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We happened to catch the last half hour of Gold Diggers of 1933 on TCM this evening, which concludes with the incredibly impressive "My Forgotten Man" production. The choreography is by (of course) Busby Berkeley; the music is by Harry Warren and Al Dubin.

It is a marvelous evocation of the feel of the times: It portrays a generation of men who fought in a vicious war, and then, when the economy crashed and burned a little over ten years later, felt abandoned by their country. The film appeared a year after the 1932 march on Washington D.C. by the Bonus Army, thousands of World War I veterans and their families who camped out near the White House, demanding payment of a bonus that wasn't supposed to be issued until 1945. They were eventually routed and driven out by the police and the Army by orders of President Hoover; several of the veterans were killed.

This is just a fantastic production, from the heartrending singing by Eta Moten (who later became the first African-American actress to perform at the White House), to its portrayal of soldiers marching to and from the war in driving rain, to the huge Art Deco set at the end where soldiers and jobless men march while women hold their arms out in despair. The film ends with the number; cleverly, the filmmakers wrapped up the plot first so that your final impression of the film is of those hundreds of men and women singing about the forgotten man.

Not what you'd expect from an otherwise light and sexy romantic comedy. I'm embedding a YouTube clip of the number here; watch it if you have time.

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