The Warner Bros. musical about sassy showgirls and their in-the-money beaus has become iconic, thanks in part to lampoons in Preston Sturges’ SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (where it’s verbally parodied as ANTS IN YOUR PLANTS OF 1939) and The Groucho Letters, a 1967 collection of correspondences wherein Groucho Marx cracks wise about the film to the Warner Bros. legal department. Imagery from GOLD DIGGERS was also trotted out frequently during the financial crisis of 2008, the closest thing America has seen to the Great Depression since, well, the Great Depression.
But beyond its jokey title and evocation of an era that still resonates, GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 is just a damn good movie. It has everything I love in a ‘30s film: gorgeous black and white cinematography; delightful Pre-Code cheekiness; idiosyncratic Warner Bros. contract players; hummable pop tunes by Harry Warren and Al Dubin; and Busby Berkeley dance numbers that make me wish I still did ‘shrooms.
The next time someone tells you old movies are boring or culturally irrelevant, show them GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 with it’s peppy pace and pragmatic portrayal of gender politics. And crank up the audio when one of the chorus girls yells “shit” – a word you still can’t say on primetime network television.
The great sorrow of my life (other than a male pattern baldness diagnosis at the age of 18) is that Warner Bros. never brought back the characters from GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 for a follow-up film. They made other movies in the GOLD DIGGERS series, of course, but they feature different characters and situations. And none are as good.
Life is too short to keep living without a sequel, so I have decided that GOODBYE AGAIN (1933) was actually produced under the working title RETURN OF THE GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933. (It’s not true, but go with me on this.)
The similarities between the two films are striking: GOODBYE AGAIN was also made by Warner Bros/First National and released while GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 was still in theaters; it reunites co-stars Warren William and Joan Blondell in another rich/poor romance; and it prominently features Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s “I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song” – an opening song in GDof33 and the closing song in GOODBYE AGAIN.
Plus: there’s lots and lots of sex. I mean, like more than you would think possible in 66 minutes, even in a Pre-Code film. And, as an added bonus, it’s directed by Michael Curtiz, the Warner Bros stalwart who would go on to win an Oscar a decade later for CASABLANCA.
Based on a popular Broadway play by George Haight and Allan Scott that closed just weeks before the film opened, GOODBYE AGAIN is a screwball farce featuring William as a wealthy, raffish rogue (as usual) and Blondell as a tough, working-class girl (again). But unlike J. Lawrence Bradford and Carol from GDof33, William and Blondell are already (sort of) together at the start of GOODBYE AGAIN – sharing the same hotel room. William is romance novelist Kenneth Bixby, who’s hyped on billboards as “the man who understands all women!” but is actually a sexist jerk. Blondell is his plucky secretary Anne, who (at least in the past) has does more than just take his dictation. While in Indianapolis on a book tour, Bixby is visited by his sex-starved former college girlfriend Julie (Genevieve Tobin), who is under the mistaken impression that Bixby’s bestsellers have been all about her. He barely remembers her, of course, but his interest is piqued when she sits on his lap and reminds him of the things they used to do. To each other.
“You’re married,” Bixby protests, halfheartedly.
“That doesn’t affect us,” Julie reassures, fingering his cowlick.
It takes only a few hours for Bixby and Julie to end up horizontal, as her clueless husband Harvey (Hugh Herbert, remarkably restrained) waits in Bixby’s hotel room to meet the man his wife won’t stop talking about. Complicating matters further are Julie’s sister Elizabeth (Helen Chandler) and her attorney (Wallace Ford, in dorky glasses), who try in vain to prevent a “situation” with the former lovers. Harvey seems more interested in Anne, however, who spends the evening drinking and dancing with him as cover for Bixby’s canoodling.
Joan Blondell: the ultimate wingman.
In Act 2 – and this film most definitely feels like a filmed play, with wall-to-wall dialogue, wide shots, and the constant slamming doors of bedroom farce –the action moves to a train, where Bixby is once again jumped by Julie, while her family searches for her. Not one to waste an opportunity, Bixby hooks up with Julie again while her husband, sister, and lawyer cool their heels in the adjoining stateroom.
“Did you sleep well,” the cuckold husband asks Bixby the next morning, after Julie sneaks off the train.
“On and off,” Bixby replies with a smirk.
Everything reaches a climax (sorry) in Bixby’s hotel room in Albany, ending happily with Warren William and Joan Blondell falling into bed together, wrapped in each other’s arms. Dictation ensues.
GOODBYE AGAIN can’t hold a candle to GDof33, but they definitely feel like they could take place in the same reality – let’s call it The GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 Cinematic Universe. Prototypical Pre-Code cad William, surprisingly silly here, is once again reformed by Blondell, who gives him a few slaps across the kisser that look like they really hurt. And while their romance takes a back seat to Bixby’s trip down memory lane with his ex, the dynamic is almost as much fun as their “cheap and vulgar” courtship in GDof33.
With rampant, unapologetic adultery played entirely for laughs, GOODBYE AGAIN is filled with the frank sexuality I’ve come to love in films of the era. But apparently the film was too much for even the promiscuous Pre-Code era. In the original trailer, Bixby tells Anne of the moment he “became a man” with Julie back in college. In the version of the film that airs on TCM, that line had been unceremoniously snipped by the censors, resulting in an oddly incomplete sentence and a jarring jump cut. But such was the case in the days before the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code, when the whims of local censorship boards could result in dozens of different versions of a film playing around the country.
GOODBYE AGAIN is not yet on DVD, but one hopes that when it does arrive (likely from Warner Archive, where it has streamed on their subscription VOD service) it will be restored to all its cheap and vulgar glory. Gold Diggers deserve nothing less.
You can read more about GOODBYE AGAIN at Pre-Code.com