Thursday, January 28, 2010

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!

by Guest Blogger, Erich Kuersten (Acidemic)
As cinema lovers and everyone else mull over Obama's state of the union address (replete with dissolute toadlike old power mongers muttering their villainous dissent in the audience), it's tempting to look for a Capra film to compare with, but shouldn't we go back farther, to GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933, and Busby Berkley's "Forgotten Man" number? Can't you feel it coming in the air tonight?

Opening with hot chicks (including Ginger Rogers) naked behind gold coins singing "Where in the Money" in Pig Latin, GOLD DIGGERS is as savvy and hip a denouncement of the status quo as hard times can produce. Robert Dudley (the Weenie King!) plays the good-hearted producer who wants to put on a show about "men, walking, hungry, jobs! jobs! jobs!" with heart-of-gold-digger Joan Blondell, the "comic" beanpole Aline McMahon, and normie Ruby Keeler, who--as always--is assigned to sing and smooch with Dick Powell. Of course it turns out Powell's a trustafarian, pretending to struggle in the Village rather than spend some of his trust fund and live a little, but he's got no problem bank-rolling the show, leading to--hilariously!--the entrance of beloved rogues Warren Willian and Guy Kibbee! All they need is some emotional blackmail to get them swinging on a star (note to Obama, send gold diggers to discredit these republican antagonists and all will be well).

Aside from some typically snapless romantic numbers between Powell and Keeler, this is surreal stuff all the way, and the climactic Forgotten Man number ends it with a superb mixture of tears, guts, heart and bang for your dime! I love Joan Blondell's open-hearted, deeply warm and potent mix of sexual and maternal compassion for all these hollow-eyed veterans as they stagger, stagger, stagger looking for jobs jobs jobs! The "Forgotten Man" was, incidentally, the phrase at the time for all the World War One vets who had come home from the war to no job opportunities whatsoever, staggering around hungry, their chests adorned with worthless medals... the only real money to be made was in bootlegging, so if they were honest, they starved.

As with most all of Berkely's numbers,"The Forgotten Man" is really a stand-alone short film that starts out, perhaps, as a stage number on opening night, but soon expands and contracts and zooms in until we're in a whole other universe. Blondell goes from trying to stand up for her beaten-down beau against an unfeeling cop, to addressing the audience, and the world, directly, her hands outstretched in a massive, Brodway belt of a plea. Watching Obama last night I was reminded not of Jimmy Stewart's hoarse fillibuster in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, but Blondell, opening her human heart a mile wide to engulf the nation in a surge of compassion as the music marches inexorably onwards. It's a galvanizing moment when music number, plot, message and fourth wall breaking all merge seamlessly together to create the purest most direct kind of art, and I wanted to present here, on dear Nathaniel's fantastically actressexual blog, in celebration of Miss Blondell and all those brave, forgotten men still treading the pavement for jobs, jobs... jobs.

6 comments:

NATHANIEL R said...

"heart-of-gold-digger"... i love it!

It does often feel like you're slipping into an alternate universe with those Busby Berkeley numbers. Did they feel as hallucinatory back then? or just show business as usual?

I don't know much (okay anything) about wealth, but i find it entirely implausible and hilarious that rich people are always pretending to be poor in the movies.

Criticlasm said...

That moment with policeman when she flips open the guy's jacket to show the medal speaks volumes. This is great, and apropos-thanks for posting.

Erich Kuersten said...

Thanks Criticlasm. Nathan they were all on that "jive" (aka "T" aka "mezzrow") and bootleg whiskey back then so I imagine it felt pretty far out, they just didn't have hippies yet.

Chris Na Taraja said...

Wow, if only they played this instead of the pundits!

Oh dear, those folks weren't so rich. maybe the big stars, but most of the actors in films are not rich by any means, back then and today!

javi75 said...

I'm guessing Blondell was dubbed when she actually sings?

Great clip and great post (although I don't get the Obama vibe).

Seeing_I said...

Thanks for this! Those 30s musicals really do speak to our times (though they had it MUCH worse). Just too bad most people don't remember anything older than 5 years ago. (I had a friend recently tell me he'd never seen "Raiders of the Lost Ark" because he doesn't like old movies. I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, punch him in the face, or jump in the river clutching my DVD of Der Golem.)

I used the "Forgotten Man" image in the banner for my website ( http://mondomusicals.blogspot.com ) because, as Nathaniel says, those Berkeley numbers DO feel like slipping into another universe. It was definitely not standard practice at the time. You can see hints of that in some other movies, but in those instances it just feels like they've forgotten their film grammar and are sloppily presenting things that don't make sense in terms of a stage show (which these numbers are supposed to be). With Berkeley, you feel like once the curtain opens, you're in a whole other world, and it's a shock at the end of the number to cut to people applauding in the theater.