Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)

DANCE, GIRL, DANCE is an interesting little RKO musical-drama starring a young Maureen O'Hara and Lucille Ball. It has the distinction of being one of just a handful of Golden Era films directed by a woman, Dorothy Arzner.

O'Hara plays Judy, an aspiring ballerina who pays her bills by dancing as the "stooge" in a burlesque show starring Bubbles (Ball). Judy hopes that one day she'll have the dancing career of her dreams, while Bubbles simply wants to be rich and famous. The head of a ballet company (Ralph Bellamy) is interested in Judy, but she mistakenly thinks he's just a flirt and gives him the brush-off. Meanwhile, both women moon over rich drunk Jimmy Harris (Louis Hayward), who is in the process of divorcing his wife (Virginia Field).

This is a surprisingly good film, with solid performances by the two leading ladies. It's hard to see why the women waste any time on Jimmy (or indeed, why the movie wastes any time on him), but other than that it's an interesting story of two women struggling to make it in the big city. In some ways it calls to mind STAGE DOOR (1937), in which Ball had a small role. O'Hara is ethereal as the dreamy, naive ballerina, who surprises everyone near the end of the film when she boils over, lecturing the rowdy burlesque audience and then literally tackling Bubbles. Ball is also perfect as the tough burlesque star.

The film has a solid supporting cast. Katharine Alexander, one of my favorites, plays a sympathetic dance company secretary, and Walter Abel is wonderful in his one scene as a night court judge, contributing strongly to one of the film's best moments. Bellamy is charming as the man who will turn around Judy's career.

In her autobiography Maureen O'Hara wrote that although they had a combative relationship on screen, off the screen she and Lucille Ball became good friends. O'Hara felt she and Ball were a lot alike -- two strong women working to succeed in a tough business. O'Hara also shared the anecdote that she was sitting with Lucy in the commissary the first time Lucy spotted Desi Arnaz and fell head over heels for him.

DANCE, GIRL, DANCE runs 90 minutes. It's available in a nice print on DVD. It's also had a release on VHS.

DANCE, GIRL, DANCE can also be seen from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

February 2020 Update: This film will be released on DVD and Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection in May 2020.


Blogger The Invisible said...

You might be interested in a film making the festival circuit rounds right now called Leading Ladies. It stars several people from So You Think You Can Dance and is also directed (written, co-produced, and choreographed too) by a woman, Erika Randall Beahm, who is a professor of dance at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The film was made with considerable nods to 30's and 40's dance films (like those in the RKO catalog).


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