Dance, Girl, Dance

Dance, Girl, Dance is a film released in 1940 and directed by Dorothy Arzner.[1][2]

Dance, Girl, Dance
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDorothy Arzner
Produced byErich Pommer
Written byVicki Baum (story)
Frank Davis
Tess Slesinger
StarringMaureen O'Hara
Louis Hayward
Lucille Ball
Ralph Bellamy
Music byEdward Ward
CinematographyRussell Metty
Joseph H. August
Edited byRobert Wise
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • August 30, 1940 (1940-08-30)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States

In 2007, Dance, Girl, Dance was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant", describing it as Arzner's "most intriguing film" and a "meditation on the disparity between art and commerce. The dancers, played by Maureen O'Hara and Lucille Ball, strive to preserve their own feminist integrity, while fighting for their place in the spotlight and for the love of male lead Louis Hayward."[3]

Dance, Girl, Dance was edited by Robert Wise, whose next film as editor was Citizen Kane and who later won Oscars as director of West Side Story and The Sound of Music.


While dancing at the Palais Royale in Akron, Ohio, Bubbles, a cynical blonde chorine, and Judy O'Brien, an aspiring young ballerina, meet Jimmy Harris, the scion of a wealthy family. Both women are attracted to Jimmy, a tormented young man who is still in love with his estranged wife Elinor. Back in New York, Bubbles finds work in a burlesque club, while Madame Basilova, the girls' teacher and manager, arranges an audition for Judy with ballet impresario Steve Adams. En route to the audition, Madame Basilova is run over by a car and killed, and Judy, intimidated by the other dancers, flees before she can meet Steve. As she leaves the building, Judy shares an elevator with Steve, who offers her a cab ride, but she is unaware of who he is and rejects his offer. Soon after, Bubbles, now called Tiger Lily the burlesque queen, offers Judy a job as her stooge in the Bailey Brothers burlesque show and, desperate, she accepts. One night, both Jimmy and Steve attend the performance, and Judy leaves with Jimmy and tears up the card that Steve left for her. The next night, while at a nightclub with Judy, Jimmy has a fistfight with his ex-wife's new husband, and the next day their pictures appear in the newspaper. Bubbles, furious with Judy for stealing Jimmy, appears at the girl's apartment, where she finds Jimmy drunk on the doorstep and sweeps him away to the marriage bureau. Meanwhile, Steve's secretary, Miss Olmstead, also sees Judy's picture in the paper and identifies her as the dancer who had come to audition. That night, Steve attends Judy's performance at which the audience is given a lecture by Judy about the evils of viewing women as objects. This is followed by a fight between her and Bubbles over Jimmy. Hauled into night court, Judy is sentenced to ten days in jail but is bailed out by Steve. The next day, when Judy goes to meet her benefactor, she recognizes Steve, who hails her as his new discovery and promises to make her a star (AFI).[4]


Production Crew

The following list is compiled from the opening credit as well as AFI's catalog[4]

Technical Production Details

Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.[4]

Duration: 90 mins[4]

Date: 23 August 1940[4]

Format: 35 mm, Black & White (Australian Centre For The Moving Image)

Genre: Romance, Drama, Musical

Runtime: 1 hr 30 min (90 min)

Sound Mix: Mono (RCA Recording System) (as R C A Recording System) (IMDb)

Color: Black and White (IMDb)

Aspect Ratio: 1.37 : 1 (IMDb)

Negative Format: 35 mm (IMDb)

Cinematographic Process: Spherical (IMDb)

Printed File Format: 35 mm (IMDb)

Production Dates: 15 Apr—early Jul 1940 (TMC)


In an October 1940 review, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times described the film as "a saga of glamour-struck chorines to end all sagas of said glamour-struck chorines" and a "cliché-ridden, garbled repetition of the story of the aches and pains in a dancer's rise to fame and fortune."[6] The film was a critical and commercial failure, and its theatrical release lost RKO Studios roughly $400,000.[7][8]

