Dance, Girl, Dance
With ”Dance, Girl, Dance” we are in the light comedy genre. This is not a particular great or big film and certainly the story is fairly predictable, but it is told with skill and charm and quite enjoyable. It is I suppose a “chick-lite” film anno 1940.
This is a classic Cinderella theme about a girl who dreams of the glory of dancing, but reality is performing in cheap and seedy bars. From here she goes on to be the stooge of the sassy Tiger Lilly (the jealous step sister) in a burlesque club all the while her fortune is just within reach if she could only see it. Which of course in the end after much hardship she does.
Maureen O’Hara is Judy O’Brien, the Cinderella girl or ugly duckling, who is self-effacing and shy, but also feisty and protective when provoked. In one of these seedy bars she meets the wealthy James Harris (Louis Hayward), who is going through a bad divorce and is desperately looking for diversion. He takes a liking to her, but she is quickly out maneuvered by Bubbles, the star of the troupe. Bubbles (Lucille Ball) is the cynical seductress. She uses men to get ahead and she is good at it. There is nothing self-effacing about her and she has that sassy sex appeal that is wanted by the clients of the troupe to make her the star of the show. From the beginning she has a thing with Judy. It is important for her to be superior to Judy in everything. When Bubbles becomes the star of a burlesque show she brings in Judy as the clown (stooge) that makes the crowd call for Tiger Lily, Bubble’s stage name.
So when Harris reappears at the shows and again takes a liking to Judy, Bubbles moves in and marries him while on a bender.
But somebody else is also looking out for Judy. Steve Adams (Ralph Bellamy) is the manager of THE dance troupe Judy dreams of but she does not know that. To her he is just a very persistent stalker she is trying to get rid of. Ah yes, the girl does not know what is good for her. And in the end when the burlesque show, Judy, Bubbles and Harris all end up in a meltdown he extricates her and restores her to glory.
The most interesting thing about this movie is that we witness the story from Judy’s viewpoint. There is something as rare as a female director behind this movie (Dorothy Arzner) and it shows. The relationship between Judy and Bubbles is in focus all the way through and the men are merely supporting cast. Even the star Bellamy is reduced to a fairly one dimensional prince on the white horse. Instead we get a lot of facets on Judy and Bubbles. The standard Hollywood movie of the era would be the other way round.
It is funny to see Bellamy as a young actor. He was in “His Girl Friday” as well and was one of the staple hunks in Hollywood in the forties. I looked him up and realized he actually was Randolph Duke in “Trading Places” as an old man in 83. Amazing.
Another interesting character is Maria Ouspenskaya as Madame Lydia Basilova. In her previous roles she was always the stately, beautiful woman as for example in “Dodsworth”, but here she is a wizened old hag of a former Russian ballerina. Ah, the wonders of make-up and costume.
The burlesque scenes are quite entertaining and interesting. As a direct opposite of the kind of dancing Judy dreams of this is a stage of cheap appeal to the more basic functions of men. Yet, this being a decent family movie during the reign of the Hays code everything is kept at an innocent level and the seediness is only hinted at in manners and song but we never actually see anything. That could easily have become a bit lame, but Lucille Ball is excellent at hinting at sex in a way that would make Mae West proud, but a lot more convincing than Mae West ever was.
This is a light movie. One should not think too deep on it and just accept the premises of the movie. If you do that it is quite sweet and enjoyable and thankfully the dancing this movie is all about is kept to a minimum.