Usually the chorus girl to Broadway star includes a little less dignity and a little more scratching up from the bottom. Not so with Dancing Lady. Sometimes you get the starlet (Joan Crawford) who wants to do things the right way, though unbeknownst to her she’s sabotaged by a Park Avenue Playboy Tod Newton (Franchot Tone).
Clark Gable is director Patch Gallagher. He has ideals, too. He puts everything on the line when his producers stop backing the show. Though he tries to keep a cool appearance, his heart gets in the way and he comes to the rescue of our damsel in distress with the truth.
Fred Astaire makes his screen debut as Joan Crawford’s dancing partner in one of the production numbers to end all production numbers. In A Star is Born with Judy Garland, Garland plays with the whole concept of a production number gone global. Watching the scene with Fred Astaire again reminded me of that and both grand scale production numbers from this film were probably under target with like numbers in “Someone At Last” from A Star is Born. Of Course, Fred Astaire couldn’t make his film debut with a simple routine. He goes from dancing with Crawford on solid ground to the heavens, and from there oddly end up in Bavaria. Don’t ask. I have no idea.
Joan Crawford did consider herself a hoofer and did dance in the early days of her career even though she didn’t do a whole lot of it on film. Her style is much like Ruby Keeler’s. She pounds every step into the ground, is a bit stiff through the wingspan, and has a seemingly insatiable love of her own feet. It was probably fairly impressive for audiences at the time to see her sing and dance.
Nelson Eddy also makes his screen debut, though it is true that it wasn’t the first film released that he was in. He made this film first, but the others were released sooner. His part is fascinating compared to the parts he played with brief appearances he made on other films (Broadway to Hollywood and Student Tour which were released respectively in 1933 and 1934. Dancing Lady was actually released on January 1, 1934 for the consumption of general American audiences). In his prior screen appearances, Eddy sang concert songs. In Dancing Lady, he sings a “modern” number called “Rhythm of the Day.” It’s ironic given the parts Eddy would have in the future, mostly period pieces–in this film, he sings for those who are not with the rhythm of the day to transport themselves into modern times. I must confess, when the song gets into my head it stays there for far too long.
Also of small note is an appearance by The Three Stooges. I’m not sure why, but for some reason in 30s films, there had to be the side-talent as side-talent to the director and/or the director’s sidekick. Am I missing something? Unlike The Ritz Brothers in You Can’t Have Everything, they only make a short appearance and aren’t part of the main show. They don’t even overpower and upstage the stars. It’s amazing. Joan Crawford holds her own against them.
And then of course there is the charming Franchot Tone, who does his bit as the playboy and Clark Gable as the director. A restrained, slightly vulnerable Clark Gable can be pretty appealing and Franchot Tone is fairly charming in whatever he does. The love triangle doesn’t take over the film as one would think it would. Definitely gives the plot a twist on an old story. Sure, you know the chorus girl turned star is going to go with the director rather than the swell from Park Avenue, but I feel like there’s more substance and respect in their relationship. Gable’s character is a little more fleshed out than your average Joe (Comparable to Cover Girl now that I think of it, except no Ersters, errr–oysters).
The print on the DVD is pretty-near flawless. Only qualm would be the sound. Never fails to amaze me how lovely the print has been preserved over 76 years. A definite must-watch for any fan of Nelson Eddy and Fred Astaire just to see their big screen debuts. The plot is not really original, not even for the era. There really aren’t any stand-out performances (other than Fred and Nelson, of course), but it’s a lovely way to spend a couple hours.