Beginning in the 1970s, however, the film enjoyed a popular revival and critical reassessment. Its resurgence has been ascribed to the burgeoning feminist movement which saw the film as a rare example of empowered women. Critical praise for the film has endured – in 2002 Dance, Girl, Dance was listed among the Top 100 "Essential Films" of the National Society of Film Critics.[7]

Contemporary Film Reviews

Toronto International Film Festival Inc: A bone fide feminist masterpiece, Dance, Girl, Dance was Arzner's most flamboyant, dynamic and important film. Starring Lucille Ball as a brassy burlesque dancer and Maureen O’Hara as her ballet-dancer rival, DGD is Arzner's most overt critique of female subjugation (and as such, it was reviled by male film critics); O’Hara's famous speech to a leering male crowd is the most stunning and powerful indictment of patriarchal privilege in any classic Hollywood film. Rediscovered in the 1970s by second-wave feminists, who adopted the film as a key text and Arzner as a retroactive figurehead, Dance, Girl, Dance was eventually preserved by the Library of Congress as an entry on the United States National Film Registry. Dance, Girl, Dance was both Arzner's masterpiece and her final film: while working on 1943's First Comes Courage, she fell ill and had to be replaced. After her aforementioned stints as a commercial director, Arzner landed a position teaching filmmaking at UCLA, where she influenced a new generation of directors (including Francis Ford Coppola). While she welcomed her late-in-life critical rediscovery and belated tributes from the film industry, Arzner assumed that few of her films would ever be seen again; she died in 1979 believing that all the prints of her silent titles had been irretrievably lost (happily, two of three have survived). The recent restoration of the delightful Get Your Man (which was rescued from nitrate decomposition at the proverbial 11th hour) reminds us that, above and beyond her status as a feminist pioneer and a queer trailblazer, Arzner was a director — period.

The New Yorker: Dorothy Arzner's 1940 melodrama is centered on two dancers from a scuffling New York troupe—Bubbles (Lucille Ball), a brazen gold-digger who flaunts her sexual freedom, and Judy (Maureen O’Hara), a serious ballet student who dreams of high art and true love. Bubbles steals Judy's rich beau and then steals a job from her, as a bump-and-grind dancer in a burlesque show. Bubbles brings Judy into the act, as the butt of a cruel joke, whom the crude spectators catcall and whistle offstage, but Judy boldly turns the tables on her tormentors. The movie lives up to its title—its subject really is dancing. Arzner films it with fascination and enthusiasm, and the choreography is marked by the point of view of the spectators and the dancers’ awareness that they're being watched. Arzner—one of the few women directors in Hollywood—shows women dancers enduring men's slobbering stares. The very raison d’être of these women's performances is to titillate men, and that's where the story's two vectors intersect—art versus commerce and love versus lust. This idealistic paean to the higher realms of creative and romantic fulfillment is harshly realistic about the degradations that women endure in base entertainments—including some cinematic ones.

— Richard Brody

New York Times: On the face of the evidence now being thrown across the screen of the Palace, we're still not quite certain as to what RKO's Erich Pommer had in mind when he produced "Dance, Girl, Dance." Perhaps it was his intention to film a saga of glamour-struck chorines to end all sagas of said glamour-struck chorines. If so, he has nearly succeeded. Though, with the exception of Maureen O'Hara, who is sincere but badly miscast, the roles are competently filled and the film pretentiously staged, "Dance, Girl, Dance" is just a cliché-ridden, garbled repetition of the story of the aches and pains in a dancer's rise to fame and fortune. It's a long involved tale told by a man who stutters.

It would be kinder perhaps to leave out the names of Vicki Baum, who wrote the story, and Tess Slesinger and Frank Davis, who larded the scenario with some of the season's more inane lines and situations, merely adding that in it Miss O'Hara, after the usual mishaps, realizes her ambition to become a ballet dancer and that Lucille Ball, her rival, becomes the sort of woman that other women describe in a single word. Nevertheless, it is Miss Ball who brings an occasional zest into the film, especially that appearance in the burlesque temple where she stripteases the Hays office. But it isn't art.

