October 25, 1933 [Footlight Parade]

Are Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler by a waterfall? Or do they dream it?

—Ah, no: Footlight Parade is Busby Berkeley’s dream, drenched by its own splash. And when Cagney sprints onto the stage and into the show—shoving his way past the picture he’s in, which is moving too slowly for him—looking for his Shanghai Lil, and the camera passes along the bar, and we see the world’s faces in drunken melancholy—well, he is dreaming, too, peppy as a mechanical doll gone mad.

And the blue-nosed censor, Hugh Herbert, can’t stop it; and the cigar-chomping, starved-for-sleep dance director, Frank McHugh, can’t help it—even as he croons and swoons with Cagney, the tough guy grinning in spite of himself at McHugh’s gusto; and nobody can keep up with it, lit and spinning in geometric fireworks.

The Depression rises (so to speak) and Hollywood leaps up to meet it, clamping glittering jaws on its neck, refusing to let go, whether or not its grip does any good.


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