Dance, Girl, Dance
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A ballerina swaps her ballet shoes for the life of a burlesque dancer.
Genre: Feature Film-Comedy
Release Date: 19-JUN-2007
Media Type: DVD
If you only know Lucille Ball from her phenomenal success as a TV comedienne, Dance, Girl, Dance will be a surprising revelation. Not only can Lucy dance and sing with the best of them (after all, she spent part of the 1930s playing a glamorous showgirl in various Goldwyn musicals), but she handily steals the spotlight from Maureen O'Hara in this good-looking RKO production from 1940. Lucy's big break had come only three years earlier (in Stage Door), but she'd been working in Hollywood for seven years when this enjoyable movie demonstrated the potential for movie stardom that Lucy deserved but never fully achieved. She's a bit brassy and a bit sassy, but she's got a heart of gold as Bubbles, a struggling ballet dancer who takes a skin-baring job in a burlesque club (under the man-teasing stage name of "Tiger Lily White") to boost her chances of show-biz success. She's a saucy gold-digger compared to the modestly forthright Judy (O'Hara), but their friendship sees them through as they share a dangerous dalliance with a millionaire playboy (Louis Hayward) before Judy discovers true love with Steve (Ralph Bellamy) the gentlemanly leader of a ballet company.
It's not a classic by any means, but Dance, Girl, Dance is still briskly entertaining, and there's a touch of surprising melodrama involving O'Hara's ballet mentor (played by Maria Ouspenskaya). This movie also has the greater distinction of being directed by Dorothy Arzner, one of the only women (along with Ida Lupino) to break into the male-dominated profession of directing in golden-age Hollywood. Working from a savvy screenplay by Tess Slesinger and Frank Davis, Arzner gives Dance, Girl, Dance a feminist sensibility that was ahead of its time, later embraced by fans and critics as one of this movie's most enduring qualities. Also included in The Lucille Ball Film Collection, this DVD includes two short subjects from 1940: The 20-minute Vitaphone "two-reeler" "Just a Cute Kid," from a story by Damon Runyon and featuring comedy star Frank Faylen, and "Malibu Beach Party," a pun-filled Merrie Melodies cartoon hosted by "Jack Bunny" and featuring a variety of sun-tanned cameos from animated Hollywood stars. --Jeff Shannon
- Vintage comedy short "Just a Cute Kid"
- Classic cartoon "Malibu Beach Party"
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Wny did voters--and of both genders--feel this way? Could it be because of a residual bias that positions the male as "man" of the house? as "lord" of his land? as the male warrior who fights other males on behalf of his land, his property, and his belief in the integrity and enduring value of "male privilege"? From this line of thought proceeds an unwritten but still widely accepted imperative: "What the man of the house says, is what goes!"
There are several ways to approach the viewing of this admittedly "Grade B" movie. As tempting as it is to spend words on the movie's historical context and entertainment value or on the performances of its actors (the three leads participated in the greater part of film history in the 20th century, acting in well over 300 movies), DGD has a greater claim to the public's interest, meriting the present-day spectator's attention for reasons that go beyond the feisty indestructibility of Maureen O'Hara (a familiar face on Turner Movie Classics until her death at the age of 95 in Oct. 2015). The importance of DGD even transcends the surprisingly sparkling (and "sexy") performance of America's favorite woman comedy star, Lucille Ball), who "almost" steals the show from O'Hara. So vibrant and attractive is Lucy in the role of "Bubbles," the veteran "bumper-and-grinder," that her appeal threatens the film's message about the female body (especially as constructed by the lens of commercial cinema) and the men who exploit women for their own pleasure and profit.
But the "real" story here--surpassing the aforementioned attractions of DGD--is the film's director, Dorothy Arzner--the first (and only) woman director to work in the Hollywood studio system. Within those confines--and given a formula script along with a small budget and three of the studio's busiest actors for the duration of a mere 2-3 weeks--Arzner accomplishes more than delivering the 90-minute "time-filler" asked of her by the studio: she manages to expose the invisible, assaultive power of men in American life, commerce and entertainment.
The big moment is Maureen O'Hara's first strip-tease number in a burlesque theater where she is auditioning for a regular spot. Shortly into her routine, she experiences her personal epiphany--and then decides to share it with an all-male audience staring at her in anticipation of the removal of another piece of covering. Although shaming her audience in the theater with a brief lecture about THEIR indecency along with their infidelity and hypocrisy, O'Hara's words inevitably carry beyond the theater-in-the-story and its fictional audience to the "actual" spectators of the film--in movie theaters throughout the land and, eventually, to viewers watching the film on television screens.
