Footlight Parade

Footlight Parade is a 1933 American pre-Code musical film starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell and featuring Frank McHugh, Guy Kibbee, Hugh Herbert and Ruth Donnelly. The film was written by Manuel Seff and James Seymour based on a story by Robert Lord and Peter Milne, and was directed by Lloyd Bacon, with musical numbers created and directed by Busby Berkeley. The film's songs were written by Harry Warren (music), Al Dubin (lyrics),[1] Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics),[2] and include "By a Waterfall", "Honeymoon Hotel" and "Shanghai Lil".

Footlight Parade
Footlight Parade (1933 theatrical poster).jpg
Original 1933 theatrical release poster for Footlight Parade produced by the Cleveland School and Continental Lithograph Corp. in Cleveland.
Directed byLloyd Bacon
Busby Berkeley
(musical numbers)
Screenplay byManuel Seff
James Seymour
Story byUncredited:
Robert Lord
Peter Milne
Produced byRobert Lord
StarringJames Cagney
Joan Blondell
Ruby Keeler
Dick Powell
CinematographyGeorge Barnes
Edited byGeorge Amy
Music byHarry Warren (music)[1]
Al Dubin (lyrics)[1]
Sammy Fain (music)[2]
Irving Kahal (lyrics)[2]
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • September 30, 1933 (1933-09-30) (premiere')
  • October 21, 1933 (1933-10-21) (general)
Running time
102 minutes[3]
CountryUnited States
Budget$703,000 (est.)[4][5]
Box office$1,601,000 (U.S.)
$815,000 (international)[4][5][6]

In 1992, Footlight Parade was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[7]


Left: Kent (James Cagney) rallies his troops for their tall order: create three lavish prologues in three days. Right: Cagney as Kent and Joan Blondell as Nan.

Chester Kent (James Cagney) replaces his failing career as a director of Broadway musicals with a new one as the creator of musical numbers called "prologues", short live stage productions presented in movie theaters before the main feature is shown. He faces pressure from his business partners to continuously create a large number of marketable prologues to service theaters throughout the country, but his job is made harder by a rival who is stealing his ideas, probably with assistance from someone working inside his own company. Kent is so overwhelmed with work that he doesn't realize that his secretary Nan (Joan Blondell) has fallen in love with him and is doing her best to protect him as well as his interests.

Kent's business partners announce that they have a big deal pending with the Apolinaris theater circuit, but getting the contract depends on Kent impressing Mr. Apolinaris (Paul Porcasi) with three spectacular prologues, presented on the same night, one after another at three different theaters. Kent locks himself and his staff in the offices to prevent espionage leaks while they choreograph and rehearse the three production numbers. Kent then stages "Honeymoon Hotel", "By a Waterfall" (featuring the famous "Human Waterfall") and "Shanghai Lil", featuring Cagney and Ruby Keeler dancing together.[8]


  • James Cagney as Chester Kent, creator of musical prologues
  • Joan Blondell as Nan Prescott, his secretary
  • Ruby Keeler as Bea Thorn, dancer turned secretary turned dancer
  • Dick Powell as Scott "Scotty" Blair, juvenile lead who is Mrs. Gould's "protégé"
  • Frank McHugh as Francis, the dance director
  • Ruth Donnelly as Harriet Bowers Gould, the producer's spoiled and nepotistic wife
  • Guy Kibbee as Silas "Si" Gould, producer
  • Hugh Herbert as Charlie Bowers, Mrs. Gould's brother and the censor of Kent's programs
  • Claire Dodd as Vivian Rich, Nan's former friend, an accomplished gold digger who has a past that includes alleged jail time
  • Gordon Westcott as Harry Thompson, Kent's assistant
  • Arthur Hohl as Al Frazer, the other producer
  • Renee Whitney as Cynthia Kent, Chester's greedy estranged wife
  • Paul Porcasi as George Apolinaris, owner of a chain of movie theaters
  • Barbara Rogers as Gracie, the spy among Chester's dancers
  • Philip Faversham as Joe Barrington, another juvenile lead and "protégé" of Mrs. Gould
  • Herman Bing as Fralick, the music director
  • Billy Barty as "Mouse" and "Little Boy"
  • Hobart Cavanaugh as Title-Thinker-upper
  • George Chandler as druggist

Cast notes:

  • Dorothy Lamour, Victoria Vinton, Ann Sothern and Lynn Browning were among the many chorus girls in the film. It was Lamour's film debut.[9]
  • It is sometimes written that John Garfield made his (uncredited) film debut in the "Shanghai Lil" routine in a (5/6ths of a second) shot.[9] The 2003 Turner Classic Movies documentary The John Garfield Story refutes this, as do several John Garfield biographies that give timelines where he is in New York and then on tour in Chicago with the revival of the play Counsellor-at-Law in 1933.[10][11]
  • The movie briefly shown in the theater early in the film is The Telegraph Trail, starring a young John Wayne and, coincidentally or not, Frank McHugh.

