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  Dance, Girl, Dance She Doesn't Pirouette For Just Anybody
Year: 1940
Director: Dorothy Arzner
Stars: Maureen O'Hara, Louis Hayward, Lucille Ball, Virginia Field, Ralph Bellamy, Maria Ouspenskaya, Mary Carlisle, Katharine Alexander, Edward Brophy, Walter Abel, Harold Huber, Ernest Truex, Chester Clute, Lorraine Krueger, Lola Jensen, Sidney Blackmer
Genre: Musical, Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Judy O'Brien (Maureen O'Hara) has always wanted to be a dancer, but is finding the climb up the ladder of success an arduous task. At the moment she is dancing in a chorus line-up at a nightclub in Akron, Ohio, or at least she was until the cops broke in and busted the place for illegal gambling in the back room, leaving Judy and her fellow performers without a job. She tells the cops they want paid, and it so happens one of the patrons, Jimmy Harris (Louis Hayward), whose attention she was trying to attract with her mirrored top hat steps in and has a whip round among the other customers - what a nice guy.

Or so Judy thinks, but she proves herself not the best judge of character in Dance, Girl, Dance, both for those who would break her heart and those who would actually do her some good. If this film gets much attention today, it's thanks to a cult following borne of its director Dorothy Arzner, the sole female director in Hollywood of the Golden Age, and a highly individual personality to boot, being openly gay and assured in the belief that she was no different from any of her male colleagues in her profession, certainly no less capable. This has made her a minor movie icon, unusual for one from behind the camera rather than in front of it.

This also has movie buffs dead set on seeking out early feminist themes and scenes in her work, something she tended to play down when asked, but nevertheless they are there, and probably most evident in this, her most celebrated movie. Judy and her friend Bubbles (a brassy Lucille Ball seizing every opportunity to dominate) are both determined to make it in their chosen industry, but they each use different methods, with Bubbles exploiting her sexuality to draw fans to her, while Judy has more integrity and wishes to succeed through her innate talent. Their paths will cross as they switch from supporting one another to being great rivals, but what both have to realise is they are the best friends either will ever have.

Once the Akron job goes to pot, Judy returns to New York and meets up again with her old dance tutor, Madame Lydia (Maria Ouspenskaya), who sets her up with an interview before getting run over and killed by a car, part of the dubious luck Judy must endure throughout the movie. With this tragedy weighing her down, when she goes along to the studio owned by Steve Adams (Ralph Bellamy) and sees what those other dancers can do (in a frankly rather camp modern ballet number) she is dispirited, feeling she will never be able to do as well, so escapes just before Steve is ready to talk to her. What she doesn't know is that he is the man who offered her his umbrella on the street, and mistrusting many shows of goodwill Judy rushes off on her own, not knowing she has let a big break slip through her fingers.

This leaves her actual break being Bubbles' stooge in a burlesque show, jeered at by the male patrons who don't react well to her classy ballet. The first night she is in her dressing room in tears, but Bubbles, now with new, ironic stage name Lily White, points out she getting paid to dance, and there are plenty who would envy that. What she doesn't acknowledge is that Judy is not dancing on her own terms, she's out there as a joke while her pal-turned-boss changes her costume. In the meantime, Jimmy re-enters her life, and the more she learns about him the more she cottons onto the fact that this is not the right guy for her, though she has to learn this the hard way, including a massive falling out with Bubbles. Interestingly, her other potential romantic partner Steve is more caught up in her professional capabilities, when she wishes upon a star it's not for love but her career she wants to work out, and in the most famous scene she lambasts the leering audience for their boorish behaviour and suitably chastens any men who cannot see past looks. Not bad, but she realises she could have had it easier by the end.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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