|Oliver T. Marsh|
An attractive dancer is rescued from jail by a rich man, who helps her to have her first big opportunity at a musical play on Broadway.
All singing, all dancing, all hokum!
Clark Gable may have been the right star at the wrong studio – just think what Warner Bros. could have done with him in the Thirties – but he still had enough star quality to overcome even the most dubious casting. Take Dancing Lady, MGM’s take on Warners’ backstage Busby Berkeley musicals. It’s a terrific movie put together with no expense spared, but somehow Gable isn’t the first name that springs to mind when you think of a musical director putting on a Broadway revue. But then Joan Crawford isn’t the first name you’d think of for a downtown gal going from Burlesque to Broadway and exhibiting the singing ability of Lee Marvin and the dancing skills of a fugitive from a chain gang (there’s a difference between dancing and just knowing the steps).
All clichés are present and correct, from Joan replacing an ‘untalented’ star who can dance her off the screen to the chorus girls with great faces but horrendous voices. Somehow it doesn’t matter: it’s too much fun and too ridiculous for that, especially in the absurdly overproduced musical finale which would need a theatre the size of Times Square to stage (great lyrics too: “Here in Bavaria/We’ll take good care of ya”). Franchot Tone provides the romantic rivalry, Fred Astaire the only discernible dancing ability. Far more enjoyable than it has any right to be.
MGM jumps on that 42nd Street bandwagon
Author: blanche-2 from United States
2 May 2006
Like the other studios, MGM wasted no time cashing in on the success of 42nd Street with its own backstage musical, complete with ersatz Busby Berkeley choreography. This one is “Dancing Lady,” and she’s young Joan Crawford costarring with Franchot Tone and Clark Gable. A dancer named Fred Astaire makes his official film debut, and Nelson Eddy pops in for a song.
Crawford is an ambitious dancer being pursued by a rich boyfriend (Tone), but she’s blinded by the footlights of Broadway. He helps her out by getting her into a show directed by tough guy Gable, and when he sees her talent and perseverance, he gives her the “top spot” in the show. Of course, he’s attracted to her, too, and she to him.
It’s easy for all of them to be attracted to one another because they’re all gorgeous. 30 years after this film, Franchot Tone would play a dying President in “Advise and Consent”…and look it. Here he’s a smooth dazzler in his top hat, tails, brilliant smile and dimples. Gable is muscular, sexy, and rough around the edges. Crawford sparkles with her athletic figure, beautiful legs, and surely a pair of the most spellbinding eyes ever in film. She is perfection in her Adrian outfits. Though she does well in her big number with Astaire, Crawford really was from the Ruby Keeler School of Hoofing – lots of arms, big steps, and a ton of noise. The musical itself – uh, “Dancing Lady” – is tuneful and pleasant, and its spectacular finale gives one the impression that Louis B screamed for the kitchen sink – Berkeley-type choreography, a Nelson Eddy solo, and Astaire.
It’s wonderful to see these stars so young and energetic, and they are all great to watch. Look for an uncredited appearance by a blond Eve Arden and Lynn Bari somewhere in the chorus. Lots of fun from MGM.
Dancing Lady was a box office hit upon its release and drew mostly positive reviews from critics. Mordaunt Hall in The New York Times wrote, “It is for the most part quite a lively affair…. The dancing of Fred Astaire and Miss Crawford is most graceful and charming. The photographic effects of their scenes are an impressive achievement….Miss Crawford takes her role with no little seriousness.
By the time Joan Crawford and Clark Gable made Dancing Lady they were two of MGM’s most valuable commodities. In the timeline of their film pairings, Dancing Lady follows Clarence Brown’s, Possessed, which was made two years earlier, the third of the films they made that was released in 1931 and my favorite of the eight. Two years elapsed between Possessed and our movie today (reportedly) due to the fact that Gable and Crawford’s off-screen shenanigans were becoming a distraction, if not on the brink of becoming an all-out scandal. I can certainly attest to the fact that by Possessed their on-screen chemistry was simmering!
The story goes that Crawford’s husband in 1931, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Gable’s wife at the time, Ria Langham, both approached MGM head, Louis B. Mayer for help regarding the stars’ affair. As a result, Mayer told Joan and Clark to stop the affair at once or their careers in Hollywood would be finished. To facilitate matters, Crawford and Gable were sent off to work with other people. And, to help promote Possessed, Gable’s wife, Ria, was sent on a tour across the country by the MGM PR machine.
Well, the two stars spent the requisite time apart and it worked – they cooled off. Unfortunately it didn’t help Joan’s marriage to Fairbanks, Jr. as the two divorced anyway and by the time Dancing Lady came about she was dating Franchot Tone who would become her next husband. It’s worth noting that Dancing Lady is the first time Tone plays a romantic role opposite Joan. They would eventually star in seven movies together. In any case, set to star in Dancing Lady, Crawford rallied for both Tone and Gable to get the leading male parts in the film. MGM complied.
In Dancing Lady Crawford plays a chorus girl, Janie Barlow, who longs to make it big on Broadway. Franchot Tone is millionaire Tod Newton who attends one of the Burlesque shows she’s appearing in one night and instantly falls for her. In order to impress her and win her affections, Newton arranges it so Janie gets a part in a Broadway musical he’s backing, “Dancing Lady.” But then a major wrench is thrown in his plan in the form of studly Clark Gable, who as Patch Gallagher is directing the musical extravaganza. Naturally, Patch too falls for Janie as the two spend more and more time together during rehearsals. By the way, both Clark and Joan look great in the movie – he is in serious hunk mode and she is soft and lovely – especially when she’s around Clark.
As the story progresses Janie is forced to choose between her dream of becoming a star and marriage to a man who promises to give her everything she’ll ever need – financially. Since it’s easy to guess which she chooses there’s really nothing much to keep secret here, but I won’t divulge the entire movie.
Dancing Lady guarantees fun, but it stands nowhere near the best of the Crawford/Gable collaborations. I love both of them in the movie though simply because they’re just wonderful to watch. Each has extraordinary energy and they share great chemistry. That cannot be denied. I can’t say the same for Franchot Tone, however. He’s certainly nice to look at but just smiles too damn much. His character does some devious things here, but Tone doesn’t quite possess the richness of character for deviousness. Although it may well just seem so as compared to the powers that are Gable and Crawford. I will say that Tone offers a nice contrast to Gable’s in-your-face manliness. If a girl’s to make a choice then it might as well be a clear one.