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DANCE, GIRL, DANCE (1940)

Dance, Girl, Dance - CoverThe Criterion Collection’ have recently released a digitally enhanced version of ‘Dance, Girl, Dance’. It was directed by Dorothy Arzner; it starred Maureen O'Hara, Louis Hayward, Lucille Ball, and Ralph Bellamy; and it lasts for 90-minutes. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the Blu-ray edition comes with a new introduction by the film critic, B. Ruby Rich, as well as an interview with the filmmaker, Francis Ford Coppola. Please enjoy.


Dance, Girl, Dance (The Criterion Collection)


THE STORY:
It has often been said that women are the fairer sex as we’re generally pleasant to look at and known for our kindness and grace. But as far as I’m concerned? No. No we’re not. If anything, we’re the more resilient sex, but only because of all the crap we’ve had to put up with over the years. 

Well, take a look at me, for instance, Judy O'Brien (Maureen O'Hara). Otherwise known as that nice, Irish lady with the dazzling red hair, the bright blue eyes, and the sassy dance-partner who’s made me lose two things I try to maintain. My dignity, after she seduced a man I once fancied, as well as my pride, when she tricked me into becoming a stooge for her very popular burlesque show.

Having said that, though, Bubbles (Lucille Ball) does occasionally mean well, and in all fairness, she didn’t have anything to do with our dance teacher getting run over by a car. But then again, that’s most probably why what next transpires goes, heel, toe-toe, heel, toe-toe, when I accidentally avoid someone I should meet. As a dancer, dances in the street - a friendship is both bitter and sweet - a couple of men try their best to be discreet - and at the end of the day, please remember, never cheat on a lovely woman who has nice feet. 




THE REVIEW:
Since the late 1960s, ‘Dance, Girl, Dance’ has been called a feminist film because it was able to highlight a number of issues some women faced on a daily basis. Issues like self-worth, for instance, as well as how certain men can perceive them in an improper light. But before the 1960s, well? In retrospect, it was just another film that featured a great cast of characters and a multi-layered storyline that we can reinterpret in a variety of different ways. To some, it’s a morality tale that chronicles what certain people are willing to do in order to achieve their deepest desires. To others, it’s a subtle social commentary on how some women are treated in the entertainment industry. And to the rest, it’s a light-hearted buddy comedy between two dancers who are looking for different things in life. 

Dance, Girl, Dance - Sexy Lucille Ball
As for me, though? I suppose all of these definitions ring true, up to a point, but more importantly, this film is also a pretty good film about people's behavior. Or to be more specific about it, two sets of people who each have a very specific role to play within the scheme of things. For a start, we have our main character, Judy, Judy O'Brien, who’s basically a good-hearted lady that wants to earn a regular living by being a prolific dancer. Next, there’s Judy’s counterpoint, Bubbles, who unlike Judy, doesn’t care what she has to do to become successful, even if she has to use her womanly ways. After her, we have Jimmy, a rich millionaire, who’s attracted to Judy but doesn’t want to acknowledge that he’s still in love with his ex-wife, Elinor. And finally, there’s Jimmy’s counterpoint, Steve, who’s also another rich man that strangely acts as Judy’s secret guardian angel, although she doesn't realize this until the very end of the film. 

So, as you can see, from a narrative point of view, a large portion of the plot chronicles Judy and her quest for stardom. In doing so, however, it also highlights some of her more noticeable attributes, both positive and negative in tone. On the one hand, she appears to be a very dedicated dancer who isn’t afraid of some good old fashioned hard work (as illustrated in those scenes where she practices her routines, again, and again, and again). While on the other hand, Judy doesn’t always seem to be a good judge of character (as she’d prefer to go out with a man who previously dumped her for her best friend, Bubbles, rather than spending some time with a man who sheltered her from the rain).  Or in other words, Judy comes across as a fairly well-rounded human being, although sometimes I wasn't quite sure if she was driving the plot or if the plot was driving her (hint-hint!).

