Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929)


Once the story of the Gold Diggers made its way to the big screen as a silent film, it was not terribly long until the story would find itself before audiences once again–this time, reimagined as a two-strip Technicolor, all-talking feature.

In the greater context of Warner Bros. history, this film arrived after Sam Warner’s urging to add synchronized sound to the studio’s productions. After denying Sam’s requests for sound, Harry Warner finally agreed to change, so long as the sound would be for background music only. By 1926, Vitaphone started making films with music and effects tracts, most notably evidenced at a screening of Don Juan (1926) with John Barrymore. While the film itself was silent, it featured an array of Vitaphone shorts at the start of the screening. While Don Juan did not recover its production costs and Warner Bros. was struggling financially, they took their pivotal next step by releasing The Jazz Singer (1927).

The Jazz Singer included little sound dialogue but did ultimately feature sound segments of Jolson’s singing. This sensational film signified the beginning of “talking pictures” and an eventual twilight for the silent era. Sam died the night before the opening, preventing the Warner brothers from attending the premiere.

In 1929, Warner Bros. released On with the Show! (1929), which was the studio’s first all-color, all-talking feature. It would be followed by the studio’s second all-color, all talking feature, Gold Diggers of Broadway, which would play in theaters until 1939. The film would be the third color film released by the studio, with the first being a black-and-white, part-color musical called The Desert Song (1929).

Gold Diggers of Broadway features the following cast:

  • Nancy Welford as Jerry Lamar
  • Conway Tearle as Stephen Lee
  • Winnie Lightner as Mabel Munroe
  • Ann Pennington as Ann Collins
  • Gertrude Short as Topsy St Clair
  • Lilyan Tashman as Eleanor
  • William Bakewell as Wally Saunders
  • Nick Lucas as Nick
  • Helen Foster as Violet Dayne
  • Albert Gran as Blake
  • Julia Swayne Gordon as Cissy Gray
  • Lee Moran as Dance Director
  • Armand Kaliz as Barney Barnett

The only actors in the 1929 film to have also appeared in the 1923 silent version, The Gold Diggers, were Gertrude Short and Louise Beavers.

In terms of the plot, Gold Diggers of Broadway is very similar to the plots of its prior silent film and stage play renditions, though musical elements and the technologies of the day impact the story. The film begins with an audience watching a Broadway show that depicts a giant gold mine. This leads to the “Song of the Gold Diggers” production number. Shortly afterward, guitarist Nick Lucas performs “Painting the Clouds with Sunshine”, which reaches its on-stage climax with an Art Deco revolving sun.

Behind the scenes, the show’s star Ann Collins (Ann Pennington) fights over Nick with another girl. Here, the viewer learns that many of the chorus girls are looking for love and money but have difficulty prioritizing one desire over the other. After encountering a former star who has resorted to selling soap, they vow to pursue money and avoid such a fate.

In the meantime, a businessman named Stephen Lee (Conway Tearle) forbids his nephew (William Bakewell) from marrying Violet, a showgirl. His lawyer friend, Blake (Albert Gran), tells him to befriend the showgirl before making any decision. The most outgoing showgirl, Mabel (Winnie Lightner), soon expresses an interest in Blake. She serenades him with “Mechanical Man.”

As the evening goes on and they visit a nightclub, she jumps up on a table and sings to him once again with “Wolf from the Door.” A showgirl named Jerry (Nancy Welford) relocates the party to her apartment. Lee feels that he is beginning to really enjoy the company of the showgirls. Nick sings “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” as Blake and Lee fall in love with Mabel and Jerry. The party comes to an end with Nick singing “Go to Bed.” Jerry aims to get an intoxicated Lee to allow his nephew to marry. While she executes her plan, she is caught by her mother, who finds the two of them together.

The next day, Jerry feels disgraced, while Mabel gets an extra line in the show. Nick is scolded for performing poorly and sings “What Will I Do Without You.” Collins, however, gets into a fight and injures her eye, resulting in Jerry being asked to perform her role. Soon after, Mabel receives a marriage proposal from Blake but worries about her extra line.

After a reprise of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” featuring a full orchestra and massive stage set with showgirls dressed as tulips in a greenhouse, Lee gives consent to his nephew. He also tells Jerry that he wants to marry her.

The film comes to an end with Jerry performing the “Song of the Gold Diggers” against an Art Deco backdrop of Paris at night in a lavish number. Mabel says her line but forgets the end of it.

The full list of songs featured in this film was as follows:

  • “Song of the Gold Diggers” (WB Vitaphone orchestra and stage chorus)
  • “Painting the Clouds with Sunshine” (Nick Lucas with WB Vitaphone orchestra and stage chorus)
  •  “And Still They Fall in Love” (Winnie Lightner with backing)
  •  “Song of the Gold Diggers” (Nancy Welford)
  • “Blushing Bride” (Nancy Welford)
  • “Mechanical Man” (Winnie Lightner with backing)
  • “Painting the Clouds with Sunshine” – reprise (Nick Lucas with band)
  • “Keeping the Wolf from the Door” (Winnie Lightner with band)
  • “Tip-toe thru the Tulips” (Nick Lucas with guitar and band)
  • “The Pennington Glide” (Instrumental – Apartment Party Sequence)
  • “The Poison Kiss of that Spaniard” (band instrumental)
  • “In a Kitchenette” (Nick Lucas on guitar)
  • “Go to Bed” (Nick Lucas on guitar)
  • “What Will I Do Without You?” (Nick Lucas on guitar)
  • “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” – reprise (Nick Lucas with WB Vitaphone orchestra and chorus)
  • Finale featuring Nancy Welford with WB Vitaphone orchestra
    • “Song of the Gold Diggers” introduction
    • “Tip-toe thru the Tulips” (instrumental WB Vitaphone orchestra)
    • “Painting the Clouds with Sunshine” (instrumental WB Vitaphone orchestra) and chorus
    • “Mechanical Man” (instrumental WB Vitaphone orchestra)
    • Nancy Welford with WB Vitaphone orchestra
    • “Song of the Gold Diggers” – reprise and finale.

Gold Diggers of Broadway was the biggest box office hit of the year and considered a fast-moving comedy enhanced by Technicolor and popular songs. Today, Gold Diggers of Broadway is considered a partially lost film, as no complete print survives.

Read my full series on the Gold Digger films here:

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