budding romance.

There are several plot wrinkles to contend with: the first develops after legitimate ballet master, Padrinsky (Curt Bois) reads about the ship’s departure in the newspaper and decides that he must compete in Paris. Since only one corps de ballet from each country can enter the contest, Padrinsky brings along his ballet-loving gangster pal, Mike Coogan (Ed Brophy) with orders to eliminate Terry and Duke from the competition. The second wrinkle involves Kay’s burgeoning love for Terry that gets sidetracked after she learns he was once married to Mona. The third and final wrinkle involves Padrinsky securing deportation visas for Terry, Duke and their dancers to prevent them from performing at the competition.

Despite the fact that Gold Diggers In Paris was produced during one of the studio’s cost cutting periods, the inventiveness of its choreographer Busby Berkeley is on very solid ground. The most winning aspect of the film is its inventively staged musical sequences to tunes that have since become standards; The Latin Quarter, I Wanna Go Back To Bali, Put That Down In Writing, A Stranger in Paree, Day Dreaming All Night Long, and Waltz of the Flowers. Gold Diggers In Paris may not be high art, but it is certainly a very entertaining film with much to admire.

The biggest drawback is Rudy Vallee as the film’s star – in fine voice, but tragically bland by design. He fades into the backdrop so readily that we have to keep being reminded he is the star. Nevertheless, the Baldwin/Duff screenplay keeps the story’s pace moving swiftly. Berkeley’s kaleidoscopic visions of dancers as objects in a grander matte of superficial perfection secures the film’s place as a memorable musical worthy of rediscovery on DVD.

Warner Home Video’s DVD delivers a very pleasing B&W image. Although grain and age related artifacts intrude, for the most part the image is quite smooth. Fine detail is generally nicely realized. Contrast levels are also adequately rendered. Blacks are solid and deep. Whites are mostly clean and never blooming. The audio has been cleaned up in mono. Extras are limited to a few short subjects and theatrical trailer. Recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
2

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