no one likes to be typecasted.
take james cagney — warner brothers just wanted to give him gangster roles and all he wanted to do was dance. luckily, his wish came through in footlight parade.
as chester kent. (the film starts with a series of these kind of freeze frames introducing all the characters.)
immediately following the credits, the film declares, in text: “hollywood will only make talking pictures in the future — silent film is finished!”
which turned out to be true.
sound movies radically change the way films are produced and consumed. so what’s a live musical comedy director supposed to do when all theaters are turning into sound movie theaters? start making live musical prologues to go on in between the the movies.
most of the movie focus on the production of these prologues (or units, as chester calls them) — it’s all rehearsals and chester staying up all night coming up with ideas for future prologues. and, just like about every movie from the 30s i’ve seen, chester spends a lot of time on the telephone.
anyway, it turns out someone has been stealing chester’s ideas and selling them to competitors. not only that, chester’s business partners have been stealing his money. this all leads to the need to produce three brand new prologues for shows at three different theaters in all in one night. so chester locks everyone and writes and rehearses three new prologues (so no one can sell the ideas to competitors).
the movie ends with the three prologue performances. what’s great about them is that even though they’re are supposed to be live performances featured in between movies, they’re shot as movies. it’s not a static shot of the stage from the film audiences point of view, but rather the camera interacts with the dancers in sets that would be physically impossible to have on a stage (like that giant swimming pool).
even better is when the dancers stop being humans and become geometrical shapes shot from above. these sequences are incredible and pretty much invent most of the features that make movie musicals great. these are dance sequences that are only possible in movies. further, these are dance sequences only possible in self-conscious movies.