Monday, November 30, 2009

Crawford Sings and Dances

This week, we decided to watch Dancing Lady, famous for Joan Crawford's only turn at dancing with Fred Astaire (it was his first picture - as himself).  In some senses, this movie is wannabe Busby Berkeley.  Watch the sillouhette scene, where we see young ladies apparently undresssing, and then the reveal to show that they have changed into a rather revealing costume for a good example of this.  Joan Crawford stars as the titled Dancing Lady - Janie Barlow, a burlesque dancer who is determined to hit the big time.  With the assistance of high-society's Tod Newton (Franchot Tone), Janie gets a letter of introduction to Patch Gallagher (Clark Gable), a Broadway producer.  Her dancing skills land her a part in the chorus; her determination and pluck land her the lead in the musical. 

Of course, we have a love triangle here: Janie, Tod and Patch; though, in some ways, her love of Patch is as much her love of dancing.  Tod is high society; he attempts to change Janie ("No shoes with bows on them".  "But I like shoes with bows!"), Patch loves her for who she is.  It is interesting that in some senses this triangle mimicked Crawford's real life. There have long be rumors of liaisons between her and Gable; she and Tone were married from 1935 to 1939.
Precode naughy bits run through the movie. The previously mentioned dance number, the burlesque strip that opens the film (and almost results in Janie's imprisonment), a scene where Janie undresses for bed, as the flashing neon lights outside her NYC apartment flash to reveal what her slip covers. And then, there is Tod's interest in setting Janie up as his lover (which she rejects).  All rather racy by standards a year later.

Finally, there is the dancing in the movie.  It is wonderful to see Astaire in his first picture, and of course his dancing is great. But Crawford, who did start out as a dancer is rather an odd dancer. Her style is rather flapper-ish - her arms and legs splay around. She's not really graceful.  We took a look at an earlier dance number that was featured in That's Entertainment, and it is pretty much the same. A trailer gives you an idea of some of the dancing:



 Thankfully, Crawford turned to dramatic parts. We'll look at one of those next time.

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