Blu-ray Review: Dance, Girl, Dance | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, September 30th, 2020  

Dance, Girl, Dance

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Jun 01, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Released in 1940, Dance, Girl, Dance chronicles the rivalry and romances between two down-on-their-luck chorus girls. Judy is an earnest, aspiring ballerina played by a fresh-faced Maureen O’Hara. Bubbles is an ambitious, snarky gold digger played by Lucille Ball a decade before she became the cornerstone of TV sitcoms. The film is another entry in the “show business women try to make it big” sub-genre, stretching from Gold Diggers of 1933 through the 1950s with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Dance, Girl, Dance differs from other films of its kind in that it was directed by Dorothy Arzner, the only female director to work in the Hollywood system during its Golden Age.

Dance, Girl, Dance features many of the tropes and conventions of its times. There’s no shortage of dance sequences featuring the actresses in skimpy outfits - including one where Ball slaps her own ass, a move that seems notably racy for 1940. There’s a love quadrangle that resolves neatly with O’Hara’s character ending up with an uncharacteristically urbane Ralph Bellamy. However, Arzner’s then uncommon perspective is present in several aspects of the filmmaking. The rivalry between O’Hara and Ball’s characters is not as black and white as it could have been, depicting the hopes, dreams and flaws of both women with genuine pathos. Even the romantic subplots - while generally feeling like an obligatory distraction from the relationship between the two leads - feature some fun inversions. Louis Hayward stars as a cheerfully drunk, recently divorced rich guy who becomes the object of both stars’ affections. Hayward plays the character with many of the vain, flighty flourishes that would have been at home in a female version of the role. That he disappears from the film for the entire second act is both disappointing and a testament to how tacked on the romantic aspects of the film feel.

Still, as a showcase for its two leading ladies, Dance, Girl, Dance is a treat. Only nineteen at the time of the film’s release, Maureen O’Hara was already capable of projecting the maturity and moral resolve that she would be known for throughout her career. Ball’s combination of sexpot snark - “Can you dance?”, a man asks; “It’s been called that”, she responds - and goofball comedic timing makes the fact that it took another decade and a change of medium to become a household name completely baffling. One of her big dance numbers features the breeze-up-the-skirt bit that Marilyn Monroe would make famous 15 years later in The Seven Year Itch. While Marilyn - an underrated comic performer in her own right - played it solely for sex appeal, Lucille wrings it for every laugh it’s worth.

Criterion’s new Blu-ray release of Dance, Girl, Dance features only two supplements, both focusing on Arzner. Francis Ford Coppola is on hand to discuss taking classes with Arzner at UCLA and critic B. Ruby Rich gives a brief overview of the director’s life and style.



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