Wednesday, August 24, 2011
14. "42nd Street" from 42nd Street
This deep into the list and the legendary Busby Berkley makes his first (far from last) appearance with the film that landed him on the map. Like a few other numbers to miss out on my top 10, "42nd Street" is one of the obvious choices for greatest musical numbers of all time. I'd prefer to think of it as Berkley's warm-up act.
That's clearly not meant to devalue this spectacle, when in fact on the magnetism of the great Ms. Ruby Keeler's alone, this stands as one of the great set-pieces of the genre. She casts out those opening verses so effortlessly that it seems anyone could step into her shoes, but like all born hoofers, she made a career of being light on foot and in verse. That classic opening launches us into Berkley's first masterful orchestration, a gritty odyssey through the streets of Mid-Town, by turns both tragic and comic, with the artful deception allowed by camera laying groundwork for his spectacular triumphs to come.
It also may well be the best song of the whole batch. The lyrics stay on point and never feel the least bit forced, and the interludes offer ample opportunity for Berkley's legendary choreography to take the stage. 42nd Street has worked its way into the annals as his finest hour, and beholding this climactic production, that's not exactly surprising. Here though, is where I'd pull out the ole, 'you ain't seen nothing yet,' because grand as this all is, one of the hands-down most important directors of classic Hollywood was just getting started. Hopefully one or two of my selections still to come will inspire some further viewing. Until then, watch the clip above and remind yourselves of what Hollywood at its most ambitious was once capable of.