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I fell in love with this play when I read it in the Burns Mantle Best Play
series - it was certainly the best of its year and perhaps of the decade in
both its characterizations and structure and in the morality tale that was
dead on for its time. This was the sort of thing that would have been
remade as an early talkie if the stock market crash hadn't changed that
flapper world forever.
The plot is laid out here in other reviews. Alice Joyce's leading performance and Clara Bow's supporting one are both of award calibre as is the screenplay adaptation. It is competently directed and photographed, nothing special in the technical categories. What stands out is the writing and the acting of the women. Startling and special. Very worth seeking out.
clara bow plays "kittens westcourt," a spoiled girl of wealthy parents. she spends her evenings dancing and partying all night long at clubs, which her father also attends. her mother stays at home wondering why her family is so selfish, and neglectful towards her. one day a friend tells mom to start living it up. she takes this advice and is soon off to the dance clubs herself. kittens and mother then proceed to compete for the same man's affections. above average clara bow film. she is not the lead actress in the film, but she has lots of screen time. clara is funny, full of energy, and just wonderful.
This little melodrama concerns a mother and her daughter falling for the same man. Mum's been the good little "stay-at-home" while her daughter and husband do the town. But Mum gets her revenge! Alice Joyce is very good as mum, and the ending is quite politically subversive - but it is the wonderful Clara Bow who steals the picture. Her vitality, as a little flapper, is mind-blowing, her beauty unsurpassed, and her gowns magnificent. Worth seeing just for the scene on the couch when Clara lies back laughing amongst the cushions - it'll make your heart race.
Dancing Mothers is unique in two ways...its ending and showing how women have minds and opinions of their own. While most Hollywood Melodramas of this period had happy, "Pollyanna-ish" endings...Dancing Mothers strays in a most realistic and refreshing way. The Mother (Alice Joyce), tired of being taken for granted, goes out on her own and leaves her selfish daughter (Clara Bow) and husband (Norman Trevor) behind. an ending that todays audiences do not have a hard time swallowing, but audiences of the 1920's expected everything to be tied up in pretty Hollywood ribbons and all made good. And bravo for those who chose to have a woman hold her own and stand up for herself and not give in to what societal norms would dictate. Strong women were not too very typical in the silent era.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Dancing Mothers" was Clara's 30th film and her first at her new
studio, Paramount. She had been a work horse at Preferred, a small
independent studio - in 1925 she made 14 films, often in the lead. But
when the studio head B. P. Shulberg went to Paramount, he took Clara
with him and in her first film there she found a role that would define
her screen personality - the provocative but energetic flapper, game
for anything, but at heart a good girl. Originally Betty Bronson was
slated to play "Kittens" but she was thought a "charming but sexless"
actress and Clara was bought in as an ideal replacement.
"Kittens" Westcourt and her father are both indulging in shipboard romances on the homeward leg of their cruise. On the dock to welcome them home is "stay at home" wife and mother, Ethel (Alice Joyce) although they both think of her as dowdy and a bit of a doormat - Kittens even calls her "Buddy". Ethel once had a life, before her marriage, she was a successful actress who abandoned her career for her husband but she is completely lonely as both husband and daughter lead their own lives.
One night an old school friend visits and encourages her to get out and "live life". They both go to the Roof Club where Ethel meets Gerald Naughton (Conway Tearle) a sophisticated man of the world and Kitten's latest crush. Alice Joyce looks too beautiful for anyone to leave her at home alone. They are immediately attracted to each other. Meanwhile, her husband, Hugh, suddenly has a change of heart and ditches his new love to take Kittens to Florida - of course he expects Ethel to come as well. But Ethel has been looking long and hard at her family and doesn't like what she sees. With Hugh telling her he will forgive her and selfish Kitten worried about her own reputation, for once Ethel puts herself first and goes on a European cruise.