Sense of Cinema: Dance, Girl, Dance could be classed as high camp, but it has much more to offer than this implies. Although Arzner's experience with musicals was limited (she had only co-directed Paramount on Parade, 1930) she made the film work. Coming to the project late, after Roy Del Ruth (known for his MGM musicals with Eleanor Powell such as Born to Dance, 1936) pulled out, she ensured the film was tightly directed and gave the finished product considerable power. However, Dance, Girl, Dance was her penultimate film.

In Arzner's career, Dance, Girl, Dance followed such films as Christopher Strong (1933, which propelled Katharine Hepburn into her run as “box-office poison”) and Craig's Wife (a 1936 vehicle for feisty Rosalind Russell, later remade with Joan Crawford). On the whole, Arzner truly “thought outside of the box” (3) and deserves her status as one of the most important (if also one of a very small number) women film directors of the studio system.

Dance, Girl, Dance works best for me as a girl buddy-movie, a bit of flotsam within a rich heritage of similar works. It can be compared favourably with such films as the Gold Diggers series (1929–1938), and Stage Door (1937, also featuring Lucille Ball), and it is clear that the true dynamic is between the girls who work together. It has even been suggested in a recent study that the friendship between the girls suggests “a possible rapprochement between high and low art forms” (4). The men – although their roles are cleverly written and cast – are really on the periphery; Jimmie Harris for his money, Steve Adams for his connections. They are instrumental to the fates of Bubbles and Judy, but the women can survive on their own two feet without them.

The film succeeds because of its sheer charm and attention to detail; we can understand perfectly how it feels to sleep in a room of the type rented to chorus girls, how seeing a ballet performance can fuel the ambitions of one of their number. It is also a kind of fairytale where Judy is the good princess and Bubbles the wicked witch, although the ending isn't brought about by masculine intervention, but by sheer determination and self-faith.

BAMPFA: According to Gerald Peary's article on Dorothy Arzner (Cinema #34), “...Dance Girl Dance... was a personal project of Erich Pommer, the former head of Germany's famed UFA Studio. As producer, Pommer had conceived, cast, and started the shooting of Dance Girl Dance, but everyone involved was unhappy and confused. After a week Pommer removed the original director and brought in Dorothy Arzner to take charge. She reworked the script and sharply defined the central conflict as a clash between the artistic, spiritual aspirations of Maureen O'Hara, and the commercial, huckster, golddigging of Lucille Ball.”

In any event, this film has been hailed as something of a classic by feminist film critics: “All in all, it's an extraordinary picture to have come out of Hollywood in that particular period - and it's also a great deal of fun.”

Nora Sayre of the New York Times states that “Dorothy Arzner's most explicitly feminist film which explores the suffering and indignities of a serious ballerina (Maureen O'Hara) before an audience of lecherous males who show their preference, in no uncertain terms, for the broadly provocative gestures of a burlesque queen (Lucille Ball).... It could be objected that O'Hara is a little out of her element in a vaudeville house, not exactly the temple of high art, and that there is something healthy in Ball's (and Hollywood's) vulgarity. Still,... Ms. Arzner captures with peculiar force the emotional reality of the women, independently and in their relationship as roommates and rivals.”


  1. Variety film review; August 28, 1940, page 16.
  2. Harrison's Reports film review; August 31, 1940, page 139.
  3. Librarian of Congress Announces National Film Registry Selections for 2007, from the Library of Congress website
  4. "AFI|Catalog". Retrieved 2018-06-26.
  5. IMDb, Dance, Girl, Dance (1940), retrieved 2018-06-26
  6. October 11, 1940 Review from The New York Times
  7. Carr, Jay (2002). The A List: The National Society of Film Critics' 100 Essential Films. Da Capo Press. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-306-81096-1. Retrieved 13 October 2011.
  8. Richard Jewell & Vernon Harbin, The RKO Story. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1982. p150
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