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May 20 - 31, 2005

All Together Now: The Cinematerpsichorean World Of Busby Berkeley

Busby Berkeley was one of the true visionaries of the Hollywood studio era. In a time when producers pushed directors toward more formulaic interpretations of genre, he distinguished himself by producing musicals which defied not only viewer expectations but the laws of gravity. Working at Warner Brothers in the 1930s and MGM in the 1940s, he became famous for his trademark overhead shots and kaleidoscopic patterns of dancing chorus girls. Although plagued by personal problems including a string of ex-wives and a vehicular homicide trial, Berkeley remained a consummate professional throughout his career, finding new and innovative ways to express his unique vision on land and underwater. When the studio could find no other way to describe his work, they came up with a clever neologism: cinematerpsichorean.


May 20 (Friday) 7 pm
May 22 (Sunday) 9 pm

42nd Street

Directed by Lloyd Bacon
US, 1933, b/w, 89 min.
With Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, Ruby Keeler

Warner Baxter plays a Broadway producer with one last opportunity to put on a hit show, but his chances are compromised by his tempestuous star (Daniels), who is having an affair with the show’s major funder. After an unfortunate turn of events, he is forced to call upon “a real little trouper” (Keeler) to save the show. 42nd Street inaugurated Busby Berkeley’s sensationally successful career with Warner Brothers; his staging of “Shuffle off to Buffalo” inside a Pullman railway carriage and “42nd Street,” which features a dancing Manhattan skyline, established him as a major figure in Hollywood musicals.

May 20 (Friday) 9 pm
May 22 (Sunday) 7 pm

Footlight Parade

Directed by Lloyd Bacon
US, 1933, b/w, 104 min.
With James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler
James Cagney stars as a producer on his way out due to the public’s growing preference for talking pictures over stage musicals. Cagney comes up with an ingenious idea to produce live prologues–short stage musicals–which can precede films in the larger movie houses. With no time to prepare, he and his troupe devise and present three new works at three different theaters on the same night! Arguably the best of the backstage musicals thanks to a more rounded script and a knockout performance from Cagney in his first singing and dancing screen role, the film features racy pre-Code fantasies such as “Honeymoon Hotel” and the staggering “By a Waterfall.”



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May 21 (Saturday) 7 pm
May 23 (Monday) 9 pm

Gold Diggers of 1933

Directed by Mervyn Leroy
US, 1933, b/w, 96 min.
With Warren William, Aline MacMahon, Ruby Keeler

Warner Brothers built on the success of 42nd Street with the first of four Gold Diggers films. More elaborately plotted than its predecessor, the film features three young showgirls looking for their next big break. When one (Keeler) is courted by a young blueblood (Dick Powell), his brother and the family lawyer do their best to break them up until they fall for the other two girls. Ginger Rogers gets things off to a lively start with her inspired, pig Latin performance of “We’re In the Money” and Berkeley continues to dazzle with numbers that are titillating (“Pettin’ in the Park”), elegant (“The Shadow Waltz”), and somberly patriotic (“Remember My Forgotten Man”).

May 21 (Saturday) 9 pm
May 23 (Monday) 7 pm

Gold Diggers of 1935

Directed by Busby Berkeley
US, 1935, b/w, 98 min.
With Dick Powell, Adolphe Menjou, Gloria Stuart
Romance and comedy fill the halls of a swanky New England resort. Dick Powell stars as a medical student working as a hotel clerk for the summer who falls for the daughter (Stuart) of a stingy millionairess (Alice Brady). Adolphe Menjou co-stars as a Russian impresario hired to stage the hotel’s annual charity show. For Berkeley’s first solo outing as director, Warner offered him a slight story and a more economical production budget. Despite these obstacles, he somehow managed to produce his most masterful musical number (and his personal favorite), “The Lullaby of Broadway,” featuring an endless parade of synchronized tap dancers.

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May 24 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Dames

Directed by Busby Berkeley and Ray Enright
US, 1934, b/w, 91 min.
With Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler

Powell and Keeler star once again as the young lovers in a film which follows the now-established backstage formula. Blondell, who serenades a pile of men’s underwear in “Girl at the Ironing Board,” and ZaSu Pitts give the familiar scenario some welcome comic bite and Berkeley outdoes himself with “I Only Have Eyes for You,” a number in which Powell’s longing for his leading lady materializes in a sea of dancing girls donning Ruby Keeler masks. When Warner Brothers could think of no other way to describe Berkeley’s choreography, they coined the term “cinematerpsichorean.”

