Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

In this written review, Jamie Dyer writes about his first experience of seeing Gold Diggers of 1933 for the first time. A vintage Warner Bros Musical recently restored and released by the Warner Archive.

As someone with a keen interest in classic movies, I have watched the activity of the Warner Archive Collection for many years. Thousands of gems have been released on Blu-Ray over the last decade, but I have often shied away from purchasing one of their region-free discs due to the costs involved in importing them from the USA. Then in 2023, a scaled-down version of the concept debuted in the UK; This made a smattering of classics from the Warner Archive available to me at a relatively low price of £14.99 with free shipping. Once I browsed through their small selection of under 25 titles, I fixated on Gold Diggers of 1933.

How I Discovered the Film

I first saw a clip of this musical in a university class many years ago and had been intrigued to see it. From what I could see, it was unavailable digitally or on streaming. Once I saw the Blu-Ray, I knew that I must see it once and for all; Fully restored in high definition!

Origins of the Film

The story is based on the 1919 play The Gold Diggers by Avery Hopwood, which ran on Broadway. The play was then adapted into a silent film in 1923, starring Hope Hampton and Wyndham Standing. In 1929, a talkie version was made under the title Gold Diggers of Broadway.

The 1933 adaptation featured music and lyrics written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin respectively. It was directed by Mervyn LeRoy, with musical sequences directed by Busby Berkeley. The cast included Warren William, Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers and Guy Kibbee.


The moment I opened the envelope containing the release, I was impressed by the Blu-Ray packaging. The box is a little thinner than I have seen previously, a size great for storing more in one place. All of the artwork is nicely printed, and the design is easy to read. I like the writing design of the spine, which is present across most of the collection.


The film follows a group of showgirls, who have fallen on hard times. The last show they performed in was halted at the rehearsal stage, due to the lack of money from the show’s organiser  Hopkins (Sparks).

We then see the living situation of Carol (Blondell), Trixie and Polly (Keeler), who are struggling with unemployment. It’s a scene which is played for comedy with hints of tragedy, but would have struck a chord with audiences of the era, who were experiencing the Great Depression.

Via Fay (Rogers), they are informed of an upcoming show being held by Hopkins. He visits them to tell them about the new show, but is distracted by piano playing from another apartment. We are then introduced to their neighbour Brad Roberts (Powell), a talented songwriter whom Polly is keen on. Hopkins is short on money, so Brad offers to put up $15,000. There is much suspicion in follow up scenes, but this is quickly resolved. Brad is then cast in the lead, next to Polly.

Brad’s family, who are wealthy, disapproves of his activities in theatre. His brother J Lawrence Bradford, played by Warren William, comes to inspect Brad and his love interest Polly. A mixup occurs, and he is misled. The rest of the film cuts between the unfolding comedic incidents and musical sequences.

The Performances

The drama sections are well orchestrated, with snappy dialogue that flows nicely. There are very few cases of shots lingering too long, or any awkward silences that occur in films of this era. Everything feels quite fast-paced most of the time, even in long scenes.

Powell and Keeler are impressive in every scene they share. From her adoring gaze to his impressive singing voice. Sparks is also funny in his performance, as he manages to land most jokes successfully despite shouting most of them enthusiastically. He is the perfect embodiment of an optimistic pied piper who looks to have a plan but is as desperate as the rest.

MacMahon plays the wisecracking comedian character competently, helping to set up a number of memorable scenes. Many of these include Mr Bradford (William) and his lawyer Mr Peabody (Kibbee), who do an excellent job of playing middle-class characters out of their depth. Their characters are a bit cliche, but they work in this context.

The fast-paced “sister vibe” between the female leads is incredibly endearing and helps to edge the film beyond the musical numbers. Rogers plays a minimal role, but her interactions with the others are solid gold!

The Musical Numbers

The musical sequences are the main selling point of this film. They provide much glamour and still feel like a mountain of innovation. The use of the camera throughout these sections is nothing short of remarkable.

The opening number is the aptly titled “We’re in the Money”, sung by Ginger Rogers. It’s a fairly extravagant start with much movement. Some of the camerawork and subsequent manoeuvres feel a tad deliberate and staged, but you can forgive it for its sense of grandeur. It helps build the world we’re in, as well as set up important themes.

The Pettin’ in the Park sequence is one of the most intriguing in this film. The transitions between each section are extraordinary. I particularly admired Keeler’s tap dance, low key but enjoyable. Some moments are sexually suggestive in nature, but it never goes beyond a barrier.

The Shadow Waltz musical number must rank as one of the greatest ever put to screen. After a low-key start, Busby Berkeley takes things to another level. The dance sequences featuring neon lights and violins still hold a lot of visual wonder. I had to watch this sequence several times, just to study how they achieved such a spectacle. The whole thing is narratively framed as a theatre piece, but the use of shapes, camera movement and angles is pure cinema.

The final song is the poignant Remember My Forgotten Man, a piece of topical commentary that must’ve struck a chord with its audience. Joan Blondell performs this number, with a vocal solo by Etta Moten. I could sit here and describe this scene, but I think it would make more sense if you watched it. A musical number focusing on veterans, unemployment and The Great Depression may feel like a juxtaposition with the rest of the movie, but it adds extra context. Feeling somewhat Bluesy at the start, it builds into something soul-stirring, powerful and heart-wrenching. Again, Berkeley’s use of imagery compliments the lyrics and provides a thought-provoking ending to this great film.

Picture and Sound Quality:

When the opening credits started, I had to take stock of what I was seeing. This is a film released to audiences over 90 years ago, yet it looked incredible. The black-and-white imagery is bright, striking and a wonder. I said to the people watching with me, I didn’t know an early 30s picture could look this good. There was balance in the image, with faces having clarity I wasn’t expecting. The audio was also nice and clear, with only an occasional hissing sound.

A Little Something Extra…

The menu screen on the Blu-Ray is a high-resolution still image of the artwork. I know this is the standard these days, but I was initially underwhelmed. The easy-to-navigate menu made up for it. Included alongside the main feature is a huge offering of extras.

Four Short Featurettes including:

  1. FDR’s New Deal… Broadway Bound
  2. The 42nd Street Special
  3. Rambling ‘Round Radio Row #2
  4. Seasoned Greetings

Three vintage cartoons featuring songs from Gold Diggers of 1933.

I was blown away by the amount of extras on show here, especially as many of them are contemporaneous Warner Bros productions that may have played alongside the main feature. It’s so refreshing to see a vintage film receive bonus content that comes from the time, and helps provide more context as to the world it arrived in.

The theatrical trailer is also included here. The packaging warned that the trailer may not be presented in HD, but I must say it looked pretty good otherwise. So many trailers from this era, if they exist, look faded, wobbly and worn. This one, while not shiny, was nicely presented. I watched this before the film to get a sense of the scale, and I was not disappointed.


Despite being over 90 years old, this movie still packs one massive punch. It feels like a time bubble in all its black-and-white glory, yet parts of it still feel as fresh as the day it was filmed. This feeling is helped as much by the forward-thinking camera work as it is by Warner Archive’s stellar restoration. The intended draw may have been the music, but the performances are sharp for their time, with many memorable moments. The musical numbers give a glimpse of what Busby Berkeley would go on to do with MGM, but some manoeuvres are never bettered here. I’m still wondering how they did the violin neon visual. Simply incredible, and highly recommended. Gold Diggers of 1933 is available from Warner Archive.

Jamie Dyer

Jamie Dyer is an experienced writer, broadcaster, musician and social media marketer. He enjoys Old Time Radio, vintage TV, collecting vinyl and supporting the New York Knicks.

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