The Depression as a period of artists in suspension, Busby Berkeley to the rescue: "Well, show business could stand a little genius..." Surrealism pervades the image right out of the box, "We're in the Money" is performed by chorines with giant coins adorning their saucy bits while the camera dollies in for an uncanny close-up of Ginger Rogers' pig-Latin aria. (The outside world interrupts this fantasy opulence, creditors storm in and confiscate the golden plate on the showgirl's bikini bottom.) Filching bottles of milk from the neighbor's porch is no life for the creative mind, the struggling roommates (Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon, Ruby Keeler) bond over the new production by the grousing maestro (Ned Sparks) and saunter down "the primrose path on the Great White Way." On their side is the blueblood scion mooning as songwriter (Dick Powell), spoilsporting duties go to the moneyed brother (Warren William) with a secret hankering for working-class blondes. Mervyn Leroy plays traffic cop for all these complications, clearing the road for Berkeley's tremendous inventions as soon as the curtain goes up to reveal the inflamed realm of dreams. "Pettin' in the Park" has Powell and Keeler as demure lovebirds horny as hell, with rollerskates and snowballs multiplying ferociously and soaked translucence giving way to metallic corsets. (Billy Barty's toddling voyeur lends a can-opener and a wink.) From flesh to electricity, "The Shadow Waltz" puts troupers with plugged-in fiddles on Dalian staircases; hoop skirts contract and dilate like petals in overhead shots, then the lights go out and they're fused into one huge neon violin. Finally, "a blue song—no, not a blue song, a wailing": "Remember My Forgotten Man," a rare chance to see Blondell's rollicking eyes charged with sublime sorrow. (By contrast, MacMahon's sad eyes are continuously dancing.) The two-way street of war (confetti and streamers on one side, pain and breadlines on the other) is the confrontational New Deal spectacle: Russell's The Boy Friend and Ross' Pennies from Heaven are both on the horizon, but nothing beats Lang's You and Me for Hollywood Brecht. With Guy Kibbee, Sterling Holloway, and Etta Moten. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce