E’reway in-hay the oney-may… or The Exorcist as a sequel to Gold Diggers of 1933

Beginning

I’ve been on a pre-Code jag lately. Mind you, I’ve watched movies all my life that were made before the enforcement of the Hollywood Production Code (which was drafted after the advent of sound but not really enforced until 1934) yet this is the first time I’ve ever gone back with a specific mind to watch pre-Code movies as a category. Last night’s viewing was Mervyn LeRoy’s GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933), Warner Brothers’ follow-up to Lloyd Bacon’s 42ND STREET (released three months earlier in 1933), though it’s at least a nominal sequel as well to Roy Del Ruth’s GOLD DIGGERS OF BROADWAY (1929). Early into the film, showgirl Ginger Rogers sings Al Dubin and Harry Warren’s ironic Depression standard “We’re in the Money” as part of an elaborate Busby Berkeley-choreographed, Anton Grot-designed production number. At one point in the song, Rogers’ character switches to pig Latin…

Apparently this was an ad lib on Rogers’ part, one that head of production Darryl F. Zanuck decided to incorporate into the film. (Hard to say whether Zanuck thought the idea was genius or was just punishing Rogers for fooling around during shooting by making her translate so much of that song into pig Latin.) If there is one trait that stands out as emblematic of films made pre-Code it’s outrageousness and it doesn’t get any farther out of the box than this. Made slightly less than four years into the Great Depression, GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 sympathizes with a nation forced to do with less or entirely without and yet it gets the ball rolling with a splashy production number that seems to mock a nation for its lack of wherewithal. The gag is that the number gets shut down midway through as sheriffs arrive to repossess the sets for non-payment and the chorus girls are sent to the bread line. The use of pig Latin adds an extra layer of irony, turning this deceptively facetious paean to prosperity inside out while making the scene deucedly creepy.

Face (1)

As I rewound and watched Ginger Rogers sing “E’reway in-hay the oney-may” over and over again, her big face filling the screen to an almost invasive degree, I couldn’t help but flash on…

Face (2)

Crazy, right? I mean, could two movies be any different than GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 and THE EXORCIST (1973)? I mean, so what if they’re both Warner Brothers pictures (well, sort of — First National-Vitaphone made GOLD DIGGERS and was absorbed into Warner Brothers in 1936) and released almost exactly 40 years apart. Beyond that, what possible similarities could they have? Well, sit back… it’s going to get a little weird.

Coin (1)

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 kicks off with the image of a silver dollar, a not very accurate depiction of the coin of the realm in 1933. The coin becomes a motif for the whole number, used in the costuming and props, and symbolizing a wealth and security that was all too absent in the fourth year of the Depression. Now let’s check in with THE EXORCIST

Coin (3)

… whose establishing image suggests a certain, shall we say, circularity. And just as the silver dollar is reflected as a design motif throughout “We’re in the Money,” the shape of the sun recurs in THE EXORCIST, mirrored in the pendulum of a clock, in the Host used in the Catholic Eucharist, and…

Coin

… in the religious medal that becomes a symbol throughout THE EXORCIST of the fear of lost faith and the transferability of evil and goodness, despair and hope, darkness and light.

Coin (2)

Both films grew out of troubled times. As the specter of the First World War haunts GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933…

Medal

so the Vietnam War hags THE EXORCIST. Both films employ the framing device of a show within a show — GOLD DIGGERS is set against the backdrop of a Broadway musical struggling through previews and THE EXORCIST against the shooting of a Hollywood movie — with both of these behind-the-scenes tales offering a behind-the-curtain glimpse of American life at a point where there seemed no guarantee of a second act.

Bed (2)

After their respective curtain warmers (GOLD DIGGERS‘ aborted production number and the introduction of the character of Father Merrin in THE EXORCIST on an archeological dig in Iraq), both films cut to bedroom scenes…

Bed (1)

… that suggest that the protagonists are now required to wake up, to literally get out of bed but also to abandon the dream state to embrace reality — a reality in which (at the very least) the pillars of society have failed to keep the roof from crashing down. In both films, the morning ritual is prolonged as the characters acclimate to a new day…

Milk (2)

In both films, the first order of business is milk.

