- Directors: Lloyd Bacon, Busby Berkeley
- Producers: Darryl F Zanuck, Hal B Wallis
- Writers: Bradford Ropes, Rian James, James Seymour, Whitney Bolton
- Genres: Musical, Romance, Drama
- Actors: Warner Baxter, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell
It is 1932, the height of the Depression, and Broadway producers Jones (Robert McWade) and Barry (Ned Sparks) put on Pretty Lady, a musical staring beautiful Dorothy (â€œDotâ€) Brock (Bebe Daniels). Dorothy’s sugar daddy, industrialist Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee), is the show’s “angel” (financial backer). But while Dorothy is busy keeping Dillon both hooked and at arm’s length, she still secretly meets her old vaudeville partner and lover, out of work Pat Denning (George Brent).
To ensure success Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter), harsh and demanding but also the best, is hired to direct. But Marsh is ill, broke, friendless, and bitter as a result of the 1929 Stock Market Crash. â€œDid you ever try to cash a reputation in a bank?â€, he asks. Gambling with health and life, Marsh must make his last show a major hit if he is to have enough money to retire on. “This time I’m going to sock it away so hard you’ll have to blast to get it out.”
Cast selection and rehearsals begin amidst fierce competition, with not a few â€œcasting couchâ€ innuendos flying around. Innocent newcomer Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler) is duped until two chorines, Lorraine Fleming (Una Merkel) and Ann â€Anytime Annieâ€ Lowell (Ginger Rogers), take her in tow. Lorraine has an “in” with dance director Andy Lee (George E. Stone), while the show’s juvenile lead Billy Lawler (Dick Powell) takes a liking to Peggy and puts in a good word for her with Marsh.
With 200 jobs and his own future riding on the outcome, Marsh rehearses Sawyer mercilessly until an hour before curtain time. Dorothy, soon to be married to Pat, wishes Peggy luck, and the show is on. Nearly twenty minutes are devoted to three Busby Berkeley production numbers: Shuffle Off to Buffalo, I’m Young and Healthy, and the tour de force title song 42nd Street. The show is a success, and in the final scene Marsh turns wearily away from the brightly lit theatre entrance and slumps down on a fire escape in the dark, to quietly savor his triumph.