Sunday, September 20, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Lady, Let's Dance! (1944) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

One of the many reasons I appreciate the 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.

I asked my father if he was familiar with the resort and was delighted to learn that a dance band he headed had actually played at the resort in the late '50s! I love how a little Monogram movie provided me with the impetus to read up on a bit of Southern California history, and in turn I learned some family history!

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.


Blogger dfordoom said...

I had no idea that any Monogram pictures had received Oscar nominations!

5:35 PM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Yep, "King of the Zombies" (1941) also received a nomination for its musical score.

7:24 PM  
Blogger mel said...

Thank you for review of this movie, Laura.

There's a short clip on YouTube from it of one of Belita's skating numbers, but it's very poor quality.

I concur with dfordoom's comment about this Monogram picture receiving a couple of Academy nominations - that's an eye-opener, indeed!

9:28 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I agree -- I learned something, thanks to watching this, about Monogram and Oscars. Kevin, thanks for adding that info about KING OF THE ZOMBIES!

Mel, I suspect you'd really enjoy this, especially as it has extensive ice skating sequences. Hope you can get it!

Best wishes,

9:25 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Yes, LADY, LET'S DANCE got two Oscar nominations, and, incredibly, KING OF THE ZOMBIES was nominated for Best Score. But there should be an asterisk by these nominations. Academy rules from 1938-1945 (approximately--might not have the exact years) allowed each studio to receive a nomination in those categories simply by submitting any eligible candidate. So for that period, you'll find a large number of nominations in those categories, including some real oddities.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Very interesting, Rick! Thanks!

Best wishes,

12:14 AM  

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