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Roy Del Ruth
Sailor Ted meets at the Lonely Hearts Club of his friend Gunny's wife, Jenny, a girl, Nora Paige, and falls in love. Nora wants to become a dancer on Broadway. Ted rescues the Pekinese of Lucy James, a Broadway star during a public relations campaign on his submarine. Lucy falls in love with Ted, and Ted is ordered by his Captain to meet her in a night club, in spite of the fact that he has a date with Nora. Nora, who lives with Jenny and her and Gunny's daughter, doesn't want to hear anything from Ted, after she spotted a picture of Ted and Lucy in the morning paper. Lucy convinces her manager Dinehart to stop the press campaign and tells him that she would leave the production, if another photo or article of her and Ted is published. Nora has become her understudy, and she begins to think her behaviour to Ted over. Suddenly she is fired after Dinehart told her to dance a number Lucy James called undanceable. But when Ted is told the whole story, he knows what to do. Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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As Lucy James (Virginia Bruce) finishes singing "I've Got You Under My Skin," she has a lit cigarette in her right hand as she reclines on the settee. The camera angle changes, but now the cigarette has suddenly changed to a glass of champagne. See more »
BORN TO DANCE (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1936), directed by Roy Del Ruth, is, according to its title, one starring Eleanor Powell as the one born to dance. Being the third in the series of Navy musicals produced within the year, following SHIPMATES FOREVER (Warners, 1935) with Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler; and FOLLOW THE FLEET (RKO, 1936) with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the title "Born to Dance" translates itself as a musical, whether a song and dance or backstage story, being a combination of both, it gives no indication as one with a U.S. Navy background. Regardless, BORN TO DANCE ranks the best of the trio, thanks to a fine score by Cole Porter, witty dialogue, particularly from the secondary characters (Sid Silvers and Una Merkel), as well as the very young James Stewart surprisingly effective singing through his soft-spoken Fred Astaire-ish style of vocalizing.
The second of its annual Eleanor Powell musicals, BORN TO DANCE brings back her co- stars from her initial MGM musical, Broadway MELODY OF 1936, including Sid Silvers, Una Merkel, Frances Langford and Buddy Ebsen, with Virginia Bruce substituting for June Knight as the temperamental actress. As an added plus Frances Langford, who, in Broadway MELODY of 1936, only participated in the song numbers, this time gets to belt out her songs and take part of the plot.
Following the opening titles with a background of musical notes (yes, this is a musical) and still silhouette dancing images of Eleanor Powell, the story opens with singing sailors submerging from a submarine and going on shore leave in New York City. Ted Parker (James Stewart) meets Nora Paige (Eleanor Powell) at a Lonely Hearts Club, managed by Jenny Saks (Una Merkel), who is married to a Ted's fellow Navy partner, "Gunny" (Sid Silvers), whom she hasn't seen in four years, and through him, is the mother of a three-year-old daughter (Juanita Quigley). While Jenny finds Gunny to be a big disappointment to her, and unwilling to tell him that he is a father, Ted finds himself becoming very much interested in Nora, whose ambition is to become a dancer (hense the title). Their romance is soon broken up when Lucy James (Virginia Bruce), a famous musical-comedy star, along with her press agent, James McKay (Alan Dinehart), visits Ted's ship for publicity pictures, and after her Pekinese dog falls over board with Ted jumping in to save it, McKay then makes a romance story out of it. Ted finds his time being occupied being with Lucy, and away from Nora. However, Ted arranges for Nora to get into Lucy's upcoming show as her understudy without either girl being aware as to whom was responsible for this arrangement. As Ted is going through his complications such as believing Nora to be a mother to Jenny's little girl, there is "Mush" Tracy (Buddy Ebsen) who finds time in becoming the romantic interest of another Lonely Hearts Club employee, "Peppy" Turner (Frances Langford).
Song numbers include: "Rolling Home" (sung by the Foursome Quartet, Sid Silvers, Buddy Ebsen and James Stewart); "Rap-Tap on Wood" (sung and danced by Eleanor Powell); "Hey Babe, Hey Babe" (sung by James Stewart, Eleanor Powell, Sid Silvers, Una Merkel, Buddy Ebsen and Frances Langford); "Here Comes Lucy James" (sung by sailors); "The Captain Had a Very Bad Night Last Night" (recited by Raymond Walburn); "Love Me, Love My Pekinese" (sung by Virginia Bruce/ chorus); "Easy to Love" (sung by James Stewart & Eleanor Powell); "I've Got You Under My Skin" (danced by George & Jalna/ sung by Virginia Bruce); "Easy to Love" (sung by Frances Langford/ danced by Buddy Ebsen); "Love Me, Love My Pekinese" (audition dance by Eleanor Powell); "Swinging the Jinx Away" (sung by Frances Langford/ with Buddy Ebsen/ danced by Eleanor Powell); and "Easy to Love" (sung by cast).
The other members of the cast consists of Raymond Walburn, Barnett Parker, Jonathan Hale and Reginald Gardiner, making his movie debut, in an awkward but amusing cameo as a policeman in Central Park who fantasizes himself as conducting to the score to "Easy to Love" with an unseen orchestra (only in New York!).
As with Powell's other "Broadway Melody" series, BORN TO DANCE includes moments of singing and dancing on cue, with a full orchestra playing in the background, whether it be at the Lonely Hearts Club, on the Navy vessel or in the middle of Central Park. Comedy also takes its toll in BORN TO DANCE, including Walburn as the confusing captain who can't distinguish the difference between the very tall Mush (Ebsen) and the ultra short Gunny (Silvers), asking them if they are twins, and in giving an assignment for Mush deliver an important message to a Rear Admiral Stubbins at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Mush, however, keeps forgetting, and when he does remember, can't find Brooklyn and ends up in Yonkers; as well as Helen Troy's classic bit as sharp-tongue Brooklyn-ese switchboard operator. Troy must have been an inspiration for Lily Tomlin's comedic character in later years when appearing as a telephone operator in the late 1960s variety comedy show of LAUGH-IN.
BORN TO DANCE is light on plot, memorable on songs and well constructed with dance numbers as choreographed by Dave Gould, highlighted by the lavish but classic 13 minute finale of "Swingin' the Jinx Away" (portions would be reused again for the finale in Eleanor Powell's latter 1943 musical titled I DOOD IT, newly re-scored to appeal more to the big band era for the time of its release).
Other than having its presentations on commercial television some decades ago, the original soundtrack recording to BORN TO DANCE was displayed in record stores in the late 1970s. If there is any Eleanor Powell worth seeing, it's BORN TO DANCE, by all means, that's what she was, and does it well. Available viewing on Turner Classic Movies. (***1/2)
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