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Like the other studios, MGM wasted no time cashing in on the success of
42nd Street with its own backstage musical, complete with ersatz Busby
Berkeley choreography. This one is "Dancing Lady," and she's young Joan
Crawford costarring with Franchot Tone and Clark Gable. A dancer named
Fred Astaire makes his official film debut, and Nelson Eddy pops in for
Crawford is an ambitious dancer being pursued by a rich boyfriend (Tone), but she's blinded by the footlights of Broadway. He helps her out by getting her into a show directed by tough guy Gable, and when he sees her talent and perseverance, he gives her the "top spot" in the show. Of course, he's attracted to her, too, and she to him.
It's easy for all of them to be attracted to one another because they're all gorgeous. 30 years after this film, Franchot Tone would play a dying President in "Advise and Consent"...and look it. Here he's a smooth dazzler in his top hat, tails, brilliant smile and dimples. Gable is muscular, sexy, and rough around the edges. Crawford sparkles with her athletic figure, beautiful legs, and surely a pair of the most spellbinding eyes ever in film. She is perfection in her Adrian outfits. Though she does well in her big number with Astaire, Crawford really was from the Ruby Keeler School of Hoofing - lots of arms, big steps, and a ton of noise. The musical itself - uh, "Dancing Lady" - is tuneful and pleasant, and its spectacular finale gives one the impression that Louis B screamed for the kitchen sink - Berkeley-type choreography, a Nelson Eddy solo, and Astaire.
It's wonderful to see these stars so young and energetic, and they are all great to watch. Look for an uncredited appearance by a blond Eve Arden and Lynn Bari somewhere in the chorus. Lots of fun from MGM.
By definition any film like Dancing Lady that has the debuts of movie
icons Fred Astaire and Nelson Eddy is historic. But Dancing Lady is a
good, not great film.
It is also one of the few sound films that took advantage of Joan Crawford's dancing talents. Few remember that it was as a dancer that Joan Crawford started in show business. During her silent period Crawford played a few roles as a flapper, but her dramatic talents came to the fore when sound came in. It would be another twenty years before she did a musical role in Torch Song on a return visit to her old studio MGM.
Crawford is an aspiring dancer who's doing some strip teasing at a dive when slumming playboy Franchot Tone spots her. He's interested in her, but she's interested in a career. She auditions for a new Broadway revue that is being directed by Clark Gable.
Despite some misgivings Gable recognizes her talent and is ready to star her. But a few bumps on the road to love and Broadway occur as they do in any musical. It all gets resolved though.
This was one of Franchot Tone's first role in a tuxedo. I guess he looked so good in white tie and tails that Louis B. Mayer starred him in over half his films in a tuxedo. Tone got pretty tired of it and left MGM at the end of decade, but couldn't shake the typecasting for the rest of his life. But he also got Crawford in real life, he became her second husband.
We cannot forget the contributions of that comedic team of Howard, Howard, and Fine who were Ted Healy's three stooges. Dancing Lady is one of the Three Stooges earliest films, Larry in fact had a bit more of a substantial role as a pianist here.
Joan Crawford became the first of a long list of distinguished women of the cinema to dance with Fred Astaire. Though he made his debut here, Louis B. Mayer thought little of him to sign him to a long term contract. Later on he paid dear for Mr. Astaire's services. Fred has a few lines of dialog and two numbers with Crawford.
At least he was smart enough to keep Nelson Eddy, signed fresh from the Metropolitan Opera. After two more bits like this in films, Eddy was co-starred with Jeanette MacDonald in Naughty Marietta and the rest is history. Eddy sings the finale number.
Though Warner Brothers practically had a patent on the backstage musical stuff in the Thirties, Dancing Lady is entertaining enough on its own terms.
While the love triangle between Clark Gable and Franchot Tone for Joan
Crawford is very routine, this film offers several pleasures. It is the
first film of Fred Astaire, playing himself (or at least, a dancer called
Fred Astaire). He dances with Joan Crawford and is as light as a feather and
as smooth as silk, compared to Crawford's clunky style of dancing. He also
sings in his inimitable style. It's also Eve Arden's first film, playing a
would-be actress faking a southern accent in a very short scene. And, to
top it off, it is the first film where the three stooges were actually
billed as "stooges," and they come complete with their finger-poking and
face-slapping antics. If these are not enough, it's also the second film of
Nelson Eddy, who sings a Rogers and Hart tune, so there is lots of movie
history connected with this film. Despite the talented song composers
contributing to this musical, the only song that stuck with me was the
lovely "Everything I Have is Yours" by Burton Lane and Harold Adamson. This
is not a great film, but is certainly one to see.
For those interested in credits, about 82:30 minutes into the film, Franchot Tone opens his program guide to see what's next in the show he's watching, and the complete list of all the chorus girls used in the film is shown and is readable. It includes Lynn Bari (spelled Barri) in her first role, but I could not spot her. If you do, please let me know which scene she's in.
