Six days before the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, Warner Bros completed shooting on a new-style musical. Hard-bitten, fast moving, full of gritty realism about the Depression and frank about sex, 42nd Street was in the vanguard of Warners's 'New Deal in Entertainment'.
Its plot is sheer cliché: a backstage story in which, just before opening night, the star breaks an ankle, the young understudy goes on and becomes an overnight sensation. What keeps the movie fresh sixty years later is the snappy dialogue, terrific performances from Ruby Keeler, Ginger Rogers and a host of Warners contract players, and above all the delirious dance routines of the incomparable Busby Berkeley. J.Hoberman's description of the film catches its mixture of New Deal optimism and showbiz brashness, and places them expertly in the context of Hollywood's attempt to come to terms with hard times.
About the Author
J. Hoberman is film critic for The Village Voice and author of Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film Between Two Worlds. He was briefly employed as Ruby Keeler's chauffeur during the Broadway run of No! No! Nanette.