Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dancing Lady (1933)

As I have pointed out earlier, many of the early talkies has never been released in any form, not even on VHS. Here is one that luckily is available to us. Dancing Lady was MGM’s run at big budget musicals inspired by Warner’s success with both 42nd Street and Gold Diggers Of 1933. I think there might be a few reasons why this particular movie has been graced with a second life on DVD. I suppose the fact that it’s the movie debut of Fred Astaire really helped. Astaire plays himself as a specialty dancer and Crawford’s partner in the final number, but as a whole he doesn’t have that much to do and doesn’t stick out at all. Maybe he also had to under do his part to level with Crawford’s somewhat limited dancing abilities compared to his excellence.

Other reasons for a DVD release? Dancing Lady is the fourth pairing of eight for Crawford and Gable, perhaps not the best, but an important one. It’s also the screen debut of Nelson Eddy. We get The Three Stooges in minor roles working as stagehands slapping around as usual, and it’s the second last movie Winnie Lightner ever did. Voilà! I think everything mentioned above (save for Winnie’s part) helped making it to DVD.

The movie is based on the novel Dancing Lady by James Warner Bellah, serialized in the Saturday Evening Post during spring 1932. The Storyline is quite simple, Crawford plays Janie Barlow, a burlesque dancer who not only struggles to succeed, but strives for success and is dreaming of making it on Broadway. She’s being pursued by a rich boyfriend, Tod Newton (Franchot Tone), but is blinded by the footlights of Broadway. The film was originally to have starred Robert Montgomery as Newton but when filming was to begin Montgomery was busy elsewhere. The Jet-setter boyfriend helps Janie out by getting her into a show directed by tough guy director Patch Gallagher (Gable) who has a rough exterior but a kind heart. His hair constantly in a mess, ranting around muttering "save it, save it!" Naturally he tries hard not to show he's softer than his appearance. When he sees Janie’s talent and perseverance, he gives her the "top spot" in his show “The Dancing Lady”. Of course, he's attracted to her, too, and she to him. But then there’s the rich boyfriend lurking in the wings. Crawford is always charming and full of pep, even though I think she sometimes looks like Garbo's twin sister, let go a little more talkative and less mysterious.

Janie (Crawford) rehearsing in front of Gallagher (Gable) for the first time. The song Dancing Lady is performed by Art Jarrett.

Dancing Lady may not be the greatest musical of the 30’s, not even the greatest musical of 1933 but I like it and it’s fun to see Gable and Crawford in action even though a musical isn’t exactly their element. There are some good songs. Notably this one, All I Have Is Yours, beautifully sung by Art Jarrett (I don't know if Crawford's humming was dubbed or not):

As a back stage musical, Dancing Lady contains very little music and dancing apart from the finale which in every way makes up for this shortcoming. It is a visually stunning, no expenses saved, feast for the eyes, containing animation, all sorts of trickery and ending up in a kaleidoscopic carousel of chorines. Swell! Easily my favorite 10 minutes of the movie. The theme for the finale is a bit strange though. Let’s Go Bavarian seems a bit over the top in the year of 1933 when Hitler came to power, Crawford in valkyrie-braids and Astaire in lederhosen is almost scary. "Here in Bavaria, we'll take good care of ya'!" Look for yourself:

High Ho! The Gang's all here! Let's have pretzels! Let's have beer!

As you can see in the above clips, Dancing Lady is visually very elaborate. Cinematographer Oliver T. Marsh deserves a mention. Marsh did quite a few of Crawford's 30's movies including Letty Lynton and Rain. I should say that the visuals are the most important quality of the movie. All the sets are very art deco from start to finish, culminating in the finale which is a mind-blowing feu d'artifice. Apart from the finale I'd like to point out another sequence I really liked. In the beginning of the movie Crawford is chasing Gable around town desperate for an audition. This is shown in a flimsy but very nice montage that brings the editing techniques of the silent era to mind. As a whole, Dancing Lady is a refreshing picture with quite a few memorable moments.

Thanks to LordWham, JozefSterkens and Liftoffgirl for the clips.


Ginger Ingenue said...

The only things I really remember are this movie are Gable exercising in short-shorts, the three stooges, and that German-themed dance number.

I watched it just to see Astaire's first movie, though you're right: he's not really in it all that much.

"I don't know if Crawford's humming was dubbed or not"

She really could sing, though, couldn't she? In another film, maybe...or maybe I just read it somewhere.


Good review. :)

Jonas Nordin said...

Thanks Ginger,
To be honest, I have very mixed feelings about Crawford. Maybe because I got to know her through Mommie Dearest which probably is the worst starting point ever, making it very hard to admire her at all. But she surely was a "swell looking kid" back then :)

Raquel Stecher said...

OMG! This one is actually one it's way to me as we speak. What a coincidence. I'm going to watch it first and come back to read your review. I'm so excited.

Jonas Nordin said...

Gosh! I almost feel psychic! :) Can't wait to hear your thoughts about it.

Ginger Ingenue said...

I feel the same way about Crawford! I got my start with WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? and then MOMMIE DEAREST, both as a child and was always terrified of her...AND of Bettie Davis! ;)

Raquel Stecher said...


I'm gonna say "can it" and "them things" and I'm gonna wear shoes with ribbons on 'em!

I finally watched this movie. I agree with what you said. Astaire's debut + Eddy's debut + Crawford/Gable + Three Stooges = DVD. The formula worked for distribution purposes.

This was quite an enjoyable movie. And I'm with Ginger, I'll always remember Gable exercising in short-shorts.

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