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Film / 42nd Street

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"Sawyer, you're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!"

A 1933 Warner Bros. musical with songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin. It stars Dick Powell as Billy Lawlor, and Ruby Keeler as Peggy Sawyer, a young actress struggling to make it big on Broadway. Also features Warner Baxter as Julian Marsh, the show's stressed-out director. Ginger Rogers appears in her Star-Making Role as Annie, one of the chorus girls.

One of the earlier "show-within-a-show" movie musicals, it still holds up very well by today's standards.

Features tons of bizarre Busby Berkeley choreography, as well as a number of numbers that would literally be impossible to stage on... well, an actual stage. This set the precedent for Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade, and the other Warner musicals that immediately followed, made even more obvious by the fact that they all contained many of the same actors reprising similar roles.

Was adapted into a successful Broadway musical in 1980, with a revival in 2001.

Come and meet... Those dancing tropes:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The book was full of extraneous characters and tons of subplots (many of a controversial nature), most of which were either changed or cut entirely from the movie. The film was in all likelihood improved by the streamlining of the story, but one can't help but wonder what would have happened had the film been made in a more permissive era. (True, there was no Hays Code yet, but there was no way Julian and Billy being a couple was going to make it to the silver screen in the early 1930s.)
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Keeler as Peggy when Marsh is rehearsing her for the lead part.
  • Busby Berkeley Number: "Young and Healthy" is the most elaborate number in the film, really showing off Berkeley's style.
  • Creator Cameo: Songwriters Warren and Dubin show up in a scene being criticized by Julian Marsh after a particularly (intentionally) awful musical number.
  • Divorce in Reno: Alluded to in these lines from the song "Shuffle Off to Buffalo":
    Matrimony is baloney,
    She'll be wanting alimony in a year or so;
    Still they go and shuffle, shuffle off to Buffalo.
    When she knows as much as we know
    She'll be on her way to Reno while he still has dough
    She'll give him the shuffle, when they're back from Buffalo.
  • Fanservice: Lots and lots of focus on scantily-clad chorus girls.
  • Funny Background Event: Peggy lets Patrick Denning stay in her room after Denning gets beat up by a couple of Mooks. The prudish landlady notices and demands that Denning leave immediately, saying, "After running a rooming house for 19 years, there's nothing I don't know." As those words are escaping her lips, a man is visible sneaking out of another girl's room.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • One of the lines in "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me" is "I just wanted someone to be gay with."
    • If the lyrics to "Shuffle off to Buffalo" are any indication, "panties" used to be something that men wore.
  • High-Class Glass: A fairly rare female example. Ann wears a glass and affects a ridiculous accent in an effort to appear fancy.
  • The Ingenue: Peggy is one, of the particularly dewy-eyed and naive variety.
  • Large Ham: Warner Baxter, who plays Julian Marsh, gnaws on scenery from beginning to end.
  • Love Is a Drug: "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me"
  • Male Gaze: Abner the producer and his flunkies ogle the girls that Marsh is auditioning for the chorus. Lampshaded later in the film, when Abner and the flunkies are at another rehearsal, and he says that after three weeks of watching he doesn't care anymore. Like the song "Dames" says:
    What do you go for
    To see a show for?
    Tell the truth, you go to see those beautiful dames.
  • The Musical Musical: One of the Trope Makers.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: The lady sung to in "Young and Healthy" is wearing a dress trimmed with fur.
  • Really Gets Around: "Anytime Annie." She becomes Abner the producer's new lady friend after his former lady friend leaves to marry her old lover.
    Chorus Girl: She only said no once, and then she didn't hear the question.
  • Pretty in Mink:
    • The "Young and Healthy" number has the ladies dressed in various outfits trimmed with white fox fur.
    • Averted in some stage productions, since this song takes place right after the opening number, thus making quick changes almost nigh-impossible unless you've got mad skills in changing in and out of your costumes.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: Received the Broadway treatment in 1980 and proceeded to become a Tony-award-winning smash hit. Also fleshed out more of the plot by adding an antagonist named Dorothy Brock and a few other characters.
  • Sensational Staircase Sequence: Part of the title song involves a giant staircase with lots of dancers performing on it.
  • Signature Line: "You're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!"
  • Show Within a Show: "Pretty Lady" the stage show.
  • Title Drop: Besides all the street signs, it's the title of the last musical number.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Julian Marsh is the ur-Secretly Dying show director who stays with the job even though it is killing him. Except that the producers know about it, but go on with the show because they need him, at least one major reason he's doing the show is he needs the money and he doesn't die at the end, though it's hard not to get the feeling that there's a part of him that wishes he did.
  • Video Credits: At the beginning.
  • Workaholic: Julian Marsh doesn't appear to have anything else in his life other than the theater.

