April 23, 2004

Naughty, Bawdy, Gaudy, Sporty

Cinecultist doesn't know about you but sometimes when we get a song stuck in our head, it just won't go away until we look up the lyrics and really think about what they mean. Case in point: after watching 42nd Street (1933) on TCM last weekend, we've had Harry Warren's showstopping finale "42nd Street" in the back of our mind all week.

"Hear the beat, of dancing feet it's the song I love the melody of 42nd street." This is a bit ironic since anyone who's visited CC in New York knows, we loathe the actual 42nd street and Times Square. It's not New York, it's the Disneyland version of New York. But the dance sequence at the end of the movie, which we would guess tries to replicate the Times Square of the '20s, looks scary and thrilling. For those who watch old movies, or what is called Pre-Hayes Code, know is that these early features can be surprisingly frank in their portrayals of the sexual and cultural mores of the time. Busby Berkeley choreographs this street scene where a camera swoops in through a window above 42nd street to witness a girl being attacked and potentially raped by a man. She jumps out the window to escape, and lands on the street where she dances a bit with the chorus until she's stabbed by that man who is chasing her. Yes that's right, stabbed. And CC thought the dances someone like Susan Stroheim makes with a bed and a motorcycle, as she did in Center Stage, were edgy.

Cinecultist loves this about old movies, just when you think you remember them as being a certain way (ie. Ruby Keeler is the chorus girl who makes good, *yawn*), they can surprise you. 42nd street may be Disneyfied now in our post-Giuliani Manhattan but we guess calling it "naughty, bawdy, gaudy and sporty" was apt at one point.

New York city movie historian and Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman wrote a monograph for BFI on 42nd Street. One of his first jobs was as Ruby Keeler's chauffeur. Since one of CC's first jobs in New York was as Jim's projectionist, let's hope we also have such an illustrious career ahead of us.

Posted by karen at April 23, 2004 8:42 AM