May 24 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Gold Diggers of 1937

Directed by Lloyd Bacon
US, 1936, b/w, 101 min.
With Dick Powell, Joan Blondell, Victor Moore

After being coerced into selling a million-dollar insurance policy to a hypochondriac theatrical producer (Moore), a salesman (Powell) takes on a new role as producer in order to keep his client from going bankrupt. Berkeley’s involvement was primarily limited to two wonderfully staged musical numbers: “Let’s Put Our Heads Together,” which features fifty couples pitching woo in giant rocking chairs, and “All’s Fair in Love and War,” in which Joan Blondell leads a military drill of seventy chorus girls.

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May 25 (Wednesday) 7 pm

Roman Scandals

Directed by Frank Tuttle
US, 1933, b/w, 92 min.
With Eddie Cantor, Ruth Etting, Gloria Stuart

A history buff (Cantor) dreams of life in ancient Rome and through the magic of cinema finds himself transported to the days of the Emperor (played with villainous zeal by Edward Arnold). As an imperial slave, Eddie rises to the position of food taster before getting mixed up in a plot to murder the Emperor. One of the racier movie musicals, the film features one of Cantor’s infamous blackface performances and a slave-market sequence in which Berkeley convinced a number of the actresses to appear completely nude, a practice which undoubtedly ended with the rise of the Hays Code. This was the last feature Berkeley made for Samuel Goldwyn before his incredibly successful run with Warner Brothers.

May 25 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Palmy Days

Directed by A. Edward Sutherland
US, 1931, b/w, 77 min.
With Eddie Cantor, Charlotte Greenwood, George Raft

A gang of shady spiritualists led by a young George Raft plan to rob a large bakery staffed by a gaggle of Gorgeous Goldwyn Cover Girls (as they were so named in the film’s publicity). Enter Eddie Cantor, who inadvertently outwits the criminals while being pursued romantically by an energetic trainer at the bakery’s gymnasium (Greenwood). Cantor sings “My Baby Says Yes, Yes,” which became one of his signature numbers, and Berkeley begins to experiment with his trademark overhead camera shots, adding a new vision to the familiar shtick.

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May 27 (Friday) 7 pm

Babes in Arms

Directed by Busby Berkeley
US, 1939, b/w, 93 min.
With Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Charles Winninger

Based on the Rodgers and Hart musical, the film stars Mickey Rooney as the son of an old vaudevillian (Winninger) who decides to put on a show to save his father and his fellow performers from hardhsip. Babes in Arms was the first musical collaboration between Rooney and Judy Garland, who give a spirited rendition of the title song as well as other Rodgers and Hart classics. It also marked Berkeley’s first venture as a director for MGM, putting an official end to the era of the Warner spectaculars.

May 28 (Saturday) 7 pm

In Caliente

Directed by Lloyd Bacon
US, 1935, b/w, 85 min.
With With Dolores Del Rio, Pat O’Brien, Edward Everett Horton

When a Mexican dancer (Del Rio) gets a negative review from a flippant magazine editor (O’Brien), the two meet again in the resort town of Caliente where they inevitably fall in love. Wini Shaw belts out an inspired performance of “The Lady in Red” and Berkeley dazzles with a fandango-flavored interpretation of “Muchacha” in which a hotel patio is magically transformed into a banditos’ cave. Following a party to celebrate the film’s completion, Berkeley drove into two other vehicles killing three passengers. He was later tried and acquitted of second-degree murder.

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May 27 (Friday) 9 pm

Babes on Broadway

Directed by Busby Berkeley
US, 1941, b/w, 118 min.
With Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Fay Bainter

Once again, Mickey and Judy decide to put on a show in order to raise money for a group of orphaned children. But success goes to Mickey’s head, and he must decide between success and the people who put him there. Blatantly patriotic, with elaborate salutes to FDR and his policies, the film features Rooney and Garland performing in blackface in the show’s big finale and also marked the first collaboration between Garland and Vincente Minelli, who directed the starlet’s solo musical numbers.

