Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

Lately I've been getting more interested in female writers and directors in Old Hollywood, since there have been several very cool women doing their thing behind the scenes from the silent era and onwards. One of the main ladies who caught my eye was Dorothy Arzner, a medical student turned film editor turned director, who produced a number of films between 1927 and 1943. One of two films available from netflix is Dance, Girl, Dance, a romantic drama centered on Judy O'Brien (Maureen O'Hara), a soft-spoken dancer who longs to join a ballet company but feels her talents aren't worth more than the vaudeville-type dance troupe she's in. Her fellow dancer and frenemy Bubbles (Lucille Ball) finds stardom as a burlesque performer and brings Judy along as her ballerina stooge. The two manage to work together but find their friendship crumbling when both fall for the same man (Louis Hayward).

This movie doesn't break too many conventions- it's generally light-hearted and still sort of patriarchal and filled with romantic comedy stereotypes- but it does put forward some interesting female characters, who seem to represent two sides of standard femininity. The old "Madonna/Whore Complex," you know. Bubbles is sexy and forward, never too modest to use a man to get what she wants, and she is successful because of it even if her emotional life is lacking. Judy is prim and proper, so timid and "good" that she allows herself to be walked all over, but she charms the man she loves and gets a happy ending. The two truly are friends even if their relationship is passive aggressive as hell, and it is their circling around each other that really forms the core of the story, not the romance that only becomes a focus in the third act. Ball steals the show as loud-mouthed Bubbles, while O'Hara bides her time until the final few scenes when she gets in not one but TWO great monologues. Also: they fight each other. It's awesome.

It's got some cute musical numbers (though sadly an otherwise lovely ballet sequence has two background dancers in blackface), and I really enjoyed the cast. I was especially a fan of the sassy secretary of the ballet company, I'm not 100% sure of her name though so I can't pinpoint the actress. Katherine Alexander, probably? Anyway, thanks Dorothy Arzner, you were a super kickass lady, you invented the boom mic, you dressed like a man, you were openly gay (I think?), and hopefully I can see more of your films. And read that biography.


Pair This Movie With: The focus on relationships and behind-the-scenes drama of women in theater definitely calls to mind Stage Door. And they've both got Lucille Ball!


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