Dance, Girl, Dance - Maureen O'Hara, Louis Hayward, and Lucille Ball
Now, in regards to the overall look of this film, and more or less, everything we see on screen is your typical b-movie affair. After all, it does include things like, shoddy back-projections of busy New York streets, claustrophobic driving sequences that were as realistic as an 80s arcade machine, as well as basic-looking sets that try -- I repeat, try -- to represent real-life locations, such as plush offices, small dressing rooms, and shabby-looking motels.

Not that this is a bad thing, mind you. Not totally, anyway, because when some money was actually spent -- namely, on those scenes set in a music-hall or a courtroom -- the contrast between the two dramatically enhanced the telling of this story. So much so, in fact, that in many ways, it highlighted what this movie was all about... contrasts. The contrast between men and women, the contrast between the rich and the poor, and the contrast between the moral and the guilty. Along similar lines, I also loved following the dance sequences and some of the songs showcased. Although, in this instance, the dances were either solo ballet recitals or staged musical numbers, while the songs were mainly classical in composition or jazzy in style.

Dance, Girl, Dance - Movie Poster
Anyway, that’s enough of that for the time being, because now seems like a pretty good time for us to sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) ‘RKO’ first released this picture on the exact same day the 'Second Vienna Award' was rendered. It was on the 30th of August, 1940. (2) Roy Del Ruth was originally hired to direct this film, but due to creative differences he decided to quit and was replaced by Dorothy Arzner. (3) Loosely translated, this project was entitled, 'Life is a Dance' in Brazil, 'Dancing is my Destiny' in Mexico, and 'It goes like a Dance' in Sweden. (4) According to Lucille Ball, she met two very important people while she was making this movie. The first person was Maureen O'Hara, who eventually became her lifelong friend, while the second person was Desi Arnaz, who eventually became her first husband. (5) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states, ‘Heartbreak Behind Gayety of a Girly-Girl Show!’. (6) Even though this drama didn’t perform well upon its initial release, due to its feminist message, it got a second lease of life by the women’s movement during the late 60s and early 70s. (7) All of the dance sequences featured in this film were choreographed by the long-term lover of the lady who directed it. Marion Morgan was the choreographer and Dorothy Arzner was the director. (8) In 2007, the 'Library of Congress' selected this film to be preserved in the 'United States National Film Registry' due to it being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". 


Dance, Girl, Dance - Maureen O'Hara and Lucille Ball


Dance, Girl, Dance - Maureen O'Hara and Dorothy Arzner
In closing my review of, ‘Dance, Girl, Dance’, I’m now going to rank each key performance in order of preference. So, at the top of my list, I’d like to select the stars of the show, Maureen O'Hara and Lucille Ball, because both women managed to get to the heart of their respective characters in a very bold and charming fashion. Maureen played Judy O'Brien as if she were a prudish performer with a soft heart but a strong mind, while Lucille, on the other hand, depicted Bubbles as if she were one part Mae West and one part sexy, money-grabbing bitch. Up next, I would like to single out the two male leads, Ralph Bellamy and Louis Hayward. Although in their case, Ralph’s interpretation of Steve Adams was rather regal in its execution, whereas Louis's portrayal of Jimmy Harris was fairly flimsy by design. And as for the rest of the cast? Well, with some benefit of hindsight, I’d say most of them were moderately memorable. But none more so than Virginia Field (who played Jimmy’s mixed-up ex-wife, Elinor Harris), Maria Ouspenskaya (who played the stoic dance instructor, Madame Lydia Basilova), as well as Katharine Alexander (who played Steve's somewhat smart secretary, Miss Olmstead). 

Anyway, all that aside, and I'd now like to summarize this film by saying that it was rather enjoyable to watch because the story was notably dramatic, the characters were cleverly crafted, and the overall production was way above average (if somewhat strained). 

THE RATING: B-

DANCE, GIRL, DANCE (1940) DANCE, GIRL, DANCE (1940) Reviewed by David Andrews on June 29, 2020 Rating: 5

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