Sunday, November 19, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Dance, Fools, Dance (1931) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The Joan Crawford pre-Code melodrama DANCE, FOOLS, DANCE (1931) has just been released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive Collection.

Joan stars as Bonnie Jordan, who as the movie opens is a "wild child" living it up among high society. She even has a fling with Bob Townsend (Lester Vail) without benefit of marriage.

All too soon Bonnie's life is upended with her father (William Holden) loses his fortune in the stock market crash and dies.

Bob somewhat guiltily offers to marry Bonnie, but she senses he doesn't really want to and turns him down. Instead Bonnie and her brother Rod (William Bakewell) downsize from their mansion into a small apartment and Bonnie takes a job as a newspaper reporter.

Rod, on the other hand, doesn't have a work ethic and falls into easy money selling bootleg alcohol to his friends for gangster Jake Luva (Clark Gable). Rod ends up aiding and abetting Luva's men when they gun down several people, and he's also involved with the killing of Bonnie's reporter friend Bert (Cliff Edwards).

Bonnie goes undercover to find Bert's murderer, little dreaming where things will all end...

This is an entertaining film which I found an engrossing 80 minutes. Crawford had not entirely learned to tamp down on her facial expressions -- which would be used to great effect a couple decades later in SUDDEN FEAR (1952) -- but other than her tendency to overact with wild-eyes expressions in a couple spots, she's very good. Her Bonnie becomes increasingly sympathetic as she realizes the emptiness of her past life and works hard to build a respectable career.

There are some great little pre-Code moments, including Bonnie's boss telling her she has to be prepared to do anything when she goes undercover. The sharp look she gives him makes clear what "anything" means.

Vail is a milquetoast type as Bonnie's boyfriend, and given his previous attitudes toward Bonnie it's hard to understand why she eventually considers resuming their relationship.

This was Crawford's first film of several with Gable, and he's electrifying as quite an evil man. Without Gable this film would be more of a "run of the mill" tale, but with him it packs quite a punch. Even in relatively small early roles like this, Gable's star power was apparent -- all the more so in contrast to the film's ostensible leading man. Gable was truly "the King."

Natalie Moorhead plays Jake's moll, and I smiled during a scene where they light a cigarette, recognizing it from a montage in THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! (1974). The cast also includes Purnell Pratt, Joan Marsh, Hale Hamilton, Russell Hopton, and Sam McDaniel. Ann Dvorak is said to be a chorus girl, but I didn't spot her.

The movie was directed by Harry Beaumont from a screenplay by Aurania Rouverol. The cinematography was by Charles Rosher.

Warner Archive's Blu-ray is from a 1080p HD master of a 4K scan of the original nitrate negative. It looks wonderful for a film of its age, and sound quality is very good.

Disc extras include the 51-minute documentary HOLLYWOOD: THE DREAM FACTORY (1972), plus the cartoons ONE MORE TIME (1931 and SMILE, DARN YA, SMILE! (1931).

DANCE, FOOLS, DANCE isn't a classic, but I quite enjoyed both the film and the print quality. This release is particularly recommended for fans of Crawford, Gable, and pre-Codes.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from Movie Zyng, the Amazon Warner Archive Collection Store, or from any online retailers were Blu-rays are sold.


Anonymous Barry Lane said...

I think you have nailed the strengths and weaknesses of this picture perfectly. The principle strength is spelled Clark Gable. I have several other early films of his, notably The Secret Six. Johnny Mack Brown and Clark play newspaper people, the idea ws to kill off Gable's character and let Johnny Smile endlessly, or endearingly at the end. It was not to be.

When you're good, the soul shines through.

5:40 PM  

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