Gold Diggers of Broadway

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Gold Diggers of Broadway
GoldDiggersBroadway2.jpg
theatrical poster
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Written by Avery Hopwood (play)
Robert Lord (story)
De Leon Anthony (titles)
Starring Winnie Lightner
Nick Lucas
Music by Joseph Burke (music)
Al Dubin (lyrics)
Cinematography Barney McGill
Ray Rennahan
(Technicolor)
Edited by William Holmes
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) August 30, 1929
Running time 101 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2,250,000[1]

Gold Diggers of Broadway is a 1929 Warner Bros. comedy/musical film which is historically important as the second two-strip Technicolor all-talking feature length movie (after On with the Show, also released that year by Warner Bros). Gold Diggers of Broadway was also the third movie released by Warner Bros. to be in color; the first was a black-and-white, part-color musical, The Desert Song (1929). Gold Diggers of Broadway became a box office sensation, making Winnie Lightner a worldwide star and boosting guitarist crooner Nick Lucas to further fame as he sang two songs that became 20th-century standards: "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" and "Painting the Clouds with Sunshine."

Based on the 1919 play The Gold Diggers[2] – which was also turned into a silent film of the same name in 1923, now lost – Gold Diggers of Broadway utilized Technicolor, showgirls and sound as its main selling points.

It earned a domestic gross of $3.5 million, extending to over $5 million worldwide (adjusted for inflation in 2007 this would be a gross of around $60 million). The original production cost was approximately $500,000. It was chosen as one of the ten best films of 1929 by Film Daily. As with many early Technicolor films, no complete print survives, although the last twenty minutes do, but are missing a bridging sequence and the last minute of the film. Contemporary reviews, the soundtrack and the surviving footage suggest that the film was a fast-moving comedy which was enhanced by Technicolor and a set of lively and popular songs. It encapsulates the spirit of the flapper era, giving us a glimpse of a world about to be changed by the Great Depression.

Because the film is considered a partially lost film, the loose remake, Gold Diggers of 1933, is the most frequently seen version of the story.

Plot[edit]

Frame from Gold Diggers of Broadway

The film opens on an audience watching a lavish 1929 Broadway show, featuring a giant gold mine production number ("Song of the Gold Diggers"). Famous guitarist Nick Lucas sings "Painting the Clouds with Sunshine", which climaxes on stage with a huge art deco revolving sun.

Backstage, the star of the show (Ann Pennington) fights over Nick with another girl. Also introduced are a group of chorus girls who are 'man hungry'. They are all looking for love and money, but are not sure which is the more important. They are visited by a faded star who is reduced to selling cosmetic soap. They gossip about how they all want a man with plenty of money, so they do not end up the same way.

Businessman Stephen Lee (Conway Tearle) angrily forbids his nephew Wally (William Bakewell) to marry Violet, one of the showgirls. A corpulent lawyer friend, Blake (Albert Gran), advises him to befriend the showgirl first before making a decision. The showgirls are friends who stick together, and the most raucous girl called Mabel (Winnie Lightner) takes a fancy to Blake, calling him 'sweetie' and showing her appreciation by singing him a song ("Mechanical Man").

That evening, they all visit a huge nightclub. Mabel ends up on a table singing another song to Blake, "Wolf from the Door", before jumping into his lap. Showgirl Jerry (Nancy Welford) moves the party to her apartment. Everyone gets drunk and after seeing Ann Pennington dance on the kitchen table, Lee decides he is 'getting to like these showgirls'. Blake says he is 'losing his mind or just plain mad'. Keeping the fun going, Lucas sings "Tiptoe Through the Tulips". Complications come thick and fast after a balloon game, with both Blake and Lee falling under the spell of Mabel and Jerry. The party ends with Lucas singing "Go to Bed" and Jerry contriving to get Lee back after everyone has left. She gets him more drunk whilst tipping her own drinks away when he is not looking. Her aim is to get Lee to agree to allow Wally to marry. To do this, she lies and is shown up by her own mother, who accidentally finds them together.

Next morning, Jerry feels disgraced. Mabel has been given an extra line for the show "I am the spirit of the ages and the progress of civilisation", but cannot get the words right. Lucas is told off for singing poor songs and sings another "What will I do without you". Ann Pennington fights with another showgirl and hurts her eye. Jerry is asked to take her place as the star of the evening performance. Mabel receives a proposal of marriage from Blake, but worries about her extra line.

The show starts with Nick Lucas reprising "Tiptoe Through the Tulips"' with full orchestra in a huge stage set that shows girl tulips in a huge greenhouse. Backstage, Uncle Steve comes back to give his consent to his nephew and to tell Jerry he wants to marry her.

The finale starts with Jerry leading the "Song of the Gold Diggers" against a huge art deco backdrop of Paris at night. Various acrobats and girls litter the stage as all the songs are reprised in a fast moving, lavish production number. This ends with Jerry sweeping through the middle as the music reaches a climax. Mabel then says her line, but forgets the end.

