Gold Diggers of 1933
Brainscan’s comments and collages (and film clips in the Funhouse members’ section):
Gold Diggers of 1933 was one of the last movies to make it into distribution before Hollywood decided to enforce the Hays Code, largely in response to local, state and federal government censorship, or threats along those lines. This movie is, in many ways, precisely why Martin Quigley and Father Daniel Lord wrote the Code in the first place (in the cruelest of ironies, Father Lord’s motivation as a Roman Catholic priest was to protect children). No one back then was filming bare breasts or bare behinds, but what many producers worked to do was skate the thin edge of nudity. Movies used uncredited and scantily clad chorus girls, women in dressing rooms, stars in lingerie or in the tightest-fitting costumes and an occasional profile of nude women in silhouette. Gold Diggers of 1933 checks each of those boxes.
Let’s start with Joan Blondell, who never, ever disappointed, and sho’ ’nuff she does not in Gold Diggers. One short scene early in the movie has her put on nylons,
but a longer and more revealing scene showed her in a nightgown, brushing her hair – carefully brushing to reveal as much side-boobage as anyone could imagine.
That gal was something and, as her career from 1934 onward shows, she had dramatic and comedic talent out the wazoo, without the need to get almost nekkid to get hired. Born 50 years later, she would have had an entire wing of the Funhouse devoted to her.
So that’s a start. Gold Diggers also has one chorus gal in skimpy clothes,
a bunch of ’em in a dressing room
and a bunch more in a routine that is supposed to have the gals undress behind a backlit curtain. We get to see unmistakable boobage in silhouette.
Another of the movie’s stars, Aline MacMahon, also spends some time in lingerie (and in a bath tub, but she might as well have been in an overcoat for all we can see). Not perfectly sure, but it seems we might have some nipplage barely covered by silk.
And then there is Ginger Rogers. I had no hope of seeing anything at all from Ms. Rogers, and sure enough as she sings some stupid song in pig latin you see nada.
A short scene in which she is kind of, sort of disrobed by a guy sent to confiscate all the costumes and props of a live show also reveals nothing much… until you pay attention to south of the equator. Let’s just say Ginger wears some of the tightest fitting and flimsiest shorts you can imagine, so that as she moves, they also move… into some intimate regions. Yup.
Gold Diggers is a silly, fluffy movie made 4 years into the Great Depression with a message that we’d be okay, all of us, very soon. Uh, no. So far as the title is concerned, three of the four women in the movie are indeed Gold Diggers by the Kanye West definition, for two of them marry heirs to a fabulous fortune and another hooks up with a guy just a rung lower (he is the family’s lawyer). They spend no time at all with impecunious fellows.
Scoop’s captures and notes on the nudity:
The Blu-Ray version of this film makes it very clear that at least some of those women behind the screen were topless.
Look below at number 2 from the left and the farthest right (and that woman on the far right has some shapely figure):
And below, center, is the distinct outline of a nipple. That alone was risque by 1933 standards.
The full scene hints at other possibilities
Scoop’s notes on the film:
The historian William Manchester called 1932 America’s worst year. It was the very nadir of the Great Depression. Families were starving. Able-bodied men, unable to find work, were forced to stand in breadlines. Cheery films like this were meant to be an anodyne for our psychological suffering.
As seen in that light, it’s kind of an odd film in that the musical numbers progress in a reverse order, from optimistic to pessimistic. The first number is the snappy “We’re in the Money,” filled with lovely women wearing coins and dollar signs, giving off a message that “this depression is no match for our spunky spirit.” The last number is the somber, depressing “Forgotten Man,” which portrays the brave men who put their lives on the line in WW1, men who were still able and willing to work, but were forced to resort to charity in order to feed their families in the Great Depression. While the number celebrates their bravery, it also laments the society’s inability to reward them accordingly for that valor. I actually finished this film feeling kind of sad. I think it made the damned depression even more depressing.
It’s not much of a movie, but I always tell people to watch it just to see Busby Berkeley’s choreography. His musical production numbers are always so lavishly over-the-top that they can’t fail to bring a smile to your face. They are filled with infinite lines of chorus performers moving in precision formations, and they always include some overhead shots of the patterns formed by the dancers as they create a living kaleidoscope or some recognizable figure. And these numbers always were as sexy as the censors of their era would allow, as covered above by Brainscan. Granted, some of you may be laughing because the numbers are so ridiculous, but I figure a laugh is a laugh, irrespective of whether you consider his work genius or kitsch. (I vote for both genius and kitsch, making him the Bill Shatner of choreographers.)