42nd Street (film)

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42nd Street
42nd Street (1933 film poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLloyd Bacon
Screenplay byRian James
James Seymour
Based on42nd Street
by Bradford Ropes
StarringWarner Baxter
Bebe Daniels
Ruby Keeler
George Brent
Dick Powell
Ginger Rogers
Music byHarry Warren (music)
Al Dubin (lyrics)
CinematographySol Polito
Edited byThomas Pratt
Frank Ware
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
‹See TfM›
  • March 9, 1933 (1933-03-09) (Strand Theatre)
  • March 11, 1933 (1933-03-11) (United States)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.3 million[3][4][2]

42nd Street is a 1933 American pre-Code musical film directed by Lloyd Bacon and starring Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, George Brent, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers. The choreography was staged by Busby Berkeley. The songs were written by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics). The script was written by Rian James and James Seymour, with Whitney Bolton, who was not credited, from the 1932 novel of the same name by Bradford Ropes.

This backstage musical was very successful at the box office and is now considered a classic by many. 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. It was adapted into a stage musical of the same name in 1980.


It is 1932, the depth of the Depression, and noted Broadway producers Jones (Robert McWade) and Barry (Ned Sparks) are putting on Pretty Lady, a musical starring Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels). She is involved with wealthy Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee), 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 (George Brent).

Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) 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 is 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 (Ruby Keeler), who arrives in New York from her home in Allentown, Pennsylvania, is duped and ignored until two experienced chorines, Lorraine Fleming (Una Merkel) and Ann "Anytime Annie" Lowell (Ginger Rogers),[5] take her under their wing. Lorraine is assured a job because of her relationship with dance director Andy Lee (George E. Stone); she also sees to it that Ann and Peggy are chosen. The show's juvenile lead, Billy Lawler (Dick Powell), 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 (Tom Kennedy) 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 Julian to replace her with his new girlfriend, Annie. She, however, tells him that she can't carry the show, but the inexperienced Peggy can. With 200 jobs and his future riding on the outcome, a desperate Julian rehearses Peggy mercilessly (vowing "I'll either have a live leading lady or a dead chorus girl") until an hour before the premiere.

Billy finally gets up the nerve to tell Peggy he loves her; she enthusiastically kisses him. Then Dorothy shows up and wishes her luck, telling her that she and Pat are getting married. The show goes on, and 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, hearing the comments that Peggy is a star and he (Marsh) does not deserve the credit for it.[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 film substituted a romance between Billy and Peggy.


Cast notes


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".[5][8][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.[9]

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..." 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 $45,426,478 today. 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.[8][13][14]

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".[15]

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."[16]

"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."[17]

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."[18]

Citic Pauline Kael wroteB " (It) gave life to the clichés that have kept parodists happy."[19]

A tracking shot between dancers' legs

Box office[edit]

According to Warner Bros. records, the film earned $1,438,000 domestically and $843,000 abroad.[2]

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 [20]
Best Sound Nathan Levinson Nominated

American Film Institute recognition

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sedgwick, John (October 25, 2000). Popular Filmgoing in 1930s Britain: A Choice of Pleasures. University of Exeter Press. ISBN 9780859896603 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ Quigley Publishing Company "The All Time Best Sellers", International Motion Picture Almanac 1937-38 (1938) p 942, accessed April 19, 2014
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^ a b c Clip of first reference to Ginger Rogers' character as "Anytime Annie", a pre-Code element in 42nd Street (1933 film) on YouTube
  6. ^ Green, Stanley (1999) Hollywood Musicals Year by Year (2nd ed.), pub. Hal Leonard Corporation ISBN 0-634-00765-3 page 20
  7. ^ "1933, 42nd Street: Set Design , Cinema". theredlist.com.
  8. ^ a b TCM "42nd Street" (1933) Notes
  9. ^ a b IMDb "42nd Street" (1933) Trivia
  10. ^ IMDb Business Data for "42nd Street"
  11. ^ TCM "42nd Street" (1933) Overview
  12. ^ IMDb Soundtracks
  13. ^ IMDb Awards for "42nd Street" (1933)
  14. ^ AllMovieGuide 42nd Street Awards
  15. ^ Hall, Mordaunt (March 10, 1933). "Movie Review: 42nd Street". The New York Times. Retrieved December 8, 2014.
  16. ^ "New York Reviews". The Hollywood Reporter. Los Angeles: Wilkerson Daily Corp. March 15, 1933. p. 2.
  17. ^ "42d Street". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc. March 14, 1933. p. 14.
  18. ^ Mosher, John (March 18, 1933). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 62.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ "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]