To any man who has--as Jimmy Carter once confessed in a moment of perhaps excessive candor--experienced "lust in his heart," Maureen O'Hara's seizure of the male gaze and condemnation of its owners will, at the very least, strike home and elicit a twinge of recognition and guilt in male viewers everywhere. Arzner constructs the scene to penetrate "the 4th wall" of cinema with a biting indictment of the film's male viewers everywhere! Moreover, she has, in effect, managed to "get one by" on the Hollywood establishment by exposing the devious underpinnings of the entire entertainment industry including film. Whether in a burlesque theater or a movie theater, adults enter into a dark place where they proceed to experience private fantasies even as they sit alongside strangers. For men, the fantasies in movies were provoked, from the very beginning, by depictions of sin in Biblical contexts (to get the movie past the censors). Or the camera might come to rest on the intimate personal real estate of Mae West --or on an infinity of naked female legs in a Busby Berkeley chorus line (one of the first acting jobs for Lucille Ball). For women, the camera might provoke fantasies of escape and "rescue" by the images of a powerful Clark Gable or a calm and steady Gary Cooper or a boyish Jimmy Stewart or a devilishly cool Humphrey Bogart. (Who can blame them?)
The director's camera indicts all of the above and, as I once demonstrated in an "academic" paper analyzing the film, Arzner confronts one of the most powerful forces accounting for the success of the "classic" Hollywood film, which has from the beginning been the envy of every movie industry in the world. That undercurrent, or basic instinct, on which the power of cinema is based, is "the male gaze." Men "own" the gaze (and indirectly its contents); women, on the other hand, are the "objects" of the gaze.
Arzner not only forgrounds the male gaze (in the burlesque theater): she uses her camera, in subtle but clever and effective ways, to "subvert" it. "Dance, Girl, Dance" is that rare movie that "explicitly" represents the dominant gaze--but does so through the eyes of a woman director who is working within a system requiring her to "follow the usual rules." She does so--just enough to ensure the film's approval by the male establishment. But she exercises the inventiveness of a creative artist to preserve and represent, as an alternative to the gaze of men, her own way of seeing.
Would a "radical" feminist making an independent film with no strings attached do a better job? In one respect, yes. She could explicitly take on the patriarchal system and make a film in which women are "the lookers; and men, the "looked at." The next step is to "condemn" all of the films that show female leads who routinely are required to "sacrifice" everything for men--their health, their lovers, their children, their reputation ("Stella Dallas," "Dark Victory," "To each His Own" are just three of the typical "women's films" that always extract tears from me--largely because "reader-response theory" has trained me to position myself as a woman spectator watching the film). Next, comes the politicization of these issues into society, along with predictable responses by threatened conservatives determined to preserve the tried and true values that have always made America great, until now.
Enough. A well-made film is not effective if it becomes a sermon or a manifesto or a jeremiad. In most cases, it's simply ignored. Perhaps the same was true for Dorothy Arzner's films. Before Alfred Hitchock's "Psycho," the public rarely took note of a movie's director, who was just one of many names in the credits. But no doubt there were a few spectators who noticed something unusual: the director had a woman's name. And the characters in her films were, more often than not, strong women protagonists (O'Hara and K. Hepburn). The times, they were changing. (Five years after this movie Maureen O'Hara would come out and publicly denounce all of the executives and moguls in Hollywood who expected her to sleep with them--"pay if you expect to play"). (In 1945 her stunning accusations, which would have gone "viral" today, amounted to a short column on the back page of one Hollywood newspaper.)
Still, O'Hara almost always got the part--but on her terms--making clear up front that if there were any "illicit persuaders," she would simply walk. She didn't need movies apparently as badly as the movies needed her. She became one of the most filmed actresses in Hollywood history. Whether you see "Dance, Girl, Dance" as the story of her life or as the moment that gave her a fictional role that she would continue playing for the rest of her life, the point is equally and indelibly clear: Dorothy Arzner's movie was no "Gone with the Wind," but it anticipated the winds of change that arrived on college campuses in the '80's, currents that have progressively stirred things up throughout America.
Miss O'Hara as the Ballarina and Lucille Ball as the stripper is a funny and laughable movie. They make the characters come alive and seem real. Ralph Bellamy, he adds to the Story as too, does the rest of the cast.
Buy it, I promise you'll enjoy it.
Shirley Frye; actually to me this movie is worth 10 stars!