Milk (1)

Coincidence? Yes, of course. I am not suggesting for a moment that William Friedkin was referring to GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933.Nonetheless, these things all float about in our collective unconsciousness.

Phone (2)

To say that a message is not intended…

Phone (1)

… is not to say a message cannot be received. Both GOLD DIGGERS and THE EXORCIST offer protagonists who are identified less by who they are essentially than by what they do for a living. In GOLD DIGGERS, our protagonists are showgirls (Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Aline MacMahon, and Ginger Rogers), a dime a dozen, one easily replaced (so conventional thinking goes) by another. InTHE EXORCIST, Chris MacNeill (Ellen Burstyn) is an actress, someone who makes her living by playing other people. Throughout the film she will deal with professional men — doctors, psychiatrists, policemen, priests — who represent the infrastructure of Medicine, Law, and Religion and are also, conventionally speaking, dispensable as individuals. Both films turn on the issue of individuality and of perceived identity and both employ misperception and misidentity in their narratives. In GOLD DIGGERS, rich boy Dick Powell pretends to be poor and falls in love with lowly show girl Keeler, prompting his older brother/guardian (Warren William) to threaten to cut off his inheritance. Hilarity ensues as Blondell pretends to be Keeler, attempting to discredit William by getting him to fall for her. In THE EXORCIST, a lonely pre-teen girl (Linda Blair) is seduced by a demonic entity pretending to be the blithe spirit Captain Howdy and who later claims to the priests (Max von Sydow, Jason Miller) on the case to be Satan himself. Scenes of confrontation and repartee follow, with William and Blondell squaring off in a shower of barbs and broadsides while Miller and the demon Pazuzu have their own court and spark, which includes dialogue in English, Latin, French, and a seemingly unintelligible tongue that Miller later finds out…

Listening

… is English in reverse. This isn’t pig Latin, er-pay ee-say, but does serve in this sitch to invert or pervert the English language in the same way that pig Latin or dog Latin or cod Latin mocked Latin (in the mouths of diabolists and sardonic parishioners), at one time the liturgical language of the Roman Catholic Church. For my money, the scenes of Miller’s Father Karras listening to the bass-ackwards ravings of Pazuzu in his dimly-lit dormitory room are among THE EXORCIST‘s creepiest scenes. And yet the reverse speech here is no less hair-raising than Ginger Roger’s pig Latin. GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 and THE EXORCIST share other points of commonality, from superficial bridging scenes…

Bath (2)

… in bath tubs…

Bath (1)

… to characters who serve roughly a similar function.

Director (2)

Ned Sparks plays the bellicose director of the Broadway show in-the-making…

Director (1)

… and Jack MacGowran the director of the film-being-shot-as-everything-goes-to-Hell.

Cop 1933

In both films, cops turn up…

Cop 1973'

… when they’re least wanted.

Piano man (2)

Both films trundle in a happy piano man…

Piano man (1)

… as a brother (literally in GOLD DIGGERS, figuratively in THE EXORCIST) to the principal male protagonist. In both films, the principal male protagonist partners with an older man to bring about a change in the reigning situation.

Team

Both teams, in their bid to restore order to chaos, employ confrontation and conversation in order to achieve their endgame.

Team2

Neither team scores what might be called a clear victory.

Bum (2)

Both films employ the visual of a bum or beggar to symbolize man’s fall from grace…

Bum (1)

… his descent into despair and hopelessness. And just as the LeRoy-Berkeley-Grot axis uses the image of a staircase as a metaphor for ascension…

Stairs (2)

… and a signifier of transcendence, so THE EXORCIST remains haunted throughout…

Stairs (1)

… by the calibrated distance between Heaven and Hell, as symbolized by the Georgetown Steps.

