Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dig it!

OK, this time I watched a Busby Berkeley musical on purpose: Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936). It turned out to be a particularly good entry in the genre, IMHO. It starts with  a batch of dancers whose show has wrapped up. Most of them decide to try gold-digging, but sweet Joan Blondell decides to try work and Dick Powell help her get a job bin a life insurance office.

Now the other girls have met up with a group of crooked show-biz types, Osgood Perkins and Charles D. Brown. They have lost all their boss' money on the stock market, and now he wants to put on a show. Since the boss, Victor Moore, is a physical wreck, they figure they can insure his life for a million dollars and then...

Of course, it's Dick Powell who sells the million dollar policy, which makes him a hero, until they get a look at the broken-down Moore. So one bunch is trying to kill Moore, and Powell is trying buck him up, with Glenda Farrell as the gold digger who might be on one side or the other. And it all ends in a show, another Busby Berkeley mind-melter.

I thought the situations and gags were better than most of these musicals. The songs are fun, like "Plenty of Money and You". I liked Victor Moore a lot; I don't think we've seen him before, but he's an instantly recognizable type. So, either I was just in a good mood, or this one is worth looking up.

To continue with the musical weekend, I watched Expresso Bongo (1959), a British beat-exploitation film with Laurence Harvey as a hustling talent agent who discovers Cliff Richards. It is set in late-50s Soho and was either filmed on location or was very convincing. Harvey schmying around and schmoozing with the deli proprietors and espresso bar owners, letting his immigrant striver accent show, is a delight. Cliff Richards doesn't have much charisma here, which kind of makes sense - he's just a commodity to Harvey, who re-names him Bongo Herbert. I did like his band (the Shadows, then Drifters) - they had a great look, with a Buddy Holly type guitarist, and a tight but garagey sound.

The whole thing is sort of a British Sweet Smell of Success with a touch of Night and the City - but with a cheerful muddle-through feeling instead of the sour desperation of those movies - based around a teenage rocker gets discovered B-movie theme. I guess it is widely considered to be one of those bad or so-bad-it's-good movies, but I really liked it. I plan to re-watch this weekend.

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