Footlight Parade

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Footlight Parade
Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Produced by Robert Lord
Written by James Seymour
Manuel Seff
Robert Lord (story)
Peter Milne (story)
Starring James Cagney
Joan Blondell
Ruby Keeler
Dick Powell
Music by Harry Warren
Al Dubin
Sammy Fain
Irving Kahal
Cinematography George Barnes
Editing by George Amy
Studio The Vitaphone Corporation
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates September 30, 1933
October 21, 1933
Running time 104 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $703,000 (est.)
Box office $1.75 million[3]

Footlight Parade is a 1933 American musical film starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell and featuring Frank McHugh, Guy Kibbee, Hugh Herbert and Ruth Donnelly. The movie was written by Manuel Seff and James Seymour from a story by Robert Lord and Peter Milne, and directed by Lloyd Bacon.

The spectacular Busby Berkeley musical numbers, written by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics)[1] and Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics),[2] include "By a Waterfall", "Honeymoon Hotel", and "Shanghai Lil".

In 1992, Footlight Parade was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The snowflake scene from the film is featured in Disney's The Great Movie Ride as part of the attraction.


Chester Kent (James Cagney) replaces his failing career as a director of Broadway musicals with a new one as the creator of musical numbers called "prologues", short live stage productions presented in movie theaters before the main feature is shown. He faces pressure from his business partners to constantly create a large number of marketable prologues to service theaters throughout the country, but his job is made harder by a rival who is stealing his ideas, probably with assistance from someone working inside his company. Kent is so overwhelmed with work that he doesn't realize that his secretary, Nan (Joan Blondell), has fallen in love with him, and is doing her best to protect him.

Kent's business partners announce that they have a big deal pending with the Apolinaris theater circuit, but getting the contract depends on Kent impressing Mr. Apolinaris with three spectacular prologues, presented on the same night, one after another at three different theatres. Kent locks himself and his staff in the offices to prevent espionage leaks while they choreograph and rehearse the three production numbers. Kent then stages "Honeymoon Hotel", "By a Waterfall", featuring the famous 'Human Waterfall', and "Shanghai Lil", featuring Cagney and Ruby Keeler dancing together.


  • James Cagney as Chester Kent, creator of musical prologues
  • Joan Blondell as Nan Prescott, his secretary
  • Ruby Keeler as Bea Thorn, dancer turned secretary turned dancer
  • Dick Powell as Scott 'Scotty' Blair, juvenile lead, former protege of Mrs. Gould
  • Frank McHugh as Francis, dance director
  • Ruth Donnelly as Harriet Bowers Gould, the producer's nepotistic wife
  • Guy Kibbee as Silas 'Si' Gould, producer
  • Hugh Herbert as Charlie Bowers, Mrs. Gould's brother, the censor
  • Claire Dodd as Vivian Rich, Nan's friend, a gold digger
  • Gordon Westcott as Harry Thompson, Kent's assistant
  • Arthur Hohl as Al Frazer, the other producer
  • Renee Whitney as Cynthia Kent, Kent's ex-wife
  • Barbara Rogers as Gracie, a dancer
  • Paul Porcasi as George Apolinaris, owner of a chain of movie theaters
  • Philip Faversham as Joe Barrington, juvenile lead, protege of Mrs. Gould
  • Herman Bing as Fralick, the music director
  • Billy Barty as Mouse and Little Boy
  • Hobart Cavanaugh as Title-Thinkerupper
  • Donna Mae Roberts as A chorus girl
  • Loretta Andrews as A chorus girl
  • Mildred Dixon as Maid, "Honeymoon Hotel"
  • Victoria Vinton as A chorus girl

Dorothy Lamour and Ann Sothern were among the many chorus girls in the film. It was Lamour's film debut. It is often written that John Garfield made his (uncredited) film debut in this film, but experts were divided if it was actually him in the very quick (5/6ths of a second) shot.[4][5] According to the 2003 Turner Classic Movies documentary The John Garfield Story, it is not Garfield.

The "By a Waterfall" production number featured 300 choreographed swimmers

Musical numbers[edit]

  • "Honeymoon Hotel" – by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics)
  • "Shanghai Lil" – by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics)
  • "By a Waterfall" – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • "My Shadow" – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • "Ah, the Moon Is Here" – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • "Sitting on a Backyard Fence" – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)[6]


Early casting had Stanley Smith playing the juvenile lead eventually played by Dick Powell, and Dorothy Tennant playing Mrs. Gould instead of Ruth Donnelly. Other actors considered for various roles included Eugene Pallette, George Dobbs and Patricia Ellis. Remarkably, considering that his musical numbers are the highlight of the film, Busby Berkeley was not the original choice to choreograph - Larry Ceballos was signed to direct the dance numbers, and sued Berkeley and the studio for $100,000 for breach of contract when he was not allowed to do so. (Ceballos also claimed to have created a number later used in the Warner Bros. film Wonder Bar, which was credited to Berkeley.)

Kent rallies his troops for their tall order: create three lavish prologues in three days

Cagney's character, Chester Kent, was modelled after Chester Hale, a well-known impresario at the time, and the offices he worked in were based on the Sunset Boulevard offices of the prologue production company "Fanchon and Marco" in Los Angeles.[4]

Footlight Parade was shot at the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank, California, and cost an estimated $703,000 to make (or approximately $13 million in 2012 dollars). It premiered on 30 September 1933, and was released generally on 21 October.[7][8][9]

Pre-code era[edit]

The film was made during the Pre-Code era, and its humor is sometimes quite risqué, with multiple references to prostitution and suggestions of profanity largely unseen in studio films until the 1960s, when the Production Code collapsed. For example, Dick Powell's character is being "kept" by Mrs. Gould until he falls in love with another girl. Joan Blondell tells her roommate, who tries to steal Cagney away from her, that as long as there are sidewalks, the roommate will have a job. In the Shanghai Lil number, it is clear that Lil and all the other girls are prostitutes working the waterfront bars.

One character in the film, played by actor Hugh Herbert acts as the censor for Kent's productions, constantly telling Kent certain parts of his production numbers have to be changed. His character is portrayed as buffoonish and comical, saying disagreeable lines to Kent such as "You must put brassieres on those dolls..." (referring to actual dolls) "...uh uh, you know Connecticut." This character foreshadows the coming Production Code, which was in full force less than a year later.

Bea was not an immediate fan of Scotty


Chester Kent: "Aw, talking pictures, it's just a fad."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Allmovie Overview
  2. ^ a b TCM Full Credits
  3. ^ "WHICH CINEMA FILMS HAVE EARNED THE MOST MONEY SINCE 1914?.". The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956) (Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia). 4 March 1944. p. 3 Supplement: The Argus Weekend magazine. Retrieved 6 August 2012. 
  4. ^ a b TCM "Footlight Parade" notes
  5. ^ IMDB Trivia for "Footlight Parade"
  6. ^ TCM Music
  7. ^ IMDB Business Data for "Footlight Parade"
  8. ^ IMDB Release Dates for "Footlight Parade"
  9. ^ TCM Overview for "Footlight Parade"

External links[edit]