Universal didn't make many musicals. You might wonder why. You might start with their ability to come up with catchy titles:
It's a backstage musical, like 42nd street, with THE SHOW in constant danger of NOT GOING ON, and all that. Like the Berkeley musicals, it has a singer-songerwriter protagonist who's all ambition, tunes, and cheery can-do American spirit:
Handsome cuss! We'll meet the love of his life in a bit. They meet in the cutest way possible for the old shows; he's walking down the street, thinking of a tune, and some workmen are hauling a piano into a music store. He starts plinking away as they're moving it, and that takes him right into the music shop. The owner is a lovely lady who believes in him and his music, and just a few reels later he's off to New York, working on a big show.
This being Universal, and not Warner Brothers, the elaborate stage numbers are . . . less than elaborate.
I don't know what they're supposed to be. Pie-shop maidens from Candyland in Oz, or something.
But enough of the razzle-dazzle dames; bring on the handsome men!
All forgettable, so far.
Our hero makes it big, and this means the lovely lass from the music store goes to New York to find him. Through a mixup she ends up auditioning, but he's too preoccupied to notice her. I bring this clip up just in case anyone thinks gay archetypes were invented in the 60s, or that no one knew there was such a thing as gay people in the 30s:
To balance out this fluttery fellow, a dead-butch sack o' Mertz:
I'll spare you the backstage drama, because it goes on and on and on, and has to do with Evil Promoters attempting to get control of the hero's Visionary approach to musicals. The final number is interesting, as an ill-conceived and clumsily executed misfire. But first - context!
As I say all the time, I ain't no experter-type on these things, but I can't help but think this is an attempt to capitalize on Gold Diggers of 1933. Oh, I thought the same thing! you say. Oh, shut up. Here me out. Gold Diggers of '33 had a famous number at the end, the Forgotten Man sequence. The idea of the Forgotten Man was an early 30s meme - Amity Shlaes used it for the title of her recent book about the Depression - and gave the end of Gold Diggers a socio-political heft one does not associate with frothy musicals. If a studio was going to copy the Gold Diggers formula, this meant the final number must be Relevant, and Deep. So:
We're treated to a soulful number by some tramps, who are talking about their shoes. Their dusty shoes. They'll be tramping around the country looking for work. singing about their dusty, dusty shoes.
How did we get here? Well, the musical number goes back to the pre-crash era, when the country was riding high:
They're on a revolving pile of stock-ticker tape. Then comes something you usually don't see in a theater:
Somehow, numbers are superimposed on the very air itself! Then:
The Tickertape Girls fall down dead. A montage of economic hard-times follows, ending in a song that's supposed to harken back to the blond streetwalker in Gold Diggers. She's not singing about dusty shoes, but busted shoes.
Here's part of the song. Listen carefully. The country is rotten / with gold and with cotton (?) / where men are . . .
Yes, they got the Forgotten Man in there. Well, it is a musical, and you want people to leave happy. So on with the good news:
Keep in mind this is supposed to be a stage musical. But really, they've given up all pretense of realism. Roll the stock footage and the propaganda!
Hoorah! Could life get better? Why YES:
Plus, Old Man Depression is shown the door:
At the end the ticker-tape girls are back on their feet, and the fellow who had the dusty shoes - well, he has a white collar job . . .
With his shoes now buffed to a high glossy shine by subservient Negroes. That's the one (1) Black guy in the movie.
The extent to which Hollywood explicitly endorsed FDR in the early-mid 30s never fails to amaze. I've never seen anything like it since. As for our love-struck couple, well, he's rich now:
And she's . . .
I don't know. She flosses with licorice whips, maybe. But it has a happy ending: