Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Joan Crawford dances!

Coming up tomorrow at noon ET on TCM is the interesting movie Dancing Lady. If anything, it's a testament to the studio system.

Crawford plays the title character, a burlesque girl who winds up in jail when the place she's working gets raided. She's in luck though, as the wealthy Franchot Tone just happened to be at the place when it got raided, and is able to bail her out. He's smitten with her, so gets her a spot in a Broadway production for which he's providing the financial backing. The production is managed by Clark Gable, who's badly miscast here, but we'll let that slide. Needless to say, he too gets smitten with Miss Crawford, who tries to dance her way to stardom....

In some ways, the movie really ought to be a mess. Crawford wasn't very light on her feet, and it really shows when she dances in one of the numbers with Fred Astaire, who is in one of his very first appearances. Clark Gable is also badly miscast as the production manager, playing the Warner Baxter role from 42nd Street. At this point in his career, Gable had played a bunch of gangster types, albeit gangsters with more class than what James Cagney was playing over at Warner Brothers. One can, I suppose, imagine Gable playing the sort of role Warren William had played in Lady For a Day, but in this case, Franchot Tone's financial backing makes it difficult to see this even as a Mob front. But MGM needed a role for Gable, and they gave this to him. Add in musical numbers and choreography that aren't quite as good as what Busby Berkeley was doing over at Warner's, and the movie should fall on its face.

And yet, it doesn't. It's got a very strange charm to it. Crawford's dancing is mesmerizing in its lead-footedness, and the contratst between her and Astaire makes it even more fascinating. Gable is talented even when he's miscast, and he does more than enough here to make himself enjoyable. Also, one of the muscial numbers features accompaniment by, of all people, the Three Stooges. The result of all this is a movie that seems like a quickly thrown together response to 42nd Street, but one that has all the glitz MGM could muster.

Dancing Lady has made it to DVD, too, should you miss TCM's showing.

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