Tropes for the Broadway Play Involve

  • The Ace: Peggy has enough pure, raw talent to instantly pick up whatever dance moves she sees. After Dorothy gets injured, the other members of the ensemble exploit this to convince Julian to use her as the replacement, saying that she has what it takes.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: The entire show cast comes to the train station to beg Peggy to return to the show. It's only when they all serenade her that she gives in.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the original film, Dorothy Brock is a neutral supporting character, and her injury is a total accident. The musical makes her into a more antagonistic force and Evil Diva who only cares about herself; as such, her injury is caused by Peggy (albeit still by accident), leading Dorothy to furiously demand she be fired.
  • All Part of the Show: A thief comes on during the performance, dancing with everyone, and steals their jewelry. He then gets shot, much to Peggy's upset, but the show isn't interrupted.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Peggy becomes a star, but it's unclear if she and Julian will end up together. They have obvious chemistry, and like each other, but Julian seems unsure if he's overstepping his bounds as a director and authority figure. The play implies that if Julian goes to the kids' cast party, then he'll have chosen Peggy but ends before he can make the decision.
  • Double Entendre: Any number from the chorus girls during the opening audition, mostly taken from the film. ("I've been abroad." "You're telling me!") And a doozy in the final scene, from Peggy. She's just ended the show within a show by performing a very sexually suggestive dance to the title song, which is itself a reference to what was at the time the red light district of New York. When Julian congratulates her afterward, she replies "you were inside me, pulling the strings. So I congratulate you." Julian's somewhat rambling response suggests that he understands exactly what she has just said, but is trying desperately to ignore it.
  • Friendly Enemy: By the end of the show, Peggy and Dorothy have formed this dynamic—Dorothy openly admits that she's envious of Peggy, but the two are able to mutually respect each other, with the older woman coaching Peggy on the show's big romance number. The two turn the song into a duet, and they part as frenemies.
  • Heroic BSoD: Peggy after she gets fired from the show prepares to head back to Allentown. When Julian comes to apologize, Peggy is convinced that he's come to berate her more and won't listen at first.
  • Kiss Diss: In the final scene Julian tells Peggy she has "a very loving heart. And I would never want to see it broken." They lean toward each other as if to kiss, but he pushes her away at the last moment. Depending on staging and interpretation, this either cements Julian's reputation as a Manipulative Bastard or is his moment of realizing that I Want My Beloved to Be Happy.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Downplayed with Dorothy Brock. She's a genuinely talented actress and singer, but she can't dance at all. The problem is that keeps insisting that she can. The best the creative team can do is give her extremely simple routines and have more talented dancers perform around her to distract the crowd.
  • Maybe Ever After: The Ambiguous Ending shows Peggy going to the kids' cast party, but inviting Julian. They've also kissed a few times, during rehearsal and in her dressing room. Julian takes out her scarf, sings the last lines, and strokes it.
  • Method Acting: An In-Universe example. When Peggy acts stiffly during rehearsal, Julian kisses her to show her what it's like to be in the arms of someone you love. After that, she nails the part. Much later, he gives her a kiss in the dressing room to reveal it was Not an Act.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Dorothy uses this trope to get her way throughout the production process—since her "sugar daddy" Abner is putting up the cash for the show, she flaunts Julian's rules and makes it clear that if she's unhappy, she'll pull his funding.
  • Security Blanket: Peggy's lucky scarf. She wears it to every rehearsal and performance. Julian takes it away before she goes up onstage for real.
  • Seduction Lyric: When Peggy turns down Billy's initial request for a date, he serenades her with the song "Young and Healthy":
    I'm young and healthy,
    and you've got charms;
    it would really be a sin
    not to have you in
    my arms.
    I'm young and healthy,
    and so are you
    when the moon is in the sky
    tell me what am I to do?
    • "Young and Healthy" also serves as something of an "I Am" Song for Billy, subtly setting him up in contrast to Julian, who is neither.
  • Technician Versus Performer: Dorothy Brock is the Technician, who has more Broadway training and experience. Peggy is the Performer, whose passion for dance shows in everything she does. In an interesting take, Peggy is also the more skilled dancer of the two, but her characterization is more aligned with the Performer trope.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: After getting fired, Peggy sadly prepares to return to Allentown and give up her dreams of being a dancer. Julian and the ensemble convince her to return, with Julian apologizing for blaming her.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Dorothy Brock is beginning to show her age, and everyone on the creative team knows it—and also knows enough to not mention it at all. It doesn't help that Dorothy, while a talented singer, can't dance to save her life, although she insists she can.
  • Why Can't I Hate You?: Dorothy Brock admits this at the end to Peggy. She says she can't hate someone who is as talented as Peggy is and gives her heart to the show. It does help that Dorothy realizes that Pat really loves her and they just got married.

Alternative Title(s): Forty Second Street