Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933): Mervyn LeRoy’s Lavish, Depression-Era Musical

A seminal musical of the early Depression era and a must-see for fans of the musical genre, The Gold Diggers of 1933 represents the surreal work of Busby Berkeley, and the infinitely charming, if clunky dancer Ruby Keeler.

The second talkie version of Avery Hopwood’s popular “The Golddiggers of Broadway,” Mervyn LeRoy’s “Gold Diggers of 1933” is the second of three Warner musicals, defined by the eccentric genius of choreographer Busby Berkeley, who later became a director at MGM.

The plot concerns a trio of showgirls, played by the brassy Joan Blondell, swetly naïve Ruby Keeler, and the more serious Aline McMahon, as they struggle to get backing for a new show planned by producer Ned Sparks.

Brad Roberts (Dick Powell), an incognito rich songwriter, posing as penniless, offers to put up the money, a plan that upsets his older brother Warren William, who despises showbiz and its crazy denizens.

Attempting to buy off the girls, William is placed in a compromising position by Joan Blondell, and at the end, finds himself forced and compelled to bankroll the musical himself.

Scholars of the musical genre have pointed out the impact the Depression era, in which they were made, and the various ironies involved, such as the discrepancy between the mood of the songs and the plot.

The picture famously begins with dozens of chorus girls (led by Ginger Rogers, who was also in “42nd Street,” and before becoming a major star) happily belting the melodic tune, “We’re In the Money,” in pig Latin.

This rehearsal number is interrupted when the
villains,” the finance men, claim the sets and props from the impoverished troupe.

At the end, the troupe stages a thematically downbeat yet visually imaginative “Brother Can You Spare A Dime”-style production number, “Remember My Forgotten Man.”

Other Busby Berkeley production numbers, which are the movie’s highlights, include “Pettin’ in the Park,” with dwarf Billy Barty, dressed as a baby, offers Dick Powell a can opener to undo Ruby Keeler’s armor suit, and neon-lighted dancers forming a gigantic violin in “The Shadow Waltz,” co- written by the busy and prolific Harry Warren and Al Dubin.

You can spot Busby Berkeley himself in a bit part as the backstage call boy.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Sound Recording: Nathan Levinson


Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner was Harold C. Lewis for “A Farewell to Arms.”  Nathan Levinson might have split his votes for in the same year he was also nominated for two other prestige films, “42nd Street” and “I was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang.”



Running time: 96 Minutes.

Released on May 27, 1933.

DVD: March 21, 2006