Where else are you going to see Joan Crawford dancing to the accompaniment
of The Three Stooges? Add to that Winnie Lightner with a Shirley Temple
hairdo doing a striptease, Fred Astaire in his screen premiere and enough
Art Deco to fill a warehouse.
However, for those used to the Warner Brothers musicals of that time, "Dancing Lady" does have its drawbacks. The pace is a good bit slower (over 90 minutes with only two complete musical numbers!) and the choreography has little of the saucy snap Berkeley was providing at the WB. Joan Crawford isn't as bad in the Terpsichore department as everyone has said, even holding her own against Astaire. The drawbacks are the songs which are putrid. The Astaire-Crawford number is "Let's Go Bavarian" as they sing about the glories of beer! One can only hope Hitler saw it and got indigestion. MGM does have one advantage over the more famous competition; Clark Gable, who brings a good bit more heat to the screen than Warner Baxter. One pre-code moment: in the last musical number historical figures march through an arch which turns them into modern characters. A knight in armor goes under and turns into a mincing handkerchief-waver!
"Dancing Lady" is a breezy & enjoyable backstage musical, a vehicle for
Crawford, co-starring Clark Gable & Fred Astaire. Crawford & Gable are
Brilliantly directed by Robert Z Leonard, the film swiftly moves from a burlesque setting to Broadway as Crawford chases Gable, and ends ecstatically with a grand Busby Berkeleyish number with Astaire.
Nelson Eddy & The Three Stooges make an early intriguing appearance.
In New York, the playboy Tod Newton (Franchot Tone) goes with his
friend to the International Burlesque to have fun with the striptease
of the dancers. During the performance, there is a police raid and the
girls are arrested and brought to court. Tod feels attracted by the
dancer Janie Barlow (Joan Crawford) that is sentenced to thirty days in
jail or the payment of a thirty-dollar bail. Tod bails her out and
Janie tells that she is an aspirant dancer that prioritizes her career
and she does not accept to be his lover.
Janie Barlow decides to seek a position uptown in Broadway musical but the director Patch Gallagher (Clark Gable) refuses to talk and give a chance to her. However Tod Newton uses his influence and secretly sponsors the show and Janie is hired. Patch believes that Janie is using Tod to reach her objectives but sooner he finds that she is a talented dancer indeed. Tod proposes to marry Janie but she wants to become a Broadway star. However, she accepts Tod's proposal: if the show is a success, she will follow the artistic career; however, if the musical fails, she will marry him. But Tod is a millionaire and wants to marry Janie and the bet is not fair.
"Dancing Lady" is a delightful film about a dilemma, where Joan Crawford is amazing, dancing inclusive with Fred Astaire in one of his first works. Her chemistry with Clark Gable is something very special, and the funny moments are in charge of the Three Stooges in the role of stagehands. There is also a cameo of Nelson Eddy in his first credited work. The "villain" Franchot Tone is also very pleasant and has a good performance in the role of a coxcomb. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Amor de Dançarina" ("Love of Dancer")
"Dancing Lady" (MGM, 1933), directed by Robert Z. Leonard, with David
O. Selznick credited as executive producer, became MGM's introduction
into the new cycle of backstage musicals that began with "42nd Street,"
"Gold Diggers of 1933" and "Footlight Parade," all for Warner Brothers.
But what makes this particular backstage story stand apart from the
others is the casting of its leading players in offbeat roles. First
there is Joan Crawford as Janie Barlowe, a burlesque dancer who not
only struggles to succeed, but strives for success. In spite of her
wanting to become a dancer, she gets very little screen time in doing
so. And when she does dance, it appears more strange than different
from the usual dancing style of others. Second, there is Clark Gable as
Patch Gallagher, the director of stage musicals with a rough exterior
and a kind heart, but tries not to show it. With this being the fourth
Crawford and Gable pairing, the two work quite well together, and it
shows on screen. But any movie that has The Three Stooges (Moe Howard,
Larry Fine and Jerry "Curly" Howard); Fred Astaire and Nelson Eddy as
themselves performing in the stage numbers; Winnie Lightner, formerly
of Warner Brothers, appearing in her sole venture at MGM , as Rosette
Henrietta LaRue, occupation "hip swinging," along with some bizarre
production numbers, one presenting Joan Crawford in long blonde pig
tails and Fred Astaire in mustache, both unrecognizable dancing in
Bavarian clothes, is worth seeing at all costs.