Old Lady

In GOLD DIGGERS, human loneliness and a gutting disenfranchisement from society is personified by the image of an old woman in a rocking chair…

Old Lady (2)

… whose analog turns up in THE EXORCIST in the form of Jason Miller’s Greek immigrant mother.

Arms (2)

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 makes light of a serious situation, acknowledging troubled times but defaulting to slapstick so as not to rub the moviegoer’s nose in misery. All bets are off for the film’s conclusion, however — a wildly extravagant tribute to the men who sacrificed their innocence to fighting the Hun during the Great War but who cannot as mature men feed their families during the Great Depression. The film’s final image is of Joan Blondell as a streetwalker Madonna, a patron of the dispossessed, her feet ringed with the humbled masses of hungry, forgotten men, whose arms reach out as if in supplication… or maybe simply for a handout. The image, potent in and of itself, reminded me of…

Arms (1)

Given that the final number of GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 is called “The Forgotten Man,” I was left wondering as the film faded to black who the equivalent might be in THE EXORCIST. Is it God, shunted aside in seemingly godless times, or Jesus Christ? Or is it Lucifer, the fallen angel? Or might it be the title character (whether that character is the one played by Max Von Sydow or Jason Miller is another argument entirely), whose ultimate sacrifice is only vaguely recalled by the beneficiary of his altruism? (As I began to perceive EXORCIST parallels in GOLD DIGGERS I wondered if anybody would throw themselves out of a window… but no, you have to turn to STAGE DOOR in 1937 for that.) Both GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 and THE EXORCIST leave us in a place of wonder and sadness, our senses exhausted, our brains scrambling to make sense of what has just happened. They both offer compelling views of life in hard times and reaffirm humanity’s resilience through the prism of a production — the staging of a Broadway musical to beat back Old Man Depression and the enacting of an ancient ritual to shout down the Devil and all of his hellish familiars. Forty years passed between GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 and THE EXORCIST and here we are forty years on the other side of that. And once again we find ourselves in hard times.

Hey, kids… let’s put on a show!

34 Responses E’reway in-hay the oney-may… or The Exorcist as a sequel to Gold Diggers of 1933
Posted By davestewart1964 : February 8, 2013 12:40 pm

This is great. A truly entertaining and interesting read. Now I’ve gotta go dig up Gold Diggers of 1933.

Posted By davestewart1964 : February 8, 2013 12:40 pm

This is great. A truly entertaining and interesting read. Now I’ve gotta go dig up Gold Diggers of 1933.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : February 8, 2013 2:06 pm

Readily available from Netflix, if you do that sort of thing.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : February 8, 2013 2:06 pm

Readily available from Netflix, if you do that sort of thing.

Posted By Bronxgirl48 : February 8, 2013 2:18 pm

Okay, my mind has been completely blown!

Posted By Bronxgirl48 : February 8, 2013 2:18 pm

Okay, my mind has been completely blown!

Posted By davestewart1964 : February 8, 2013 2:33 pm

I’ve got access to Canadian Netflix, Richard. Does NOT compare to the US version. Sigh.

Posted By davestewart1964 : February 8, 2013 2:33 pm

I’ve got access to Canadian Netflix, Richard. Does NOT compare to the US version. Sigh.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : February 8, 2013 2:36 pm

“Canadian Netflix” has a slightly suspect cast to it… like “Mexican divorce.”

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : February 8, 2013 2:36 pm

“Canadian Netflix” has a slightly suspect cast to it… like “Mexican divorce.”

Posted By davestewart1964 : February 8, 2013 2:55 pm

Ka-Zing!

Posted By davestewart1964 : February 8, 2013 2:55 pm

Ka-Zing!

Posted By Volker S. : February 8, 2013 3:42 pm

A beautiful essay !!!

“Nonetheless, these things all float about in our collective unconsciousness…To say that a message is not intended…is not to say a message cannot be received.”

You article is more than clever artifice (though it is that at its basest level, and very well done, I might add), it is an eloquent demonstration of how cultural memory works in an holographic sense. This is partly possible because the mind strives to see patterns and connections, whether they exist or not. And maybe Christopher Booker is right, there are only 7 basic plots.