Toward the end Clara Bow has an unforgettable scene. She mixes a cocktail, drinks it down, traces the drinks trail with her finger and with a madcap laugh, throws her hat in the air. She then has a jaunty bit of business with a cigarette. She instantly gave Kittens a warmth and pep that the movie audience could relate to. Clara was a complete success and stole the movie from everyone in it. She had already seen the play and intelligently thought she could bring more sympathy to the part by putting in looks and gestures that showed that it was all a lark. It definitely worked. Patrician Alice Joyce, the nominal star of the film, had been in movies from the earliest days. She joined Kalem in 1910 and became their biggest star. Her biggest hit was in the first version of "Within the Law" (1917). She played Mary Turner, a young shop girl who is unjustly sent to prison - Joan Crawford was in one of the remakes, "Paid" (1930).
To see the kind of radiance one generally only finds in Edie
Sedgwick (in her might-as-well-be-silent Warhol movies), check
out the scene with racy Clara Bow in a fatcat's apartment while
he's away, swilling his liquor and kicking up her heels on his
couch. Literally. (Was this scene the inspiration for the invasion of
Jerry Lewis' house in THE KING OF COMEDY?) Guzzling gallons
of expensive booze and tracing the line of warmth down her
tummy, Bow is a miraculous fireworks show of life-love and gay
impiety. This is star acting! Our biggest names o\f the moment
seem feeble and class-free by contrast.
Former stage star Alice Joyce (as Ethel "Buddy" Westcourt) stays at
home while her husband and daughter enjoy a life of cruising, boozing,
and romantic entanglements. When she finally decides to go out on the
town, Ms. Joyce meets playboy Conway Tearle (as Gerald "Jerry"
Naughton), who has been seen with Joyce's frequently tipsy daughter
Clara Bow (as Catherine "Kittens" Westcourt). To protect Ms. Bow's
tenuous honor, Joyce makes a date with Mr. Tearle. Her loneliness is
over when Joyce unexpectedly falls in love with Tearle. He returns her
love, and proposes. But, husband Norman Trevor (as Hugh "Hughie"
Westcourt) has called it quits with his latest mistress, and wants his
What should Joyce do?
Her character's decision puts "Dancing Mothers" ahead of its time. This was a great role for Joyce, who became one of film's first huge movie actresses in 1912 (and, she was wildly popular throughout the decade). Her restrained style was often heralded by critics, and Joyce might have been considered for a "Best Actress" Oscar, had they started a couple of years earlier. Joyce's confrontation with Bow, and her final scene, are most memorable. It helped that Joyce was directed by Herbert Brenon, a favorite director who used her well. This was a top "Paramount" production, with veterans Dorothy Cumming and Eleanor Lawson, plus young Donald Keith rounding out what could then be called an "All-Star" cast.
******** Dancing Mothers (3/1/26) Herbert Brenon ~ Alice Joyce, Conway Tearle, Clara Bow, Donald Keith
DANCING MOTHERS (Paramount, 1926), directed by Herbert Brenon could
very well be a backstage musical about young wives choosing theatrical
careers in the chorus line over being stay-at-home moms. In spite of a
promising idea for such a title, DANCING MOTHERS is actually a drama
featuring society types, notably women in fur coats, expensive dresses,
smoking with cigarette holders and riding in a rolls Royce. Taken from
the play by Edgar Selwyn and Edmund Goulding, it depicts upon one
particular mother, taken for granted by her family, who chooses to
break away from her lonely existence by stepping out to enjoy life,
much to the dismay of her cheating husband and selfish/ carefree
The story begins on an ocean liner, "Homeward bound for America - the first day out" where debonair playboy Jerry Naughton (Conway Tearle), traveling along with his companion, Irma Raymond (Elsie Lawson), meets Catherine "Kittens" Westcourt (Clara Bow), a youthful flapper, and her wealthy father, Hugh (Norman Trevor), on deck. On "their last day out," Kittens and Jerry have become inseparable while her father and Irma have become romantically involved. As the ship docks New York, Mrs. Westcourt (Alice Joyce), the once famous Ethel Wright who "On December 13, 1907, abandoned her stage career to marry the wealthy banker," awaits their arrival, but their union as a family is short lived. "And so it went on ... for a fortnight the Westcourt country home had seen little of Ethel's husband and daughter." As Ethel continues having dinner alone in her luxurious mansion, Hugh and Kittens dine separately at the Pirate's Pub Cafe, he with Irma and she along with beau, Kenneth Cobb (Donald Keith), and girlfriend, Birdie Courtney (Leila Hyams). After Hugh telephones Ethel for "being called away to Philadelphia on Russian business" and Kittens to call saying she's "spending the evening" with Birdie, Ethel takes the advise from Mrs. Mazzarene (Dorothy Cumming), her widowed friend, to accompany her at the Roof Club to start living. Also there are Kittens and Jerry, as well as Hugh with his "Russian business." As the evening progresses, Ethel encounters Jerry Naughton. Discovering he to be the one romancing her daughter, she passes herself off as Yvonne De Bresac, a French socialite. True love prevails until Ethel and Jerry are caught embracing in his apartment by both her daughter and husband.
