Warner Archive is completely unexpected treats like LADY, LET'S DANCE! (1944).
LADY, LET'S DANCE! is a Monogram musical starring Belita, the multitalented ballerina and ice skater who would later star in one of my favorite minor film noir titles, THE HUNTED (1948). For those who'd like to learn more, the Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller wrote a great piece on Belita available online at the Film Noir Foundation site.
In LADY, LET'S DANCE! there's almost no plot to speak of, with Belita playing a character named...Belita! She's a Dutch refugee working as a hotel maid in California, and she reveals herself to be a dancer when Manuelo (Maurice St. Clair), an entertainer at the hotel, suddenly loses his partner (Barbara Woodell).
Belita's a sensation teamed with Manuelo, but the hotel's entertainment manager, Jerry (James Ellison), believes she'll go far and sends her off to Chicago and stardom, at the expense of his own career.
I suppose a stranger sitting down to watch this movie with no context would be amused by the lack of story, along with the lame dialogue and wooden acting -- by comparison to most of the low-key cast, many of whom are playing themselves (or characters close to themselves), Ellison appears to be overacting!
For me, though, the movie turned out to be 88 minutes of pure enjoyment, starting out with Belita doing beautiful dance numbers, including ballet dancing en pointe, then switching to a series of thrilling ice skating routines.
Other than a couple ice skating numbers by the famed comedy team Frick and Frack, it's Belita's movie all the way, and anyone who loves great dancing or skating can't help but enjoy it.
I was interested to learn this little movie received two Oscar nominations, for Best Score and Best Song ("Silver Shadows and Golden Dreams"). Who knew? Certainly not me before watching this!
I also really enjoyed the opening scenes, which were filmed at the Arrowhead Springs Hotel. There's a water ballet in a gorgeous pool at the resort, with mountains in the background; at some point in its history the pool was named for Esther Williams. During WWII the resort served as a naval hospital. It made me think of the Norconian Resort, another grand Inland Empire hotel seen in movies, which likewise was turned into a military hospital during the war. The Los Angeles Times chronicled the resort's history last year.
LADY, LET'S DANCE! was directed by Frank Woodruff and filmed in black and white by Mack Stengler.
The Warner Archive DVD is an excellent print. There are no extras.
Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.