As an aside, I saw GOLD DIGGERS in a movie theater around 1988, BTW. It was much talked-about, but few had seen it; certainly more people had seen EXORCIST (and probably have to this day) though I had not at the time. I’m not a fan of the musical genre in general, but GOLD DIGGERS was impressive. More obvious parallels than yours can be drawn between it and Riefenstahl’s later OLYMPIA.

Posted By Volker S. : February 8, 2013 3:42 pm

A beautiful essay !!!

“Nonetheless, these things all float about in our collective unconsciousness…To say that a message is not intended…is not to say a message cannot be received.”

You article is more than clever artifice (though it is that at its basest level, and very well done, I might add), it is an eloquent demonstration of how cultural memory works in an holographic sense. This is partly possible because the mind strives to see patterns and connections, whether they exist or not. And maybe Christopher Booker is right, there are only 7 basic plots.

As an aside, I saw GOLD DIGGERS in a movie theater around 1988, BTW. It was much talked-about, but few had seen it; certainly more people had seen EXORCIST (and probably have to this day) though I had not at the time. I’m not a fan of the musical genre in general, but GOLD DIGGERS was impressive. More obvious parallels than yours can be drawn between it and Riefenstahl’s later OLYMPIA.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : February 8, 2013 7:32 pm

The two old women look especially similar.

Also, when Karras is listening to the tapes of Regan, just before the phone rings and startles him, one of the moans from the demon is “I am no one. I am no one!” Forgotten man?

Posted By Greg Ferrara : February 8, 2013 7:32 pm

The two old women look especially similar.

Also, when Karras is listening to the tapes of Regan, just before the phone rings and startles him, one of the moans from the demon is “I am no one. I am no one!” Forgotten man?

Posted By Doug : February 9, 2013 12:15 am

Once again, I am amazed at the fun to be had talking about films-I was going to watch “The Exorcist” tonight to look
for other co-incidences, but got a late start.
Talk of ‘Forgotten men’ brought “My Man Godfrey” to mind.
One incidence which isn’t really ‘co’, but nearly fits-Warren William playing the heavy also starred in “Satan Met A Lady”.
Bye the bye-loved the Ginger pig-latin clip.
Thank you for another great post!

Posted By Doug : February 9, 2013 12:15 am

Once again, I am amazed at the fun to be had talking about films-I was going to watch “The Exorcist” tonight to look
for other co-incidences, but got a late start.
Talk of ‘Forgotten men’ brought “My Man Godfrey” to mind.
One incidence which isn’t really ‘co’, but nearly fits-Warren William playing the heavy also starred in “Satan Met A Lady”.
Bye the bye-loved the Ginger pig-latin clip.
Thank you for another great post!

Posted By DevlinCarnate : February 9, 2013 12:53 pm

this kind of reminds me of the Pink Floyd “Dark Side of The Moon”/ Wizard of Oz parallels…sometimes extraordinary coincidences seem more like conscious planning…a thought provoking post

Posted By DevlinCarnate : February 9, 2013 12:53 pm

this kind of reminds me of the Pink Floyd “Dark Side of The Moon”/ Wizard of Oz parallels…sometimes extraordinary coincidences seem more like conscious planning…a thought provoking post

Posted By Chad Hunter : February 9, 2013 1:25 pm

What fun. I’m going to program this as a double bill at our theater in Pittsburgh. Richard, want Skype in before or something?

Posted By Chad Hunter : February 9, 2013 1:25 pm

What fun. I’m going to program this as a double bill at our theater in Pittsburgh. Richard, want Skype in before or something?

Posted By Mose Jefferson : February 10, 2013 5:41 pm

That was fun. You could do a similar film comparison with “On Dangerous Ground” and “Bad Lieutenant”, if you wanted. I’m too lazy.

Posted By Mose Jefferson : February 10, 2013 5:41 pm

That was fun. You could do a similar film comparison with “On Dangerous Ground” and “Bad Lieutenant”, if you wanted. I’m too lazy.

