Based off of the Broadway play “The Gold Diggers” and the subsequent (now lost) film adaptations made in 1923 and 1929, these four light-hearted “Gold Digger” films feature various and unique stories about show business, money and love. The icon of these films was the dazzling choreography of Busby Berkeley, and the films served as the perfect showcase to reveal fresh talent in likes of Ginger Rogers, Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler. Warner Bros. Studios was “in the money” for a long time after these films were released. Aside from their box office success, except for “Gold Diggers of Paris” (1938), the rest of the films were nominated and/or won an Academy Award.
“Gold Diggers of 1933" was the first of the four film series. At the helm was the wonderfully diverse director Mervyn LeRoy with Busby Berkeley, add an all-star cast, and you have a sure-fire hit. The film was about Barney Hopkins (New Sparks) and his new show being put to a sudden halt involving money problems. Four of the show’s chorus girls (Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Aline McMahon and Ginger Rogers) find a piano-playing friend of theirs “Brad Roberts” (Dick Powell) to back the show. Romance ensues and trouble begins when Brad’s wealthy family finds out he’s in love with a chorus girl. They try to put a stop to it, but of course, by the end of the film, everyone ends up falling love and the show is saved. “Gold Diggers of 1933" won an Oscar for "Best Sound Recording."
The next film was “Gold Diggers of 1935.” Directed by Busby Berkeley. Starred Dick Powell as a medical student paid to escort a rich daughter (played by Gloria Stuart) and Adolph Menjou as “Nicoleff” – a showbiz director who plans on putting the most elaborate show he can think of, despite his small budget. It was nominated for two Oscars, winning the “Best Music, Original Song” category for “Lullaby of Broadway.”
The third in the series was “Gold Diggers of 1937" was directed by Lloyd Bacon and co-directed by Busby Berkeley. Starred Victor Moore as “J.J. Horbert,” a hypochondriac showbiz director who wants to put on a show but does not have money because his business partners squandered it away. He insures himself for a million dollars so if anything happens to him, there’s money to put on a show in his honor. But when J.J’s crooked business partners realize he’s worth more dead than alive, it’s up to Dick Powell, Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell to keep him alive. Of course, love is always the best medicine, and as a result, J.J is kept alive, happy, and his show is a success. The film was nominated for “Best Dance Direction” for Berkeley’s musical number “Love and War.”
“Gold Diggers In Paris” (1938) rounded off the fourth and final film in the series. Directed by Ray Enright, the film starred Rudy Vallee, Rosemary Lane, Hugh Herbert and Allen Jenkins. The film was about the bankrupt Club Balle which is mistakenly entered into the international dance festival held in Paris, France. When the mistake is realized, they are in bigger trouble than they imagined when some gangsters get mixed up in the problem. But everything is quickly resolved in time for the club to win the grand prize.
Films like the “Gold Diggers” series were made with Busby Berkeley’s promise to help people escape if only for an hour. And they deliver exactly that in their little microcosm of singing, dancing, and goofy antics.