Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Screened: "Dancing Lady" (1933)

Few movies have come to me as highly recommended as Dancing Lady. Now, normally a rave review is enough to send me running - in the other direction. Seeing as this rave came from my film buff friend Norman I decided to give it a try. I mean, come on, it's a 30s movie. At its worst, how bad could it be?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIt was, in fact, better than the best. A backstage musical in the tradition of 42nd Street (which was released the same year), Dancing Lady dazzles from the first shot to the last. Partly this is a result of the painstakingly restored print, but mainly it's due to its beautiful cast brilliantly executing incisive dialogue.

Of course, there's a love triangle. Jane Barlow (Joan Crawford) can't decide between wealthy Tod Newton (Franchot Tone) and fellow theater rat Patch Gallagher (Clark Gable). Lucky bitch. In real life, of course, Joan didn't have to decide. She married Tone and had a torrid affair with Gable. To reiterate: lucky bitch.

I always enjoy seeing these big stars on their way up, as contemporary audiences might. Often I'll see a huge star and wonder how they got so big, since once they get to the top they rest on their laurels a bit before they start their long coast down. Well, it's immediately obvious here. Crawford is beautiful in a Hilary Swank way (and can she ever dance!), Tone is dapper and charming in a blond sort of way, and Gable... Gable is in a class all his own. Not for nothing did they call him "The King".

Dancing Lady also marks the film debut of Fred Astaire, at the time already well-known from Broadway, where he danced with his sister Adele. The Three Stooges also appear, bringing the odd moment (and I do mean odd) of slapstick (and I do mean slap) to the proceedings. Blink and you might miss Eve Arden (as a blonde - I recognised her by her voice alone), May Robson, and Robert Benchley. Nelson Eddy (minus Jeannette MacDonald - thankfully) camps his way through one number, and there are throughout the film the usual bevy of scantily clad vintage lovelies, if you're into that sort of thing.

MGM was the usual purveyor of such high-gloss glamour and boy do they deliver it in this one. It's like everything in the movie has been dipped in Shinola. In fact, I hadda watch it twice, because the first time I was so blown away I couldn't remember any of the specifics, like character names.

I have a feeling Dancing Lady will be screened again and again her at the Pop Culture Institute.
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