Posted By swac44 : February 11, 2013 8:20 am

And as a sign of the continuing devaluation of the dollar, Jason Miller’s next film after The Exorcist was The Nickel Ride.

Posted By swac44 : February 11, 2013 8:20 am

And as a sign of the continuing devaluation of the dollar, Jason Miller’s next film after The Exorcist was The Nickel Ride.

Posted By swac44 : February 13, 2013 9:31 am

One other weird note, I was pondering doing a The Exorcist/Exorcist II: The Heretic double feature this weekend, and maybe even throwing in the Paul Schrader version of the prequel, Dominion (which I haven’t seen, just the Renny Harlin version that showed up in theatres). It’s been ages since I watched the first sequel, but checking up on it on IMDb, it says there’s a scene where Regan tap dances while someone plays Lullaby of Broadway on a saxophone. Spooky, no?

Posted By swac44 : February 13, 2013 9:31 am

One other weird note, I was pondering doing a The Exorcist/Exorcist II: The Heretic double feature this weekend, and maybe even throwing in the Paul Schrader version of the prequel, Dominion (which I haven’t seen, just the Renny Harlin version that showed up in theatres). It’s been ages since I watched the first sequel, but checking up on it on IMDb, it says there’s a scene where Regan tap dances while someone plays Lullaby of Broadway on a saxophone. Spooky, no?

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : February 13, 2013 11:22 am

Not only is there that scene in Exorcist II but there is a dream scene in Exorcist III: Legion that has an Old Hollywood musical feel to it, if not quite Busby Berkeley extravagance. And at the end, Jason Miller is ringed by a coterie of damned souls who rise up out of the floor with their arms outstretched towards him very much in the fashion of that final frame grab from Gold Diggers of 1933.

We’re through the looking glass now, people.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : February 13, 2013 11:22 am

Not only is there that scene in Exorcist II but there is a dream scene in Exorcist III: Legion that has an Old Hollywood musical feel to it, if not quite Busby Berkeley extravagance. And at the end, Jason Miller is ringed by a coterie of damned souls who rise up out of the floor with their arms outstretched towards him very much in the fashion of that final frame grab from Gold Diggers of 1933.

We’re through the looking glass now, people.

Posted By swac44 : February 13, 2013 1:07 pm

I wonder how much William Peter Blatty likes musicals (not that he had that much to do with Exorcist II: The Heretic)? He wrote Darling Lili, which at least has some musical numbers in it as I recall, co-written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer.

It’s funny that before The Exorcist, Blatty was known for light comedy, working with Blake Edwards on a handful of films and making his screen debut with the lesser Danny Kaye comedy The Man From the Diner’s Club. I’d love to see his MIA title John Goldfarb, Please Come Home, directed by J. Lee Thompson, with what I’d consider a dream cast: Shirley MacLaine, Peter Ustinov, Jim Backus, Fred Clark, Wilfred Hyde-White, Richard Deacon, Harry Morgan and Charles Lane. It’s a character actor lover’s dream.

Posted By swac44 : February 13, 2013 1:07 pm

I wonder how much William Peter Blatty likes musicals (not that he had that much to do with Exorcist II: The Heretic)? He wrote Darling Lili, which at least has some musical numbers in it as I recall, co-written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer.

It’s funny that before The Exorcist, Blatty was known for light comedy, working with Blake Edwards on a handful of films and making his screen debut with the lesser Danny Kaye comedy The Man From the Diner’s Club. I’d love to see his MIA title John Goldfarb, Please Come Home, directed by J. Lee Thompson, with what I’d consider a dream cast: Shirley MacLaine, Peter Ustinov, Jim Backus, Fred Clark, Wilfred Hyde-White, Richard Deacon, Harry Morgan and Charles Lane. It’s a character actor lover’s dream.

Posted By Carol McFadden Actress | Carol McFadden Actress : March 8, 2013 5:21 pm

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Posted By Carol McFadden Actress | Carol McFadden Actress : March 8, 2013 5:21 pm

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