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Review: In 'Dance, Girl, Dance,' Snappy Dialogue and Breathless Musical Numbers Thrill, Surprise,,, and Depress

by Sam Cohen
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday May 26, 2020
Review: In 'Dance, Girl, Dance,' Snappy Dialogue and Breathless Musical Numbers Thrill, Surprise,,, and Depress

It's always an education when the Criterion Collection releases a lesser-known studio picture from the 1930s or early '40s, and that fact remains true with the new Blu-ray of "Dance, Girl, Dance."

Director Dorothy Arzner was the sole woman to work as director during that era in the Hollywood studio system. But it is her own feminist sensibilities that added particularly incisive and acidic commentary about the unfair advantages men had over women during that time. Starring Lucille Ball and Maureen O'Hara as two dancers at odds with each other, the film soars on a potent combination of fast-talking dialogue and breathless musical numbers that do more than thrill and surprise - they also depress.

The new 4K restoration of the film is sourced from the 35mm nitrate original camera negative and looks stunning, with incredible detail in close-ups and wide shots alike. Plus, there's a terrific new interview with Francis Ford Coppola, who details his education under Dorothy Arzner and how she championed his filmmaking.

Judy O'Brien (Maureen O'Hara) is an aspiring ballerina and part of a professional dancing troupe, yet the gigs are thinning as the days go on. Bubbles (Lucille Ball) is another dancer in the troupe, but she uses her "it" factor to score gigs that focus on the entertainment and pleasing of men. When Bubbles hires Judy to act as a stooge in her one-woman burlesque show, the two women grow more and more ruthless toward each other on stage and off.

What really struck me while watching "Dance, Girl, Dance" is that although Bubbles is cast in a more negative light compared to Judy, it's Bubbles' struggle with the ownership of her own femininity that adds a depressing dimension to the proceedings. The film is so focused on watching the two women constantly make reparations to please men, until an incredible climax that acts both as a soapbox revue of railing against sexism and a rallying cry for dancing to be taken seriously as art.

Arzner was originally hired after director Roy Del Ruth backed out of the production. Instead of just taking the script that was already there, Arzner ferociously retooled it to make it more about the relationship between Judy and Bubbles. She even changed the head of the dancing troupe from a male character to female, as it helped to explore how the women in the troupe functioned as a community and family.

There's a terrific anecdote made by critic B. Ruby Rich in a newly-filmed introduction on the Blu-ray. She details how Hepburn didn't get along with Arzner because the starlet was intimidated by the director's 'manly' appearance. Arzner was also independently wealthy and could walk away from projects whenever she wanted. This gave her the power of choosing her projects and gaining more control over them. If you're a fan of musicals from that era, this release comes highly recommended. Other special features include:

• Booklet essay by critic Sheila O'Malley


"Dance, Girl, Dance"
Blu-ray
$39.95
https://www.criterion.com/films/29633-dance-girl-dance

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