I just decided I could write a blog about a James Cagney movie that I watched recently but not for the first time, so I decided to do a blog about the 1933 James Cagney movie Footlight Parade. Yes, yes, yes, I know I'm supposed to watch White Heat, but I'll get to that later. Anyway, Footlight Parade is one of the prime examples of James Cagney's musical talents, next to Yankee Doodle Dandy and one of Busby Berkeley's masterpieces. It is a backstage story like 42nd Street and has Pre-Code humor. It is probably the only Busby Berkeley film with a major, charismatic actor (James Cagney; Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler aren't really major actors). James Cagney is so fun to watch in this film as he deals with the recent divorce with his wife and working under pressure to come up with prologues for movie theaters (I'm not very familiar with movie theater prologues snce I'm from a much younger generation). In this film, Cagney showed audiences that he was a hoofer (yes, I'm surprised I know that word too) as well as a gangster, that he shouldn't be typecast as a gangster and that his versatility should be put to good use.
I really loved the humorously fast-paced (probably wouldn't be good for a Marx Brothers movie) backstage plot that precedes the famous Busby Berkeley musical numbers—my favorite number among them is "Shanghai Lil" because that's the one where you get to see Jimmy Cagney dance and hear him sing, and that's a real treat—especially the scene where Frank McHugh choreographs the dancers in the cat number while copying the moves of a real cat, literally. I also love the scene where Joan Blondell has a catfight with Cagney's love interest. By the way, Joan Blondell is just fabulous as James Cagney's secretary who loves him but he doesn't know it, especially when he falls for a old rival of hers. (I know how that feels. I've had that happened to me in my 19 years of life.) I was really amazed by the spectacular "By a Waterfall' water sequence the first time I saw the movie. I read somewhere that the sequence was done in a pool that took up an entire soundstage, with actual water slides on the side (the water was pumped by technicians during shooting) and was lined with glass on the sides and floor. Still, I see no reason watching the sequence whenever I watch the film because for one thing, there is no James Cagney, and for another thing, it's too long. I would recommend this movie for any James Cagney fan, especially one who loves to see him in musicals—yes, even James Cagney's 1937 non-Warner Bros. musical Something to Sing About, which would've been better had it not suffered from its studio's small budget (FYI, it was made by Grand National, a small, independent studio; a prime example of the saying, "There's just no room for the little guy"). This is one of my favorite Warner Brothers musicals—next to Yankee Doodle Dandy, which is just too patriotic for me—and one of the top Busby Berkeley musicals. By the way, I know you guys love reading my James Cagney film reviews, so don't worry; there are more coming! Once again, please feel free to comment on this blog with your own opinions on this film.
Clip from this movie (I did not make this video):