Musical numbersEdit

  • "Honeymoon Hotel" – by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics)
  • "Shanghai Lil" – by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics)
  • "By a Waterfall" – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • "My Shadow" – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • "Ah, the Moon Is Here" – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)
  • "Sitting on a Backyard Fence" – by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics)



The "By a Waterfall" production number featured 300 choreographed swimmers

Cagney, a former song-and-dance man, actively campaigned the executives at Warner Bros. for the lead in Footlight Parade, which became his first on-screen appearance as a dancer.[13] Cagney had only fallen into his gangster persona when he and Edward Woods switched roles three days into the shooting of 1931's The Public Enemy. That role catapulted Cagney into stardom and a series of gangster films, which throughout his career, Cagney found to be as much a straitjacket as a benefit.[14]

Cagney's character, Chester Kent, was modeled after Chester Hale, a well-known impresario at the time, and the offices where he worked were based on the Sunset Boulevard offices of the prologue production company Fanchon and Marco in Los Angeles.[9]

Although early casting reports had Stanley Smith playing the juvenile lead, that role eventually went to Dick Powell, and the film became the third pairing of Powell and Ruby Keeler after 42nd Street (1933) and Gold Diggers of 1933, the first two Warner Bros. Busby Berkeley musicals.[13] Berkeley was not the original choice to choreograph – Larry Ceballos was signed to direct the dance numbers, and sued Berkeley and the studio for $100,000 for breach of contract when he was not allowed to do so.[15][16]

Dorothy Tennant, rather than Ruth Donnelly, was originally tapped to play Mrs. Gould. Other actors considered for various roles included Eugene Pallette, George Dobbs and Patricia Ellis.

Footlight Parade was shot at the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank, California, and cost an estimated $703,000 to make (approximately $13 million in 2012 dollars). It premiered on September 30, 1933, with a general release on October 21.[17][18][19]

The film made a profit of $819,080,[4] making it one of Warner Bros.' most successful films of the year.[20]

Bea (Ruby Keeler) was not an immediate fan of Scotty (Dick Powell)


As with many other pre-Code films, including musicals, promotional materials featured scantily clad women on movie release posters, lobby cards and promotional photographs, as seen of Joan Blondell.[1]

Pre-Code era scenesEdit

The film was made during the pre-Code era, and its humor is sometimes quite risqué, with multiple references to prostitution and suggestions of profanity largely unseen again in studio films until the 1960s, when the Production Code collapsed.[21] For example, Dick Powell's character is being "kept" by Mrs. Gould until he falls in love with another girl.

Joan Blondell's character of Nan Prescott is the center of several lines and moments. She introduces her roommate, Vivian Rich, as "Miss Bi... Rich"; and later, when Vivian tries to take advantage of an intoxicated Chester, Nan kicks her out of their apartment, claiming Vivian will have a job "as long as there are sidewalks."[22] In the Shanghai Lil number, it is clear that Lil and all the other girls are prostitutes working the waterfront bars along with scenes of an opium den.[23] A character played by Hugh Herbert acts as the censor for Kent's productions, constantly telling Kent certain parts of his production numbers have to be changed. His character is portrayed as buffoonish and comical, saying disagreeable lines to Kent such as "You must put brassieres on those dolls..." (referring to actual toy dolls) "...uh uh, you know Connecticut."


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Allmovie Overview
  2. ^ a b c TCM Full Credits
  3. ^ a b Footlight Parade at the American Film Institute Catalog  
  4. ^ a b c Sedgwick, John (2000) Popular Filmgoing in 1930s Britain: A Choice of Pleasures University of Exeter Press. p.168 ISBN 9780859896603
  5. ^ a b Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 15 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  6. ^ "Which Conema Films Have Earned the Most Money Since 1947?". The Argus Weekend Magazine. Melbourne. March 4, 1944. p. 3. Retrieved August 6, 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  7. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved April 29, 2020.
  8. ^ Green, Stanley (1999) Hollywood Musicals Year by Year (2nd ed.), pub. Hal Leonard Corporation ISBN 0-634-00765-3 page 25
  9. ^ a b c "Footlight Parade" notes,; accessed July 27, 2015.
  10. ^ McGrath, Patrick J. (August 23, 2006). John Garfield: The Illustrated Career in Films and on Stage. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-2848-9.
  11. ^ Nott, Robert (2003). He Ran All the Way: The Life of John Garfield. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-0-87910-985-1.
  12. ^ TCM Music
  13. ^ a b Miller, Frank. Footlight Parade (1933; article),; accessed July 27, 2015.
  14. ^ Nixon. Rob. The Public Enemy (1931; article),; accessed July 27, 2015.
  15. ^ Spivak, Jeffrey (2011). Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-2643-2.
  16. ^ Neibaur, James L. (October 3, 2014). James Cagney Films of the 1930s. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-4422-4220-3.
  17. ^ Business Data for Footlight Parade, IMDb; accessed July 27, 2015.
  18. ^ Release Dates for Footlight Parade, IMDb; accessed July 27, 2015.
  19. ^ Overview for Footlight Parade,; accessed July 27, 2015.
  20. ^ D. W. (November 25, 1934). "TAKING A LOOK AT THE RECORD". The New York Times. ProQuest 101193306.
  21. ^ Music, Narrative and the Moving Image: Varieties of Plurimedial Interrelations. BRILL. May 15, 2019. ISBN 978-90-04-40131-0.
  22. ^ Ashby, LeRoy (May 12, 2006). With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture Since 1830. University Press of Kentucky. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-8131-7132-6. footlight parade hays code.
  23. ^ Spivak, Jeffrey (2011). Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-2643-2.
  24. ^ "AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 13, 2016.

External linksEdit