42nd Street (film)

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42nd Street
42nd Street (1933 film poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLloyd Bacon
Screenplay by
Based on42nd Street
by Bradford Ropes
Produced byDarryl F. Zanuck
CinematographySol Polito
Edited by
Music by
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • March 11, 1933 (1933-03-11) (US)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.3 million[4][5][3]

42nd Street is a 1933 American pre-Code musical film directed by Lloyd Bacon, and a script by Rian James and James Seymour (plus uncredited contributions by Whitney Bolton), adapted from the 1932 novel of the same name by Bradford Ropes. Starring an ensemble cast of Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, George Brent, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers, the film revolved around the rehearsals of a Broadway show at the height of the Great Depression, and its cast and crew. The film was choreographed by Busby Berkeley, with music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin.

This backstage musical was very successful at the box office and is now a classic. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. In 1998, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2006, it ranked 13th on the American Film Institute's list of best musicals. A stage adaption of the film debuted on Broadway in 1980, winning two Tony Awards, including Best Musical.


It is 1932, the depth of the Great Depression, and noted Broadway producers Jones and Barry are putting on Pretty Lady, a musical starring Dorothy Brock. She is involved with wealthy Abner Dillon, the show's "angel" (financial backer), but while she is busy keeping him both hooked and at arm's length, she is secretly seeing her old vaudeville partner, out-of-work Pat Denning.

Julian Marsh is hired to direct, although his doctor warns that he risks his life if he continues in his high-pressure profession. Despite a long string of successes he's broke, a result of the 1929 Stock Market Crash, so he must make his last show a hit, in order to have enough money to retire.

Cast selection and rehearsals begin amidst fierce competition, with not a few "casting couch" innuendos flying around. Naïve newcomer Peggy Sawyer, who arrives in New York from her home in Allentown, Pennsylvania, is duped and ignored until two experienced chorines, Lorraine Fleming and Ann "Anytime Annie" Lowell, take her under their wing. Lorraine is assured a job because of her relationship with dance director Andy Lee; she also sees to it that Ann and Peggy are chosen. The show's juvenile lead, Billy Lawler, takes an immediate liking to Peggy, as does Pat.

Naive newcomer Peggy makes her first faux pas, antagonizing tough director Julian Marsh

When Marsh learns about Dorothy's relationship with Pat, he sends some thugs led by his gangster friend Slim Murphy to rough him up. That, plus her realization that their situation is unhealthy, makes Dorothy and Pat agree not to see each other for a while. He gets a stock job in Philadelphia.

Rehearsals continue for five weeks, to Marsh's complete dissatisfaction, until the night before the show's opening in Philadelphia, when Dorothy breaks her ankle. By the next morning, Abner has quarreled with her and wants Marsh to replace her with his new girlfriend, Annie. Annie confesses in earnest that she can't carry the show, but convinces the director that the inexperienced Peggy can. With 200 jobs and his future riding on the outcome, a desperate Julian rehearses Peggy mercilessly until an hour before the premiere, vowing "I'll either have a live leading lady or a dead chorus girl."

Billy finally gets up the nerve to tell Peggy he loves her. They embrace and kiss, just as Dorothy shows up and walks through the door. Surprisingly, she wishes Peggy the best of luck and reveals that she and Pat are finally getting married. The show goes on to rousing applause. The last twenty minutes of the film are devoted to three Busby Berkeley production numbers: "Shuffle Off to Buffalo", "(I'm) Young and Healthy", and "42nd Street".

The show is a hit. As the theater audience comes out, Julian stands in the shadows outside the stage door, hearing comments that Peggy is the star and that he, the director, doesn't deserve the credit for the show's success.[6]

Plot note

In the original Bradford Ropes novel, Julian and Billy are lovers. Since same-sex relationships were unacceptable in films by the moral standards of the era, the studio substituted a romance between Billy and Peggy. Although in one scene a gay innuendo is presented, as director Marsh puts his arm over choreographer Andy Lee's shoulder and asks if he has a date for the evening, who replies "No." Immediately Marsh replies, "Come on home with me will you? I'm lonesome."

