Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Dancing Lady (1933)

My informal Fred Astaire week has continued with Fred's very first film, DANCING LADY.

Fred has a fairly small role in DANCING LADY, playing himself, and doesn't appear on screen until nearly an hour into the movie. He partners Joan Crawford; I've never been able to understand the opinion of some that Crawford was a talented dancer, but it's fun to see Astaire's earliest film work. He quickly moved on to RKO and FLYING DOWN TO RIO, where he was partnered for the first time with an actress-dancer named Ginger Rogers...

As for the plot of DANCING LADY, it's a pre-Code backstage melodrama which finds an up-and-coming dancer (Crawford) torn between a wealthy man (Franchot Tone, who would marry Crawford in real life in 1935) and her brusque director (Clark Gable, Crawford's frequent costar).

Crawford has good chemistry with both her leading men, and the leads all look great, with typically polished MGM production values. The story is fairly hokey in spots, but it's also entertaining, and the film is historically interesting on various levels, including, of course, Astaire's film debut.

The supporting cast includes May Robson, Ted Healy, Robert Benchley, Nelson Eddy, Sterling Holloway, and the Three Stooges as stagehands. Not being a Three Stooges fan, I admit to being relieved each time they left the screen, but perhaps those who enjoy their antics will find it an additional reason to watch the film.

DANCING LADY was directed by Robert Z. Leonard. The run time is 92 minutes.

DANCING LADY is available on VHS. It's been released on DVD as both a single-title release and as part of the 6-film Clark Gable Signature Collection.

DANCING LADY can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is here.

January 2017 Update: This movie has been reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive and will be available beginning in February 2017.


Blogger Irene said...

This is one I believe I mentioned to you in the Fall that I stumbled across in my library. I found it interesting to see a young Joan Crawford. And Clark Gable played his usual gruff character :)

I watched The 39 Steps last night on DVD. Also on the DVD was a documentary about Hitchcock's early work which was really good and then I listened to the Lux Radio Theater broadcast. It was listed as being one hour but was even less than that given the commercials and talking with a guest in the middle (now that was interesting because they were talking spies). The beginning was very much like the movie but then it was considerably condensed. The host was Cecil B. DeMille!!! AT the very end he spoke of the upcoming show, Song of Songs, and then said their special guest will be "Walt Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse". I've found the episode online and so will be listening to that :)

7:05 AM  
Blogger Classic Maiden said...

I really like this particular film and I always love Gable and Crawford together --> they really sizzle on-screen.

Though I love seeing Crawford dancing, she was not a particularly good dancer, but I think, she was fair.

11:23 AM  
Blogger mel said...

I watched Dancing Lady for the first time last evening. I found it more of a curio than a good movie and was interested in seeing it primarily for the presence of Fred Astaire.

A few comments on the cast:
Joan Crawford - I have never liked her, in anything. I didn't think much of her dancing in this, either.

Clark Gable - I could never stand him, and his role in this movie did nothing to endear me to him at all.

Franchot Tone - very irritating, with his almost incessant smarmy grin.

May Robson - grossly under-used in this movie. A wonderful actress.

Robert Benchley - a perfect role for him, and he was great in it.

Sterling Holloway - an absolutely embarrassing performance in a ridiculous role.

Nelson Eddy - later became one of my favorites in the movies he did with Jeanette MacDonald. I don't think his performance in this would have given either MGM or the moviegoers any indication of his later successes.

The Three Stooges - I have loved them ever since I was little but I didn't think their participation benefited this movie at all.

Fred Astaire - clearly MGM had no idea what to do with him, and they didn't deserve to sign him to a contract. The powers that were at RKO quickly cottoned on to his talent resulting in a priceless series of movies for them in the 1930s.

All in all, I found it not to be a terribly entertaining film, but worthy of keeping in my collection for its historical value.

12:19 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks to all for the comments!

Mel, really enjoyed your detailed take. Thanks for taking the time to post it so long after I saw the film, it was fun to revisit my review. I see I enjoyed the film at the time -- but it's interesting, that was now 7 (!) years ago and I must admit nothing about the movie stayed with me! Amusing enough when I watched it, but over the years it didn't prove memorable.

Crawford has been an acquired taste for me, but I've always loved Gable so very interested he's someone who doesn't appeal to you, as our tastes so often coincide.

Thanks again!

Best wishes,

1:43 PM  

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