The story is based on the play The Gold Diggers by Avery Hopwood, which ran for 282 performances on Broadway in 1919 and 1920. The play was made into a silent film in 1923 by David Belasco, the producer of the Broadway play, as The Gold Diggers, starring Hope Hampton and Wyndham Standing, and again as a talkie in 1929, directed by Roy Del Ruth. That film, Gold Diggers of Broadway, which starred Nancy Welford and Conway Tearle, was the biggest box office hit of that year, and Gold Diggers of 1933 was one of the top-grossing films of 1933. This version of Hopwood's play was written by James Seymour and Erwin S. Gelsey, with additional dialogue by David Boehm and Ben Markson.
In 2003, Gold Diggers of 1933 was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
The "gold diggers" are four aspiring actresses: Polly (Ruby Keeler), an ingenue; Carol (Joan Blondell), a torch singer; Trixie (Aline MacMahon), a comedian; and Fay (Ginger Rogers), a glamour puss.
The film was made in 1933, during the Great Depression and contains numerous direct references to it. It begins with a rehearsal for a stage show, which is interrupted by the producer's creditors who close down the show because of unpaid bills.
At the unglamorous apartment shared by three of the four actresses (Polly, Carol, and Trixie), the producer, Barney Hopkins (Ned Sparks), is in despair because he has everything he needs to put on a show, except money. He hears Brad Roberts (Dick Powell), the girls' neighbor and Polly's boyfriend, playing the piano. Brad is a brilliant songwriter and singer who not only has written the music for a show, but also offers
Brad comes through with the money and the show goes into production, but the girls are suspicious that he must be a criminal since he is cagey about his past and will not appear in the show, even though he is clearly more talented than the aging juvenile lead (Clarence Nordstrom) they have hired. It turns out, however, that Brad is in fact a millionaire's son whose family does not want him associating with the theatre. On opening night, in order to save the show when the juvenile cannot perform (due to his lumbago acting up), Brad is forced to play the lead role.
With the resulting publicity, Brad's brother J. Lawrence Bradford (Warren William) and family lawyer Fanuel H. Peabody (Guy Kibbee) discover what he is doing and go to
Famous Musical Numbers
The film contains four song and dance sequences designed, staged and choreographed by Busby Berkeley. All the songs were written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin. (In the film, when producer Barney Hopkins hears Brad's music he picks up the phone and says: "Cancel my contract with Warren and Dubin!")
"We're in the Money" is sung by Ginger Rogers accompanied by scantily-clad showgirls dancing with giant coins.
"Pettin' in the Park" is sung by Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell. It includes a tap dance from Keeler and a surreal sequence featuring dwarf actor Billy Barty as a baby who escapes from his stroller. During the number, the women get caught in a rainstorm and go behind a backlit screen to remove their wet clothes in silhouette. They emerge in metal garments, which thwart the men's attempts to remove them, until Billy Barty gives Dick Powell a can opener. This number was originally planned to end the film.
"The Shadow Waltz" is sung by Powell and Keeler. It features a dance by Keeler, Rogers, and many female violinists with neon-tubed violins that glow in the dark.
"Remember My Forgotten Man" is sung by Joan Blondell and Etta Moten and features sets influenced by German Expressionism and a gritty evocation of Depression-era poverty. Berkeley was inspired by the May 1932 war veterans' march on Washington, D.C. When the number was finished, Jack L. Warner and Darryl F. Zanuck (the studio production head) were so impressed that they ordered it moved to the end of the film, displacing "Pettin' in the Park".
Footnote by the Blog Author
In addition to the numerous memorable and catchy tunes of Warren and Dubin, this movie may be the best movie ever made about the Depression. The singers and dancers in the chorus will be desperately out of work if the musical isn’t produced to open as a sustaining hit, according to the plot. The pathos of the cast nervously fidgeting while waiting for a $15,000 loan to come through is a neurotic classic of filmmaking. “The Forgotten Man” number is a profound and overdue salute to Great War veterans, a showstopper that ends the movie in the alternate version of editing.