I’m back again to continue celebrating Clark Gable as my Star Of The Month, and this time around, I’m doing his 1933 film Dancing Lady, also starring Joan Crawford! Of course, as usual, we’ve got a few theatrical shorts to get things started, and then it’s on with the show!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Mess Production (1945)
(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Popeye The Sailor: The 1940s Volume 1 from Warner Archive Collection)
Disclaimer: On the disc case, it is noted that the set is intended for the adult collector, which is because these shorts were made at a time when a lot of racist and sexist stereotypes were prevalent. All I’m trying to say is, parents, be careful about just sticking these on for your kids.
(Length: 7 minutes, 7 seconds)
Factory workers Popeye and Bluto have to rescue Olive when she gets knocked for a loop by a swinging grappling hook. Apparently the first cartoon to sport a new design for Olive that would be continued, going forward. This one was fun, with all the gags of the boys trying to rescue her (and fight each other off at the same time). It was better than the previous two, with Jack Mercer again voicing Popeye. Admittedly, the whole gag of Olive sleepwalking after being hit in the head does kind of drag on, but it’s still fun enough to be worth seeing every now and then!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Plane Nuts (1933)
(available as an extra on the Dancing Lady DVD from Warner Archive Collection)
(Length: 19 minutes, 41 seconds)
Ted Healy and the Stooges perform onstage. From what I can tell, this short apparently filmed part of their stage act, including Bonnie Bonnell, and was interspersed with clips from some Busby Berkeley choreographed numbers from the film Flying High. Honestly, I don’t really care for Ted Healy as much here, but the Stooges themselves are at least somewhat fun. As far as the dance numbers, I’d really rather see the film they came from, as they just seem out of place with everything else going on here. Interesting but otherwise forgettable short.
Coming Up Shorts! with… Roast Beef And Movies (1934)
(available as an extra on the Dancing Lady DVD from Warner Archive Collection)
(Length: 16 minutes, 16 seconds)
Three men try to peddle their ideas to a movie producer, who offered up a lot of money to someone who could come up with a big idea. This color short (made in Two-Color Technicolor or something similar, if I am guessing correctly) is a rare short that features Curly Howard (here billed as “Jerry Howard”) apart from his fellow Stooges Moe and Larry. Given that he is not a prominent member of the trio, and the short is comprised of several sequences (two of which are borrowed from other films), it’s not particularly memorable. They do attempt to use some Stooges-type of humor, but it really doesn’t work without the actual Stooges team. At best, this one is only to be seen by fans of Curly, and otherwise should be avoided.
And Now For The Main Feature…
Dancer Janie Barlow (Joan Crawford) is doing a striptease in a burlesque theatre along with her friend Rosette LaRue (Winnie Lightner) and a number of other ladies, when the police raid the place and arrest them all. Janie is sentenced to jail since she can’t pay her fine, but she is soon bailed out by rich socialite Tod Newton (Franchot Tone). While he is interested in her, she would prefer to consider the bail money just a loan (which she intends to pay back). With her newfound freedom, Janie opts not to go back to the burlesque theatre, and instead starts looking for work as a dancer on Broadway. She tries to get into the show directed by Patch Gallagher (Clark Gable), even following him everywhere to get his attention, but her methods don’t work. She runs back into Tod again, who offers to help her get her foot in the door with a letter of introduction to Patch’s producer, Jasper Bradley, Sr. (Grant Mitchell). Jasper is delighted and has his son, Junior (Maynard Holmes) bring Janie to Patch for an audition. Believing her to be a no-talent, Patch hands her off to his stage manager Steve (Ted Healy) to get rid of her. However, she manages to impress Steve (and then Patch), and is given a job in the show. Secretly, Tod offers to help finance the show in hopes of getting Janie to like him. He proposes to her, but she wants to have her chance at stardom before she’s ready to settle down. As the rehearsals go on, Patch decides to change things up, and promotes Janie to a starring role. However, Tod decides to pull his backing, and the two Bradleys close the show (without telling everyone the real reason). Tod almost immediately whisks Janie away on a trip to Cuba, while Patch decides to finance the show himself, with things going back to the way they were. But, can he pull the show off? And will Janie indeed give up on her dream of dancing? Only watching the movie will tell!
Oh, where to begin with this one? Joan Crawford, who had successfully transitioned from silent movies to talkies, was coming off a few flops and in need of a big hit. The film was given to producer David O. Selznick, who was inspired by Warner’s recent success with 42nd Street and put together his own team for this film. Joan Crawford had some choice in casting, and picked Clark Gable, for what would be the fourth of eight movies pairing the two. The critics weren’t overly enthusiastic for the movie, but audiences of the time were, making it a big hit for MGM.
This is one of those movies where it’s just as much fun to see cast members who made it big AFTER this movie. We have Eve Arden making a very quick cameo. We have Nelson Eddy singing the song “That’s The Rhythm Of The Day.” We’ve got the Three Stooges (although they were still stuck with Ted Healy at the time, and therefore are mostly in the background for the majority of the movie). We’ve got a quick appearance from Sterling Holloway. And, of course, we’ve got Fred Astaire making his film debut, playing himself (and getting introduced by Clark Gable)!
I can’t deny the fact that this is essentially MGM’s version of 42nd Street, from the very similar story to the Busby Berkeley-esque dance routines. I would definitely say that I prefer Dancing Lady, as I’ve seen it many more times. It does still have similar issues, with a lead female (Ruby Keeler in 42nd Street and Joan Crawford here) being featured as a big dance star (but whose skills don’t really look that good, especially in hindsight). If Joan Crawford has any advantage, it’s her two dance routines with Fred Astaire, where her dancing looks a bit more polished. Of course, those two songs (“Heigh Ho, The Gang’s All Here” and “Let’s Go Bavarian”) are some of the most fun tunes in the film (and are generally stuck in my head for a while afterwards)! It’s not quite as much fun to watch Fred here, as neither the choreography nor the camerawork is as good as most would expect after watching his later films. To be fair, I blame most of that on this being his first film, before he became big enough to have more control on how his dancing was filmed. Not to mention the fact that his stuff was filmed over a two week period (and it shows, with his appearances and disappearances within the movie feeling quite random).
But, I digress. I still need to talk about Clark Gable (after all, HE is the “Star Of The Month”). While he may not have been the reason I originally saw this movie, I can’t deny that I have enjoyed Clark Gable’s performance in this film. In him we have a very street smart director, one who knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to tell his producer that. Not to mention, he knows how to deal with the producer’s “demands” (such as when he is told to give Joan Crawford’s Janie Barlow an audition). Of course, he’s not a pure tough guy, either, as his own insecurities come to light when he is forced to produce his show with his own money (and, lucky for him, Janie comes around to help pull him out of the funk he slips into). All in all, this is a wonderful movie that I enjoy coming back to again and again, and therefore, I would definitely recommend it!
This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection.
Film Length: 1 hour, 32 minutes
My Rating: 9/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Franchot Tone – Mutiny On The Bounty (1935)
Robert Benchley – Nice Girl? (1941)
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