Young dancer Janie Barlow (Joan Crawford) works at a burlesque show since she can’t find work on a “respectable” stage.
When she and some of her fellow dancers are arrested for indecent exposure after a performance, Janie is bailed out by a millionaire named Tod (Franchot Tone) who took a liking to her after seeing her dance at the club.
Janie desperately wants to make the big move from burlesque to Broadway, and Tod hopes he (and his money) can convince director Patch Gallagher (Clark Gable) to give Janie a part. Even if it’s just a small part in the chorus, Tod is willing to hand over the big bucks to make Janie’s dream come to life.
Patch is resistant to the idea at first, but romantic complications and problems with the show arise after Patch realizes that Janie has real talent.
Based on James Warner Bellah’s work of the same title, Dancing Lady (1933) was directed by Robert Z. Leonard.
The film is notable not only as one of MGM’s big box office hit musicals, but also because it marks Fred Astaire’s first film role. His appearance is small, but already shows his great screen presence and charm. In the same year, Astaire would be paired with Ginger Rogers in Flying Down to Rio, marking the beginning of one of Hollywood’s greatest screen partnerships.
One obviously remarkable element of this film is the phenomenal cast at work. Astaire! Gable! Crawford! These continue to be huge names to film fans, and for good reason: they all have the talent to back it up, as do the supporting players here, such as May Robson.
The role of Janie is an interesting one for Joan. She has tons of sass as usual, but she’s a romantic lead in a musical this time around rather than a shrewd rival in melodramatic comedy (i.e. The Women) or a woman consumed by a dramatic choice (i.e. Daisy Kenyon). Janie is an ambitious, talented, fun and even sometimes cutesy girl but she still has an edge, making the role a great one for Joan.
Clark Gable is also wonderful, as expected. His character is charming but a bit harsh, creating a wonderful tension between himself and Janie.
Crawford and Gable made eight films together in total, and she was reportedly one of his favorite actresses to work with. Regardless of whether they liked working with each other, it was obviously a smart decision to pair them so many times. They make an unexpectedly wonderful screen couple.
From the beginning, there is a very lively mood to Dancing Lady. It’s part romance and part showbiz tale, in the vein of 42nd Street or Footlight Parade. It’s a thoroughly engrossing film in all of its aspects, never becoming dull and often emitting a great amount of excitement.
Dancing Lady is a pretty fun film all around, worth a watch for the cast alone even if showbiz musicals don’t interest you.
The score: 4/5