Cast[edit]

Cast notes
  • Winnie Lightner became one of Warner Bros. biggest stars in 1930. She starred in two lavish Technicolor features in that year: Hold Everything and The Life of the Party. Winnie Lightner's first appearance as the title character in the 1931 Olsen & Johnson comedy Gold Dust Gertie pays homage to her success in Gold Diggers of Broadway by utilizing "Song of the Gold Diggers" as the musical underscoring during this sequence. Her flapperish care-free demeanor became decidedly dated as the conservatism of the 1930s took its course and this probably explains why she retired from films in 1934.
  • In a late 1960s audiotaped interview with Winnie Lightner, she speculated that her extremely poor eyesight (which began to fail unusually early) was due to her frequent exposure to the brilliant lighting required for the string of early Technicolor films she appeared in between 1929 and 1930.
  • Director Roy Del Ruth married Winnie Lightner in 1940.
  • The only actors in the 1929 film to have also appeared in the 1923 silent version, The Gold Diggers, were Gertrude Short and Louise Beavers. Largely forgotten today, Short is perhaps best known to film buffs as the aggressive reporter who hounds Robert Armstrong in the opening reel of Son of Kong (1933). Beavers, who made her (uncredited) film debut in the silent The Gold Diggers would eventually make 156 film appearances, many of them as scene-stealing maids, and played "Beulah" for a season on the television series of that name.[3] She also starred with Claudette Colbert in the original 1934 version of Imitation of Life, largely considered her greatest role.

Production[edit]

The song "Painting the Clouds with Sunshine" was originally the main theme for the film. After Nick Lucas signed up for the film (he was hired by Darryl Zanuck) it was spotted as a potential hit and "Tip-toe through the Tulips" was written to enlarge the film and proved, against expectations to be just as popular. Zanuck provided an extra production number for the tune. It became his theme song, yet ended up being emulated in a much different version by the 1960s singer Tiny Tim who recorded it as a novelty, and eventually attached a campy stigma to the tune that would remain, seemingly forever after. However, Lucas was a favorite of Tiny Tim's and even appeared as a guest at Tim's infamous wedding ceremony on The Tonight Show in 1969, singing both of their trademark number.

The two production numbers for "Painting the Clouds with Sunshine" and "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" both start on a smaller set and move to a larger one. To change between sets while the song was sung and create a seamless transition, instead of using a curtain, a shot of a stagehand was shown, throwing a sparking electric lighting switch which darkens one scene out and fades in another.

The basic storyline was modified and reused in later Warner Bros. films such as Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) and Painting the Clouds with Sunshine (1951).

Majestic Pictures attempted to cash in on the "Gold Diggers" concept by naming a feature Gold Diggers of Paris, however Warner Bros. prevented this via legal action. Warners released a film called Gold Diggers in Paris in 1938.

Technicolor[edit]

Mordaunt Hall wrote in his review for The New York Times:

"The fun, coupled with the lovely pastel shades, the tuneful melodies, a sensible narrative, competent acting and elaborate stage settings, resulted in an extraordinarily pleasing entertainment. It caused one to meditate in the end on the remarkable progress of the screen, for not only are the voices reproduced with rare precision, but every opportunity is taken of the Technicolor process in producing the hues and glitter of a musical comedy."

The Technicolor process used for this film could not reproduce a full range of color. This early 'two-color' version was a compromise that kept the red, but used a blue/green combination with the emphasis on the green. The resulting prints reproduced a rich "sepia like" browns, "reds" that varied from a muddied brick red to a coral pink and "greens" that were slightly muted and at their most pale, struggling to look like blue. No pure blue, yellow or purples were possible.

The Technicolor camera was specially constructed for the purpose of color photography, but used standard black-and-white panchromatic negative film. The gate of the camera contained a prism which split the incoming light into an image pair of film frames instead of the usual single image frame. Each image pair consisted of two back to back images, one exposed through a red filter and the other through green. The effect on the black-and-white negative was to have a record of the different color values from each filter recorded in shades of gray. This meant the negative was double the length of a conventional black-and-white negative.

This camera negative was cut and reprinted to form a complete reel, but this was done twice, once for each colour, using a special printer to strip off the images. The negative was then printed to a special print called a matrix. This was developed to convert the image into a gelatin relief which acted like a printing plate. To create Technicolor prints, a clear 35mm film reel was run into a special dye transfer machine. Underwater, the red exposed matrix was dyed green and brought into contact with the blank through a heated pressure roller. The dye in the matrix was stronger or weaker according to the thickness of the gelatin, which varied according to the values of the photographic image derived from the negative. The green dye transferred an image based on the original photographic values. This is known as imbibition printing (it has also been used for professional still photography). The complete reel was then fed through a second pass using the green exposed matrix and this was dyed red. When the red-dyed image was stamped over the green, a complete color image was formed (the process was later refined for full color to add a third pass (known as 3 strip Technicolor) and a silver or sometimes dye image to sharpen the print).

The prints were expensive (compared to black and white). The prints were never as well defined as a black-and-white print and this was due to unavoidable dye spread. The speed of the camera was around 4 ISO/ASA. The studio lighting was therefore very intense. Pure white was forbidden on costumes because of the glare and the resulting 'white out' on the matrix, which lead to transfer problems.

