Scene Dwellers – #2 Gold Diggers

#2 Breakfast scene in Gold Diggers of 1933

In a time when most cinema fare restricts women to only 30% of the speaking roles or limits their characterisation to their sexual partnership with men, a Pre-Code film with women headliners offers an oasis in a desert imagination. The breakfast scene in particular allows us to luxuriate in four women commiserating over fortunes turning up like a bad penny. We want to live in Mervyn LeRoy’s scene.

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Roommates Carol King (Joan Blondell), Polly Parker (Ruby Keeler) and Trixie Lorraine (Aline MacMahon) hunker under bed covers at the opening. If you aren’t tempted to run to the courts and change your name to any of the above, what about when Ginger Rogers walks through the door as Fay Fortune? Things happen for women with snappy monikers. We know they’re stand up ladies, with backbone and ambition. Sisters of the flat share linger in bed because food’s scarce. Chorines out of work must stretch their resources. They gripe about hard times, reminisce about when they were flush, when they used to have wads of men’s cash yet now they have only their pyjamas.

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Trixie purloins a bottle of milk from the neighbour’s fire escape but before she can drink it, a knock at the door prompts her to pour it back in the bottle, figuring the tenants next door were wise to her ruse. Instead, Fay Fortune swans in wearing blue sunnies and a stylish frock. Polly calls out her name as she holds the door.

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Fay: Who’d you think it was, the wolf?

Carol: If it was, we’d eat it.

Brilliant retorts and lines abound in this picture. Fay explains the sunnies as an effort to dodge overdue rent questions from the landlord. Although Fay’s tinted specs aren’t rosy, the news she brings certainly elevates the mood in the room. Barney (Ned Sparks) plans to stage a new production. While the prospect of work causes the women to hearten as though a steak dangled from the ceiling, Fay reminds them they require a fashionable dress to persuade Barney for a role in the show. If their cupboards hold more cobwebs than comestibles, a glamorous ensemble proves even more outside their limited resources. Since Fay has the best frock they play a game of chance for it, where they each pick a taxi company to bet on, with the first one that passes by the window declares the winner. Joan Blondell’s Carol wins the dress. As she finishes dressing, her friends marvel at the gossamer effect, telling her to be sure to stand in the sunlight. Armed with a glam frock, she heads out to meet Barney and secure jobs for all of them.

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LeRoy could have spared the Busby Berkeley pageantry (and that creepy baby with the tin opener). If he had just given us the four women chatting about survival tips, we’d be content.

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NEXT >> #3 NICK & NORA
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