As much as DANCING MOTHERS is regarded to be both a jazz age story and a Clara Bow starrer, this 64 minute drama rightfully belongs to the sophisticated Alice Joyce, a notable star of the silent screen whose name is as forgotten as her leading man, Conway Tearle. Bearing a slight resemblance of Mary Astor, and known solely for playing society types, Joyce is as prominently cast as the respectable old-fashioned wife who proves not to be vulnerable as she appears. Of her many films dating back to 1910, only DANCING MOTHERS, along with STELLA DALLAS (1925) and BEAU GESTE (1926, also directed by Brenon) are most associated with her and much essayed by film scholars. Clara Bow, better known as the "It" girl of her time, lives up to her reputation as the typical fun loving, self centered daughter who addresses her own mother as "Buddy."
Rarely revived in recent years, DANCING MOTHERS has enjoyed occasional revivals in the public broadcast television series, "The Toy That Grew Up" (1965-1972), and later part of a large selection of silents distributed to home video from various distributors as Grapevine and Video Yesteryear. For the Grapevine collection in both VHS and DVD formats, DANCING MOTHERS contains an acceptable orchestral score playing such popular twenties tunes as "Has Anybody Seen My Gal?" during party sequences, most likely the print acquired from reissues distributed during the early sound era.
For its premise and surprisingly timely theme, DANCING MOTHERS might have served equally well for Depression era audiences of the 1930s with possible casting of Ruth Chatterton, Lionel Barrymore, Ricardo Cortez and Mary Carlisle in the Joyce, Trever, Tearle and Bow roles, or serve as the basis for a Lana Turner /Sandra Dee movie in the 1960s. As much as DANCING MOTHERS is a reflection of the roaring twenties, it's quite a novelty, too. (***)
Dancing Mothers is a rather dull film except for the vivacious Clara Bow playing "Kittens." Also of interest are the truly ugly sets (check out the hideous pirate-themed nightclub) and the great women's clothes. Clara Bow wears some really bizarre outfits as the jazz baby who sets her sights on Conway Tearle, who plays a "famed lady killer." Tearle is old and dull but was a star in 1926. Alice Joyce is the nominal star. She was billed as "the madonna of the screen," but shows little vitality here as the mother who decides to "live." Dorothy Cumming (whose named is misspelled as "Cummings" in the credits) is good as Mazzy, and Leila Hyams, Donald Keith, Norm Trevor, and Eleanor Lawson round out the supporting cast. Worth seeing for the always-good Clara Bow and for the shocking ending. The whole film seemingly leads up to the conventional ending, but then takes a different route. Dancing Mothers was a big hit in 1926 and helped make Bow one of the biggest stars of the last 20s.
Dancing Mothers is definitely a product of its time. It is the era of
the flapper, when morality flew out the window and people were up for
having a good time. Alice Joyce plays Ethel Westcourt, a lonely wife
and mother whose family abandons her for the fun of nightclubs. Her
daughter Kittens (Clara Bow) is particularly wild and pays far too much
attention to playboy Jerry Naughton (Conway Tearle). Ethel decides
she's tired of waiting around the house; she takes matters into her own
hands and goes to the club her daughter frequents. There, she gets
close to Jerry, in an attempt to lure him away from her daughter, but
her plan backfires when he falls for her but her daughter just won't
Famous today simply for the presence of effervescent Bow, this movie is an entertaining look into the Roaring Twenties era that she symbolizes. Bow takes up quite a lot of this film, which is exciting, since most of her early appearances are scant at best. Joyce makes a good impression as well; she is beautiful and a competent actress.
The music score provided by Grapevine Video isn't bad at all and suits the film nicely.
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