A lobby card for the film


The film's uncredited cast includes Harry Akst as Jerry, Adele Lacy as a chorus girl,[8] Guy Kibbee's brother Milton, Louise Beavers, Lyle Talbot, George Irving and Charles Lane. Dubin and Warren, who wrote the film's songs, make cameo appearances.


Dorothy strings the "angel" along, but her heart belongs to her old partner, Pat.

The film was Ruby Keeler's first, and the first time that Berkeley, Warren and Dubin had worked for Warner Bros. Director Lloyd Bacon was not the first choice to direct – he replaced Mervyn LeRoy when LeRoy became ill. LeRoy was dating Ginger Rogers at the time, and had suggested to her that she take the role of "Anytime Annie".[7][9]

Actors who were considered for lead roles when the film was being cast include Warren William and Richard Barthelmess for the role of Julian Marsh, eventually played by Warner Baxter; Kay Francis and Ruth Chatterton instead of Bebe Daniels for the role of Dorothy Brock; Loretta Young as Peggy Sawyer instead of Ruby Keeler; Joan Blondell instead of Ginger Rogers for Anytime Annie; Glenda Farrell for the role of Lorraine, played by Una Merkel, and Frank McHugh instead of the diminutive George E. Stone as Andy, the dance director.

The film began production on October 5, 1932. The shooting schedule ran for 28 days at the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank, California. The total cost of making it has been estimated to be $340,000–$439,000.[10][11]

Musical numbers[edit]

All songs have music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin.[12]

The "Love Theme", written by Harry Warren, is played under scenes between Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell, and Bebe Daniels and George Brent. It has no title or lyrics, and is unpublished.

The music playing during dance rehearsals and the opening of the show is an instrumental piano piece that Harry Warren wrote, titled "Pretty Lady."

A special patter with different music was written for the song "Forty-Second Street" and the production number of same, with music by Warren and lyrics by Dubin. It was cut for unknown reasons from the finished film, but an unpublished manuscript of this still exists.

Though the songs of 42nd Street all allude to sex, there is a single moment at the end of "Shuffle Off to Buffalo", when one word of the scripted lyrics, "belly", was changed to "tummy" presumedly to comply with the then weakly enforced Motion Picture Production Code of 1930. But in making the change, the filmmakers purposely drew attention to the censored word. During the last two verses, Una Merkel & Ginger Rogers sing about a traveling salesman who impregnates the farmer's daughter, and then is forced into a shotgun wedding. The lyric as scripted is: "He did right by little Nellie, with a shotgun in his belly..."[13] But as Ginger sings it, Una gestures to her and she changes the last word: "He did right by little Nellie, with a shotgun in his bel - - tummy".


The film premiered in New York on March 9, 1933 at the Strand Theatre, and went into general release two days later, becoming one of the most profitable ones of the year, bringing in an estimated gross of $2,300,000, equal to $45,982,262 today. According to Warner Bros. records, the film earned $1,438,000 domestically and $843,000 abroad.[3] It received Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Sound Recording, and was named one of the 10 Best Films of 1933 by Film Daily.[9][14][15]

Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times called the film "invariably entertaining" and, "The liveliest and one of the most tuneful screen musical comedies that has come out of Hollywood".[16]

The New York World-Telegram described it as "A sprightly entertainment, combining, as it did, a plausible enough story of back-stage life, some excellent musical numbers and dance routines and a cast of players that are considerably above the average found in screen musicals."[17]

"Every element is professional and convincing", wrote Variety. "It'll socko the screen musical fans with the same degree that Metro's pioneering screen musicals did."[18]

John Mosher of The New Yorker called it "a bright movie" with "as pretty a little fantasy of Broadway as you may hope to see", and praised Baxter's performance as "one of the best he has given us", though he described the plot as "the most conventional one to be found in such doings."[19]

42nd Street continued to win praise in the decades after its release.