May 28 (Saturday) 9 pm

For Me and My Gal

Directed by Busby Berkeley
US, 1942, b/w, 104 min.
With Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, George Murphy

Gene Kelly made his film debut in this collaboration between director Berkeley and the producer and sometime lyricist Arthur Freed. Kelly plays Harry Palmer, a song-and-dance man who maims his own hand in order to dodge the World War I draft. His stage partner Jo Hayden (Garland) leaves him in disappointment, and it is up to Harry to redeem himself. Rife with World War II-era escapist patriotism elevated by the chemistry and star power of its leads, For Me and My Gal also features the American screen debut of the Hungarian musical star Márta Eggerth, who performs an unforgettable number in a railroad car.

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May 29 (Sunday) 6:30 pm

Ziegfeld Girl

Directed by Robert Z. Leonard
US, 1941, b/w, 131 min.
With James Stewart, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr

The fortunes of three rising stars of the stage (Garland, Lamarr, Lana Turner) are examined in one of the more lavish WWII-era Hollywood musicals. One of the Ziegfeld girls makes it big, one settles for marriage, and one flops–undoubtedly a narrative inspiration for Jacqueline Susann in Valley of the Dolls. Berkeley choreographs with his usual flair in such standards as “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” “Minnie from Trinidad,” and “You Never Looked So Beautiful Before.”

May 29 (Sunday) 9 pm

Girl Crazy

Directed by Norman Taurog and Busby Berkeley
US, 1943, color, 99 min.
With Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, June Allyson

A playboy is sent off to an all-male Western mining college to clean up his act. His eye is quickly caught by the daughter of the school’s dean, who is training to win the title of Rodeo Queen. Less formulaic than the “put on a show” films which preceded it, the film marked one of the more endearing collaborations between Rooney and Garland. Berkeley’s only contribution was the colossal finale set to the strains of Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.”

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May 30 (Monday) 7 pm

The Gang’s All Here

Directed by Busby Berkeley
US, 1943, color, 103 min.
With Alice Faye, Carmen Miranda, James Ellison

Alice Faye plays a nightclub singer who falls for a soldier, much to the dismay of his wealthy parents. She convinces the uptight couple to let her put on a show to entertain their son’s servicemen comrades. Berkeley’s first foray into color is made all the more vivid by banana-wielding chorus girls and the hyper-vivid presence of Carmen Miranda, who steals the show with “The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat.”

May 30 (Monday) 9 pm

Small Town Girl

Directed by Busby Berkeley and Leslie Kardos
US, 1953, color, 93 min.
With Jane Powell, Farley Granger, Ann Miller

Farley Granger plays a wealthy playboy arrested for speeding in a small town. Jane Powell co-stars in the title role as the judge’s daughter who takes it upon herself to reform the ne’er-do-well Granger. The story is razor-thin and merely a set piece around which to build some inspired musical numbers by Berkeley, including a frenetic performance of “Street Dance” by Bobby Van, in which he bounces around town like a human pogo stick, and “I’ve Got to Hear that Beat,” in which a showgirl played by Ann Miller maneuvers her way around a group of disembodied hands playing musical instruments.

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May 31 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Million Dollar Mermaid

Directed by Mervyn Leroy
US, 1952, color, 115 min.
With Esther Williams, Victor Mature, Walter Pidgeon

Loosely based on the life of real-life swimming sensation Annette Kellerman, Million Dollar Mermaid stars Esther Williams as a young woman who overcomes a genetic disorder in her leg through swimming and eventually becomes one of the greatest swimmers in the world. An opportunistic showman recognizes her skill and arranges for her to perform an unthinkable feat with his trained kangaroo. The swimmer and manager have a tempestuous relationship both in and out of the water, until she is forced to face her true feelings. Busby Berkeley puts his skills with the masses to use underwater, hiring over one hundred swimmers to bring new life to “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”

May 31 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Easy to Love

Directed by Charles Walters
US, 1953, color, 95 min.
With Esther Williams, Van Johnson, Tony Martin

Williams stars as the main attraction in an aquacade run by her indifferent boss (Johnson). She only wants him to notice her, but he is consumed with the show’s financial concerns. Meanwhile, Tony Martin pines away for the leading lady in song. Once again, the plot only serves to give the audience more of what they want: Esther in the water. Berkeley outdoes himself with an intricately staged motorboat/hang glider production number filmed at Florida’s Cypress Gardens.

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