42nd Street (1933)

42nd street
Una Merkel, Ginger Rogers and Ruby Keeler

'42nd Street' is a musical film made in 1933, directed by Lloyd Bacon and starring Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell and Bebe Daniels with choreography by Busby Berkeley in his first movie for Warner Bros.

The film is one of the earliest examples of the "backstage musical", whereby musical numbers are introduced in a natural way as part of the movie's plot. It was highly successful at the box-office and was nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, although losing out to 'Cavalcade'. In 1998 it was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry and in 2006 it was ranked at number 13 on the AFI's list of Best Film Musicals.


The setting of the movie is Depression-era New York. Ruby Keeler plays chorus girl Peggy Sawyer, who is asked to take over the leading lady role in a Broadway musical, when Dorothy Brock, the star, played by Bebe Daniels, breaks her ankle. Warner Baxter, playing Julian Marsh, the show's director, speaks the famous line to Peggy, "You're going out a chorus girl, but you must come back a star." The show is, of course, a great success, with great numbers such as "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" and the brilliant "42nd Street". This was the film which established Busby Berkeley's reputation as a choreographer, and, watching these numbers, we can see why.


Before the success of '42nd Street' the film musical had come to be regarded as a money loser. After the advent of Sound early musicals such as 'Kings of Jazz' in 1930, suffered from primitive camera and sound technology and most studios would not risk making another. Warners, on the other hand, decided to risk all on the genre and were shooting two other musicals at the time that '42nd Street' was released. 'Gold Diggers of 1933' was nearing completion and pre-production was well underway for 'Footlight Parade'.

The movie was based on the novel of the same name, by Bradford Ropes which was published in 1932. There are numerous differences between novel and movie. For instance, in the novel, director Julian Marsh is gay and he and Billy are lovers. As this would have been unacceptable to the censors, the romance was changed to a heterosexual one between Billy and Peggy.

Shooting began on 5 October 1932 and continued for 28 days utilising the old First National sound stages in Burbank as well as the original Sunset studio and the Vitagraph Studio in Hollywood.

The total cost of making the film has been estimated at between 340,000 and 439,000 dollars.

Mervyn LeRoy was originally scheduled to direct, but due to illness was replaced by Lloyd Bacon. LeRoy's girlfriend at the time was Ginger Rogers, and it was his suggestion that she be considered for the role of "Anytime Annie". Joan Blondell had also been considered for the role. Other contenders for some of the leading roles were Loretta Young instead of Ruby Keeler as Peggy Sawyer; Warren William and Richard Barthelmess for the role of Julian Marsh, eventually played by Warner Baxter; Frank McHugh instead of George E. Stone as Andy, the dance director and Glenda Farrell instead of Una Merkel for the role of Lorraine.

Main Cast

The cast is a strong blend of experienced troupers such as Bebe Daniels and Warner Baxter, together with fresh young faces such as Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers. Warner Baxter ... Julian Marsh
Bebe Daniels ... Dorothy Brock
George Brent ... Pat Denning
Ruby Keeler ... Peggy Sawyer
Guy Kibbee ... Abner Dillon
Una Merkel ... Lorraine Fleming
Ginger Rogers ... Ann Lowell
Ned Sparks ... Barry
Dick Powell ... Billy Lawler
Allen Jenkins ... Mac Elroy, stage manager
Edward J. Nugent ... Terry, a chorus boy
Robert McWade ... Jones
George E. Stone ... Andy Lee
Toby Wing ... Blonde in "Young and Healthy" Number


Director ... Lloyd Bacon
Producer ... Darryl F. Zanuck, Hal B. Wallis (assoc.) (both uncredited)
Screenplay ... Rian James, James Seymour, Whitney Bolton (uncredited)
From the novel by ... Bradford Ropes
Music ... Harry Warren (music), Al Dubin (lyrics)
Cinematography ... Sol Polito
Distribution Co ... Warner Bros
Release date ... March 11, 1933
Running time ... 89 minutes

Academy Awards

No Wins:
Two Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Warner Brothers
Best Best Sound, Recording ... Nathan Levinson (sound director)