Still, it’s a great time. As is typical of the best scripts of the 1930s, the dialogue moves at nearly the speed of sound and the jokes are so fast (and risqué in the pre-Production Code era) they’re easy to miss.
Footlight Parade concerns Chester Kent (Cagney) and his desire to stay in the musical prologue business once talking pictures take over the movies. To unpack that, a prologue was a live musical number performed before the picture ran. With talkies, prologues became less necessary to bring in an audience as distributors realized they could make more money running an inexpensively ticketed movie eight times a day than they could when they ran a musical number and a picture once a night.
So Kent has the idea to take a few prologues nationwide, à la mass production, to save money. How exactly that’s going to be good business for the distributors is unclear, but it’s all a lot of fun and Cagney’s staccato delivery carries a lot of weight.
Joan Blondell as Kent’s no-nonsense secretary Nan is wonderful.
Directed by Lloyd Bacon
With James Cagney, Joan Blondell and Ruby Keeler
Jean Cocteau Cinema