Dance, Girl, Dance

Released:  1940

Cast:  Maureen O’Hara, Louis Hayward, Lucille Ball, Virginia Field, Ralph Bellamy, Maria Ouspenskaya

SUMMARY:  Judy O’Brien (Maureen O’Hara) is a classically-trained dancer whose dream is to become a ballerina: however, at the moment she is working in a high-end club in Akron as part of a dancing troupe.  One evening, the club is raided by the police for illegal gambling, and the troupe loses their gig.  However, a man from the crowd insists that the girls be paid anyway, and takes a shine to Judy.  The man, Jimmy Harris (Louis Hayward), sits and talks with Judy for some time, but abruptly announces that he doesn’t like blue eyes.  Just then, the leader of the dance troupe, and Judy’s roommate, Bubbles (Lucille Ball) appears and persuades Jimmy to take her out on the town.  Bubbles returns with the news that Jimmy also dropped her, after handing her a stuffed bull named Ferdinand, which she now gives to Judy.  In another part of town, Jimmy visits his estranged wife Elinor (Virginia Field), who is preparing to go to Reno to get a divorce, though there is clearly still chemistry between the two.  Having lost their job, the various troupe members make their way back to their base in New York, where their choreographer/manager, Madame Basilova (Maria Ouspenskaya) runs a studio.  The entire group auditions for a hula; but only Bubbles is hired.  Later, Madame sees Judy practicing ballet on her own, and decides to call in a favor with the director of a ballet company, Steve Adams (Ralph Bellamy).  She and Judy go to meet him, but on the way Madame is hit by a car and dies, and Judy does not keep the appointment.  The next week, she tries to get back in to see Adams, but is frightened off when she observes a rehearsal of the company.  She unexpectedly (and unwittingly) encounters Adams in the elevator, and although he is immediately taken with her, she repeatedly blows him off.  Things are starting to get really desperate for Judy and her remaining roommate (Bubbles having moved out) when Bubbles suddenly shows up with news:  she has been discovered, and is going to have her own burlesque show — and is now going by the name “Tiger” Lily White.  She also has a job for Judy in the show, in which Judy will get to dance a short ballet.  Judy accepts, but she does not realize that the job is as Lily’s stooge:  in the show, Lily comes out and gets the crowd going, then Judy comes out and dances a serious ballet, which causes the audience to boo and hiss, demanding more Lily.  At first, Judy is humiliated, but ultimately she decides to keep the job and the pay it brings.

Lily is a smash hit with the crowds, and soon the show is bringing in rave reviews and huge profits.  She appears in the papers a number of times, and on a few occasions, Judy’s picture also appears.  This is how Steve Adams spots her again, and decides to visit the show.  In it, he notices that Judy has real talent .  The same night, Jimmy Harris comes to the show, and not realizing that the audience is supposed to boo Judy, tries to shame them into silence.  Lily thinks he is there to see her, and sends him backstage, but he is really after Judy.  The two sneak out together, avoiding Adams (Judy still does not realize his identity), who has come to talk to Judy.  A romance quickly develops, and Jimmy soon takes Judy to the Club Ferdinand (where the bull came from), where he often brought Elinor.  In fact, Elinor arrives that same night, having recently gotten remarried.  Judy is hurt when she learns that Jimmy had been married and not told her, and when Jimmy and Elinor’s new husband get into a fight, she runs out.  Jimmy goes after her, but she informs him that he is still in love with Elinor (who has just demanded an annulment from the new husband).  The fight lands Jimmy and Judy’s pictures in all the papers, which infuriates Lily when she finds out.  She raves at Judy, but when Jimmy shows up outside, she changes tack and leaves with him.  That evening, Adams has again come to the theater, but Lily is late.  When she finally does arrive, she announces to Judy that she and Jimmy have gotten married.  Things finally become too much for Judy, and when the crowd begins to heckle her during her dance, she marches to the front of the stage and gives them a fierce lecture.  This actually turns the crowd in her favor, and when she marches off, Lily slaps her across the face for ruining the act.  When Lily comes back out, she is booed; just then, an irate Judy comes up behind her and slaps her on the back, then jumps her.  A full-on fight ensues, and the two women eventually end up in night court — as do Adams and Elinor Harris.  There, Judy explains that she had simply boiled over, but does not hold anything aganst Lily, as she is simply a jealous person.  Jimmy arrives and tries to straighten things out, but Judy refuses the help, and accepts a sentence of ten days in jail.  As Jimmy and Lily leave, he asks for an annulment; Elinor appears and recommends a lawyer, and the two reconcile.  The next day, having been bailed out of jail, Judy goes to see Mr. Adams.  To her surprise, she finds he is the same man that has been pursuing her all along; when she is offered a job as a legitimate dancer, she laughs/cries at how simple things might have been.

MY TAKE:  Boy, you’ve never seen Lucy like this.  Like most other people (I think), I’ve really only seen Lucille Ball in her classic show, or as a guest on a few other shows, in which she played up the brassy personality.  This movie, made a decade before the show, demonstrates that she had real acting talent, in addition to comic genius.  The role of Lily is completely different than Lucy:  while Lucy is ditzy and always getting into scrapes, Lily is streetwise, savvy and ambitious.  She works everything she’s got to her advantage.  Perhaps most noticeably, she speaks in a natural tone of voice, instead of the rather shrill one Lucy frequently used.  She was in her late 20s when this movie was made, while Maureen O’Hara was in her very early 20s.  Both went on to greater things later, but this film is a little bit like a clash of the titans:  Lucy nearly steals the show from O’Hara, but O’Hara is so good that this never quite happens.  It’s ironic, then, that they literally get into a fight towards the end of the movie.  I was excited that Judy was giving the crowd what-for:  I could see it coming from the look in her eyes, and she didn’t disappoint.  However, things really got good after Lily slapped her, because that look in her eyes only intensified.  She then marched out, slapped Lily, and dropped the hammer on her.  The fight itself is pretty entertaining:  for my money, Judy was winning.  She even shakes off a man and goes back for more!  My suspicions were confirmed at night court, where Lily has an eye that is both black and cut, a bruised leg, and a nice handprint on her back.  Judy’s hair is a little mussed, but that’s it.  Basically, she kicked Lily’s ass, and then calmly told the judge that she punched and tried to strangle Lily.  It was awesome.  I was literally dancing around, shadow boxing as I watched.  You do have to laugh with Judy when you realize how much easier things could have been:  if she had only waited to meet Adams the first time, instead of running away; if she had asked his name when he was hitting on her; if she hadn’t torn up his card when he came backstage to find her.  It’s lucky he was persistent, or she’d have been totally up a creek.

RATING:  Really good.

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