I adore classic Hollywood movies. I haven’t seen as many as I would like to have, but I’ve seen a lot and I keep introducing myself to more and more as the years go on. Hollywood was even more prolific in the 30s and 40s than it is now. Or maybe it just seemed that way because the movies were so new and the introduction of the studio era and star system pumped out stars and movies with little rhyme or reason.
Back then, Hollywood was a male game, but one director, Dorothy Arzner, defied logic and was a rare woman behind the camera. She was described as a “woman’s director” and directed Rosalind Russel and Katharine Hepburn in their first top-billed roles. Also joining that roster is Lucille Ball in the hilarious 1940 film Dance Girl Dance.
Dance Girl Dance tells the story of a dance troupe that falls on hard times after their regular job at a club in Akron, Ohio is shut down due to a gambling ring. Bubbles (Ball) is clearly the star of the show, but fellow dancer, Judy (Maureen O’Hara) wants her shot. The problem is, Judy lacks the oomph and star power that Bubbles has. Bubbles is a vamp and plays to the boys. Judy wants to be a ballet dancer. At the club in Akron, they both meet Jimmy Harris (Louis Hayward). Bubbles wants Jimmy but so does Judy. The problem? Judy has blue eyes like Jimmy’s ex-wife with whom he is still in love with. As time goes on, Bubbles leaves the struggling dance troupe to become a famous burlesque dancer. Judy takes the job as her stooge in a desperate attempt to make money and get noticed. What follows is a comedy of errors that threatens Bubbles and Judy’s friendship.
In a vain note that I want to make right now, Louis Hayward is extremely handsome and it’s obvious why these girls have their eyes set on him, but Jimmy is a fall-down drunk and is still in love with his ex-wife. He is a character that comes up in Arzner’s films sometimes and he can certainly be classified as the comedic relief character. Everything that references him is meant to draw a laugh and he’s definitely not a strong male character, but one that is the butt of jokes. I mean, he carries around a stuffed bull named Ferdinand, for goodness sake.
The women in this film are fiery and as feminist as they could be in the forties. Bubbles takes control of her own life, despite being what IMDB calls a “mantrap.” Yes, Bubbles uses men to further her position in life, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. She knows what she wants and she’s secure in herself to go out and get it.
Ball is hilarious in this film, but then again, when is she not? She lights up the screen and makes it crackle with vivacious wit. If there was ever any doubt what a huge star she would become, this quells it all, right here. Dance Girl Dance was the perfect vehicle for her to show just how much concentrated oomph she had. Surprisingly, though, O’Hara, despite being mousy and demure, stands toe to toe with her. This was one of O’Hara’s first roles and she’s so young, she still has her Irish accent. (Which is later played to laughs but not mean ones.)
Dance Girl Dance is witty and is one of Arzner’s last films in Hollywood. It’s also one of her most well-recieved films and has grown in popularity since its release and it’s obvious to see why. The script is sharp but the story is a little weak. Despite that, the performances sizzle and it’s certainly one everyone should check out at least once.