#71. Footlight Parade (1933)

Footlight Parade is great in its casting (which is almost the exact same bill as 42nd Street, with the addition of a tap-dancing James Cagney) and in its execution of the premise (we got one last chance to do a big show!), and in basically just being charming as hell, really funny and sweet and romantic; but given that the movie is billed as a musical, and because I’m watching it just a couple nights after falling in love with 42nd Street, I’m finding that a huge part of my judgment is focused on the actual music, which I thought was embarrassingly bad, and so it hasn’t left the best impression even though I’ll readily say that it’s a strong flick otherwise. I like it, definitely, but if I ever watch it again by my own accord I think I’ll skip the song-and-dance bit at the end – which feels eternal.

footlight parade cagney
Cagney’s performance here as a tapdancing showrunner stands in remarkable contrast to his previous appearance on the List, as a murderous bootlegger, Tom Powers, in Public Enemy. To the right is Ruby Keeler. A Berkley Musical staple. She’s an amazing talent, and my crush on her gets more intense every time she shows up.

Movie’s about a guy named Chester Kent (Cagney) who, with the help of his secretary Nan (Joan Blondell), runs a production company devoted to making movie prologues (little dance numbers that play before movies). What I couldn’t quite figure out is whether these prologues were always meant to be performed live, or if they were filmed and then played before movies the way trailers are today, or Pixar shorts.


Speaking of Pixar shorts: in middle school I really wanted to see Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher in theaters because (1) I was a fan of the book and (2) they were playing an Animatrix short before it; alas, the movie was rated R, so I couldn’t. When I finally did see Dreamcatcher and the Animatrix, years later, I figured it was no loss to’ve missed them. They both kinda sucked.

But sometimes I wonder if maybe it was actually a great loss. Because yeah maybe I thought that both Dreamcatcher and the Animatrix were kinda shitty when I finally saw them at eighteen or nineteen, however old I was, but maybe at twelve, when they came out, they’d have meant a lot to me. Like Sin City. I look at Robert Rodriguez’s neo-noir now and I still like it, I’m charmed by the camp and I admire the ambition, but when I was fourteen and snuck into that movie with my best friend, Robert, I literally walked out speechless, mesmerized, and when I bought the DVD a few months later it was the first time that I watched a movie straight through, from beginning to end, and then started it over immediately afterward and watched the whole thing a second time. Not sure I can say how that movie influenced me, but there’s no question that it did. Couple years ago, when the sequel came out, I got plowed and went to see it in 3D (only time I’ve bought a ticket for a 3D showing), third row center, and the movie wasn’t great but hot shit was I transported. I walked home afterward and picked up a chicken philly from Ale House along the way, giddy from how loyal the sequel was to the original.

sin city.jpg
A bizarre movie, kinda hokey and I’m not sure I’d recommend it, but it blew my mind as a kid and I still feel major warmth and delight whenever I come across it.

Anyway. Footlight Parade. Good movie, shitty music. B+? My point with the whole digression, though, is that with a movie like this, which has so much obvious charm, there’s a good chance that its success depends on the age at which you see it. Maybe I’d have liked it more at twelve? Maybe I will like it more at 60 (allowing I make it that far).


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