Songs[edit]

  • "Song of the Gold Diggers" (WB Vitaphone orchestra and stage chorus)
  • "Painting the Clouds with Sunshine" (Nick Lucas with WB Vitaphone orchestra and stage chorus)
  • "And Still They Fall in Love" (Winnie Lightner with backing)
  • "Song of the Gold Diggers" (Nancy Welford)
  • "Blushing bride" (Nancy Welford)
  • "Mechanical Man" (Winnie Lightner with backing)
  • "Painting the Clouds with Sunshine" - reprise (Nick Lucas with band)
  • "Keeping the Wolf from the door" (Winnie Lightner with band)
  • "Tip-toe thru the Tulips" (Nick Lucas with guitar and band)
  • "The Pennington Glide" (Instrumental - Apartment Party Sequence) (Title cited in script)
  • "The Poison kiss of that Spaniard" (need confirmation of this band instrumental) is connected with above entry?
  • "In a Kitchenette" (Nick Lucas on guitar)
  • "Go to Bed" (Nick Lucas on guitar)
  • "What Will I Do Without You?" (Nick Lucas on guitar)
  • "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" - reprise (Nick Lucas with WB Vitaphone orchestra and chorus)
  • Finale featuring Nancy Welford with WB Vitaphone orchestra - "Song of the Gold Diggers" introduction/"Tip-toe thru the Tulips" (instrumental WB Vitaphone orchestra) /"Painting the Clouds with Sunshine" (instrumental WB Vitaphone orchestra) and chorus/"Mechanical Man" (instrumental WB Vitaphone orchestra) / Nancy Welford with WB Vitaphone orchestra - "Song of the Gold Diggers" - reprise and finale.

Advertising[edit]

Original advertisements for the film promised:

"VITAPHONE recreates The Gold Diggers of Broadway in 100% natural color in Technicolor"

"One hundred percent Color, an additional feature of Vitaphone all talking pictures, doubles the 'life-likeness' of this most vivid and enjoyable of all talking pictures."

"Look for the thrill of a lifetime the day you see Gold Diggers of Broadway.....And look for the Vitaphone sign when you want talking picture entertainment-always!"

"Picture a profuse procession of revue spectacle scenes in amazing settings....superbly staged chorus dancing numbers......the flashing wit of Winnie Lightner....the charm of Nancy Welford.....the astounding dancing of Ann Pennington.....the crooning of Nick Lucas.....love scenes as only Conway Tearle can play them......a story that had New York gasping and giggling for one solid year....and you only begun to imagine the treat that is in store for you"

Preservation[edit]

Gold Diggers of Broadway was filmed using the Vitaphone sound-on-disc system and released on ten reels of full frame 35mm nitrate film, two-component imbibition prints by Technicolor, with accompanying Vitaphone soundtrack discs. The discs, including the overture, have survived, but until around 1986 nothing was thought to have survived from the prints. At that time, an original print of the final reel, minus the final minute, was donated to the British Film Institute. It was faithfully copied to safety film and thus preserved. Nearly ten years later, another reel was discovered in Australia, the end of the distribution line. It proved to be the penultimate reel, featuring the "Tip-toe Through the Tulips" production number. It was missing a short bridging sequence. Only three brief fragments from earlier reels are known to survive: a few seconds from the "Song of the Gold Diggers" number, in black-and-white and with superimposed text, in the trailer for Gold Diggers of 1937; a 35mm nitrate fragment from the same number, running about twenty seconds, found included with a toy projector bought on eBay; and another 35mm nitrate fragment, also running less than a minute, from a non-musical scene featuring Lightner and Gran, which was found with fragments from another film in a small museum.

Although the film's copyright was renewed in the late 1950s, it does not appear to have been shown on television. 16mm prints of early Warner Bros. films, including sound-on-disc films, were made in the 1950s for distribution to local television stations, and some two-color Technicolor films now survive (in black and white) only because of those prints. It is unclear why this film is not among them. Because it was one of the studio's greatest successes and was then less than thirty years old, it appears unlikely that it was simply overlooked. It may be that a sufficiently complete set of picture and sound elements could not be located at that time.

Two excerpts from the film were to have been released as bonus features on the 80th Anniversary 3-Disc Deluxe Edition DVD of The Jazz Singer,[4] but due to an error only one was included. The excerpt identified as "Tip-toe Through the Tulips" is actually the finale, and the excerpt identified as the finale is actually a ballet sequence from MGM's The Rogue Song, another two-color Technicolor film for which only fragments of the picture element are known to exist.

The correct pair of excerpts can be found on the Warner Bros. DVD release of Gold Diggers of 1937.[5][6]

Reel(s) Preservation
1 - 8 Film presumed lost, soundtrack discs exist.
9 Film survives nearly complete, soundtrack disc exists.
10 Film survives except final minute, soundtrack disc exists.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ "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. 
  2. ^ IBDB The Gold Diggers
  3. ^ IMDB Louise Beavers
  4. ^ The Jazz Singer (US - DVD R1) in News > Releases at DVDActive
  5. ^ Gold Diggers of 1937
  6. ^ Gold Diggers of Broadway

External links[edit]