Footlight Parade

If you were down and out by the Great Depression, 1933’s Footlight Parade had much to perk up for—intricate dance sequences, elaborate costuming, and sexual symbols so in your face it would make anyone forget their troubles for a mid-afternoon light up. By a Waterfall is the film’s standout performance—choreographed by Warner-acclaimed Busby Berkeley. The sequence details two vaudevillians, Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, in love’s sweet embrace—singing softly of the simplicity of a love nature-side. “I appreciate the simple things,” Powell sings. “I’m awful fond of getting love in a natural setting.” Natural, we find, as Powell drifts to sleep, is love with a veritable orgy of interlocking, bedazzled, sea-nymphs floundering erotically, and uncomfortably, not by a waterfall, but far from—likely a water-logged soundstage in Burbank. Keeler, bathhouse queen, and her drenched colleagues ebb and flow through Busby’s geometric shapes—the most complex illustration of a wet dream if I’ve ever seen one. As Powell wakes, dew fresh, he and Keeler rejoin in love’s refrain: “Mother Nature sings to me.” I bet she does.

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