The plot is simple: Set in New York City, 1933, a burlesque theater where Janie Barlowe (Joan Crawford) is performing, is raided by the police, sending all the employees who are unable to pay the fine, to serve thirty days in jail. One of the patrons, Tod Newton (Franchot Tone), a millionaire playboy with limited morals and overabundance of girlfriends, comes to court and takes an interest in Janie. He decides to not only bail her out of jail, but offers her marriage. But Janie, determined to succeed as a dancer, chances her odds by taking Tod's second offer, by accepting a job in the chorus in one of Patch Gallagher's (Clark Gable) musical shows, which Tod is backing. At first things are a little rough for Janie when she tries to get through an audition, having Gallagher's assistant, Steve (Ted Healy) and Stooges (Moe, Larry and Jerry, a/k/a Curly) giving her the "brush off" before Steve comes to realize that Janie really does have plenty of talent and convinces Patch to hire her. The rest becomes cliché from there, with little conviction, but above all else, "Dancing Lady" in its 92 minutes, became a box office success and helped to boost Crawford's then sagging career. But unlike the Warner Brothers entries, "Dancing Lady" had very little exposure on local television revivals over the past few decades, but with the help of MGM/UA Video and cable's Turner Classic Movies, where it is shown frequently, it can be rediscovered by a new generation of movie lovers or curiosity seekers.
Songs featured include: "Hey, Young Fella" (sung by chorus); "Hold Your Man" (sung by Winnie Lightner), by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown; "Everything I Have Is Yours" (sung by Art Jarrett) by Harold Adamson and Burton Lane; "My Dancing Lady" (sung by Jarrett during rehearsals) by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh; "Tango Dance," "Heigh Ho, the Gang's All Here" (sung by chorus/ with Joan Crawford and Fred Astaire); "Let's Go Bavarian" (chorus/ Crawford and Astaire) both by Adamson and Lane; "That's the Rhythm of the Day" (sung by Nelson Eddy) by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart; and "My Dancing Lady" (sung by chorus).
The production numbers, directed by Sammy Lee and Eddie Prinz, try not to duplicate the choreography of Busby Berkeley over at Warners. Aside from only one overhead camera shot, the camera virtually remains focused from the audience point-of-view. The finale, however, with chorus girls riding on a carousel that forms some unusual mirror effects, is quite clever, but otherwise, the staged show comes off with four brief musical segments with an orchestral score coming in loud and clear and sounding like ragtime from the 1920s. A stage number that was deleted from the final print of "Dancing Lady" can be seen in one of MGM's musical short subjects, that sometimes plays on TCM's ONE REEL WONDERS.
In the supporting cast are May Robson as Dolly Todhunter, Tod's hard-of-hearing grandmother; Robert Benchley as Ward King, a critic; Gloria Foy as Vivian Warner; with Sterling Holloway, Maynard Holmes and Grant Mitchell. Along with lavish sets, "Dancing Lady" presents some risqué dialog and scenes (such as Crawford getting a pat on her "fanny" by Gable, with her response being, "Thank you!"), that tries to outdo the daring-dos at Warners, and almost succeeds. There is even a kissing scene between Crawford and Tone in the swimming pool from under water. Aside from this being the movie debuts of future stars, Fred Astaire and Nelson Eddy, there is Art Jarrett, another newcomer who sings like future tenor, Dennis Day, but never made it to immortality. In conclusion, one has to have a quick eye to find future movie and TV comedienne Eve Arden as Marcia, the phony Southern actress, appearing in a brief bit. (***)
I have seen this movie many times and....and...and let me put it to you
way--Joan's a knockout, Gable's a stud, Tone has a playboy tone, but if you
really want to get into the essence of this movie, look at the sets
throughout the movie. It's Art Deco at it's extreme best.
Two stunning examples are a spherical stoplight that stops and goes as it turns and a mirrored conical carousel. This makes you think it's the future. The streamlining definitely matches the richness of the Broadway elite and the Broadway-bound (until they become Hollywood-bound, then it gets better.)
The Deco definitely matches the stars.
Perhaps the most eclectic cast in movie history. Here we have Clark Gable and Joan Crawford, Franchot Tone in his man-about-town mode, Fred Astaire playing himself in his movie debut, Nelson Eddy in his second film, Robert Benchley contrasting with Ted Healy and the Three Stooges, (in by far their most prominent role before the TV era) and even a young Eve Arden. Gable spends the film snarling at everybody and demanding that they produce a "modern, up-to-date musical" that's about what's happening now. Somehow this morphs into a finale in which Astaire and Crawford are prancing about in liederhosen, (which has a relevance to 1933 they perhaps didn't anticipate). What it all proves it that MGM, while it had the know-how to make the greatest musicals of all-time in the 1940's and 1950's, just didn't quite "get it" yet in 1933. RKO and Warners were still miles ahead of them.
'Dancing Lady' (1933) is about a woman (Joan Crawford) who lives to
dance. After being arrested for dancing at a burlesque house, she meets
a rich playboy (Franchot Tone), who, behind the scenes, paves the way
for her to get her big break. Clark Gable is the director of the
musical and makes you fall in love with him! Joan Crawford is a
reasonable dancer - no Fred Astaire or Eleanor Powell - but she is
This lavish glossy Busby Berkley-ish musical dazzles you from start to finish! A combination witty, quick lines, the appeal of the stunning Joan Crawford and dashing Clark Gable plus some great songs and dances makes this 1933 movie a mega hit! This movie went surprisingly fast and was a pleasure to watch. Definitely recommend it.
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