Joan in “Remember My Forgotten Man” from Gold Diggers of 1933
"I did something extraordinary in that number, too, when I had Joan Blondell sing the song because Joan Blondell couldn’t sing. But I knew she could act it. I knew she could ‘talk it’ and put over the drama for me" - Busby Berkeley
Joan is galvanizing in “Remember My Forgotten Man.” In her few moments with the song she is sultry, vulnerable, bitter, and yearning. She is then followed by the magnificent Etta Moten, who provides the song a vocal melody. Later still, the soldiers, then bums, make for a powerful musicalization of politics and history. “Remember My Forgotten Man” is perhaps the most socially urgent song ever conceived for an American musical film.
Though it is specific to the Depression and the treatment of World War I veterans in a nation wanting for food and work, “Remember My Forgotten Man” has never gone out of date. What is government’s responsibility to the dispossessed? What are the effects of war and neglect on women? Joan’s character speaks to an ambivalence of the moment when she looks at a hard-luck veteran and says, “I don’t know if he deserves a bit of sympathy.” As someone reduced to streetwalking, the question could be asked of her as well. In six minutes and forty-five seconds, Berkeley treats us to prostitution, homelessness, veterans marching in the rain, bread lines, and desolate womanhood. The final image is a three-layered design of choreographic genius. In the back is a human canvas of marching soldiers in silhouette on multileveled semicircular pathways. In the middle is Joan, her arms outstretched in V formation for the final tableau. Surrounding her is a mass of hungry men, the former vets. They reach out to her in communion, each a victim of society’s betrayal.
From Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes by Matthew Kennedy