42nd Street is about the making of a musical during the Great Depression. The effects of the Depression are evident throughout the film, as the director, Marsh, is directing the musical to reattain his fortune that he lost on Wall Street. Many of the characters throughout the film also show signs of financial trouble, such as when Pat Denning could barely afford to take Dorothy to a restaurant. As the film progresses, Marsh holds brutal rehearsals, where the actors are worked to exhaustion. We see the complex social relationship between many of the characters while rehearsal is not in session. We see Dorothy dating Pat Denning behind Abner’s, her “sugar-daddy”, back. Pat is also interested in another woman on set. There is much sexual imagery and many innuendos were made over the course of the film, which may reflect the reality of being an actress in that time. The film’s climax involves Dorothy fracturing her ankle, allowing Peggy Sawyer to take her place. After hours of private rehearsal, the show is presented, and it is successful.
42nd Street exemplifies the impact that a lack of wealth can have on a population, leading them to do things that others may view as “extreme” or “desperate”. As I mentioned before, the film is rich with sexual metaphors. Dorothy’s dependence on Abner’s money is emphasized by the undertones conveyed that she is, in some way, performing sexual favors for him. Marsh’s behavior is another example of this kind of desperation to reattain a fortune. Marsh is told that he is a very sick man, and that his body will not stand the stress induced by directing. He chooses to ignore this warning, because he cannot afford to wait. He also keeps the actors at the studio for extended periods of time, working them harder and harder as the show approaches. When Dorothy fractures her ankle, he desperately spends 5 hours teaching Peggy her parts, because the musical is that important to his success.