Some speculations on the social functions of Gold Diggers of 1933

By Kevin Yu

Old movies never stop to amaze me, so it is with Gold Digger of 1933. It is just full of surprises.


Still from Gold Diggers of 1933, (1933.)

This semester I am taking Dr. Jarrett’s film history class. Last week, he just mentioned in class that during World War II, Italy used movies as a tool to distract its people from the grim reality. In these movies, things are always fine; people live in nice places, wear good clothes, and chat and gossip over perfectly white telephones. They are called the “white telephone films.”

When watching Gold Diggers of 1933, I immediately thought of those “white telephone films.” Made just around the period of the great depression, Gold Diggers of 1933 functions perfectly as the dream machine. In this movie, these girls are out of job and out of food, and they don’t even have enough proper clothes for them to wear outside. The theater business is down, and producers don’t have the budget to make the shows they want. But no worries, some rich guys are coming to save the world. One young and handsome and talented, one old but full of romantic fantasies, and another who acts stubborn and conservative but has a gentle heart inside, all cute in some ways. And they are rich; the great depression doesn’t exist for them. And the girls, energetic and optimistic in the time of depression, who act like gold diggers, are eventually going to fall for true love, not money. This movie reassures people the things they value, such as optimism, wealth, and love, and it functions as a perfect distraction for people at the time. Though things are bad, they are not that bad.

But things are bad indeed. Although it may not be the intention of the filmmakers, since they try so hard to put makeup on the depression to make it look not so horrible, this movie is made at the time of the depression and about the depression, and underneath all the makeup, there is something genuine about it. Gold Diggers of 1933 may function as a historical representation of what the depression actually looks like, for the upper class at least.

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2 Responses to Some speculations on the social functions of Gold Diggers of 1933

  1. mediaphiles says:

    After our conversation this Tuesday about camp and historical specificity, I think it’s worth bringing up again how audiences may tend to perceive a film differently depending on who they are, what year it is, etc. Just like you said, in order to really appreciate what this film truly means and what it truly reflects we need to return to our history books (film history and otherwise). I think it is easy for a contemporary audience to view this film and be bothered by the idea of gold digging or hopeful dreaming, but this narrative truly speaks to the mood of the early 1930s.

    – Lydia Geisel

  2. mediaphiles says:

    This post made me look at the movie a different way. When I watched it I didn’t understand why anyone would have wanted to watch a movie about “wealthy people problems” during The Great Depression, but i really liked what you said about this film emphasizing that the values we hold most dear are still with us even in the darkest of times.

    -Kendra Thornton

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