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 96% rating based on 25 reviews. Its Critic Consensus reads: " Bubsy(sic) Berkeley does it again in 42nd Street, a brilliant depression-era romp with stellar musical numbers and impeccable choreography."[20]

Critic Pauline Kael wrote, "(It) gave life to the clichés that have kept parodists happy."[21]

On January 14, 2004, Dennis Schwartz observed: "The musical film was changed forever by this innovative one, while due to its tremendous box office appeal it not only saved Warner Brothers from bankruptcy but made it into a major studio. Busby Berkeley … created numbers tailored-made for this film that exceeded the previous conventional limits... One can’t say enough good things about what Busby Berkeley did for the musical...The unneeded melodramatics get in the way of the musical numbers and the fun atmospheric backstage happenings. But when the music is blasting away, this becomes a magical picture and all is forgiven."[22]

On April 10, 2020, in The New Yorker, listing the best films to stream during the Covid-19 pandemic, Richard Brody observes: “Modern musicals start here, and Busby Berkeley’s genius bursts into full flower.”[23]

Stage Adaptation[edit]

In 1980, the film was adapted into a stage musical by Harry Warren and Al Dublin. It featured additional songs by Warren and lyrics by Dublin and Johnny Mercer and a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble. The original broadway production directed and choreographed by Gower Champion won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Since then, it has been produced both regionally and professionally around the world. The soundtrack included all musical numbers from the film besides "June."

Awards and honors[edit]

Award Date of


Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Academy Awards March 16, 1934 Best Picture Lloyd Bacon Nominated [24]
Best Sound Nathan Levinson Nominated

American Film Institute recognition

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 42nd Street at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ Sedgwick, John (October 25, 2000). Popular Filmgoing in 1930s Britain: A Choice of Pleasures. University of Exeter Press. ISBN 9780859896603 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ a b c Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 13 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  4. ^ Quigley Publishing Company "The All Time Best Sellers", International Motion Picture Almanac 1937-38 (1938) p 942, accessed April 19, 2014
  5. ^ "WHICH CINEMA FILMS HAVE EARNED THE MOST MONEY SINCE 1914?". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. March 4, 1944. p. 3 Supplement: The Argus Weekend Magazine. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  6. ^ Green, Stanley (1999) Hollywood Musicals Year by Year (2nd ed.), pub. Hal Leonard Corporation ISBN 0-634-00765-3 page 20
  7. ^ a b Clip of first reference to Ginger Rogers' character as "Anytime Annie", a pre-Code element in 42nd Street (1933 film) on YouTube
  8. ^ "1933, 42nd Street: Set Design , Cinema". theredlist.com.
  9. ^ a b TCM "42nd Street" (1933) Notes
  10. ^ IMDb Business Data for "42nd Street"
  11. ^ TCM "42nd Street" (1933) Overview
  12. ^ IMDb Soundtracks
  13. ^ "Shuffle Off to Buffalo", lyrics from ‘42nd Street’ Warner Brothers 1933
  14. ^ IMDb Awards for "42nd Street" (1933)
  15. ^ AllMovieGuide 42nd Street Awards
  16. ^ Hall, Mordaunt (March 10, 1933). "Movie Review: 42nd Street". The New York Times. Retrieved December 8, 2014.
  17. ^ "New York Reviews". The Hollywood Reporter. Los Angeles. March 15, 1933. p. 2.
  18. ^ "42d Street". Variety. New York. March 14, 1933. p. 14.
  19. ^ Mosher, John (March 18, 1933). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 62.
  20. ^ 42nd Street, retrieved November 11, 2021
  21. ^ Bianco, Anthony (2004). Ghosts of 42nd Street: A History of America's Most Infamous Block. New York: Harper Collins. p. 217. ISBN 978-0-688-17089-9.
  22. ^ "42ND STREET – Dennis Schwartz Reviews". Retrieved November 12, 2021.
  23. ^ "What to Stream: Eighty-Three of the Best Movies on Amazon Prime Right Now". The New Yorker. April 10, 2020. Retrieved November 11, 2021.
  24. ^ "The 6th Academy Awards (1934) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved August 7, 2011.

External links[edit]