A note from Lindsey: If you’re interested in seeing this film and can’t find a used copy of Dames alone, it’s also available in The Busby Berkeley Collection boxed set (which I am forever lusting after) and TCM’s Greatest Classic Films: Busby Berkeley set. I’m 99.999% sure that the copy I picked up from the library is a singled-out version of the one that appears in The Busby Berkeley Collection, so that’s what this review will cover!
On a recent trip to the library I picked up a copy of Dames on DVD, being long overdue for a re-watch. As is common with Warner DVDs, there are a couple of neat bonuses on the DVD, so I’ve decided to share my thoughts on these features as well as a very short review of the film.
Dames is sometimes referred to as Gold Diggers of 1934. It features all of the stars we know and love from Gold Diggers of 1933, with Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler once again taking on the roles of the central lovebirds.
The film follows Ezra Ounce (Hugh Herbert), a millionaire whose goal in life is to save America from moral decline. As such, he decides to pay a visit to his cousin Mathilda (Zasu Pitts), who lives in New York City — the place that Ezra sees as the hub of all things immoral, “a hotbed of vice.” Ezra wants to recruit all of his family members to work on his campaign of moral cleansing, and offers to give them a large chunk of his fortunes if they’re willing to uphold his incredibly high moral standards.
Upon arrival in NYC, Ezra immediately takes offense to the musical comedy productions of the stage. He harbors disdain for everyone involved with them… including Mathilda’s daughter, Barbara (Ruby Keeler), who is dating an aspring theater producer and actor named Jimmy (Dick Powell). Barbara and Jimmy are in love despite the fact that they’re 13th cousins. Jimmy is the “black sheep” of the family in Ezra’s eyes because he so loves the theater.
Even more immorality begins weaseling its way into the life of Ezra’s family as Mathilda’s husband Horace (Guy Kibbee) gets in a mix-up with a showgirl named Mabel (Joan Blondell) that could lead to scandal if he doesn’t pay his way out of it by funding Jimmy’s next show.
Ray Enright directs Dames, with song and dance numbers crafted/directed by the great Busby Berkeley.
Dames delivers everything you’d expect from it: cutesy characters; a light and fast-paced story, which is fun despite its typicality; and, of course, those beautiful, lavish Busby Berkeley musical numbers!
While the film doesn’t match the somewhat serious undertones and societal commentary achieved by the less-fluffy side of its predecessor, Gold Diggers of 1933, it’s still a great watch. The entire cast is in top form, and the script is loaded with very funny dialogue. Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler are as adorable as ever if you can get over the fact that they’re portraying kissin’ cousins. Joan Blondell is, as always, an absolute delight!
Dames is a fun musical, and worth watching at the very least for fans of Busby’s work or of any of the film’s cast members. The DVD is also worth picking up for its great selection of special features:
- Busby Berkeley’s Kaleidoscopic Eyes (Featurette) – Short doc about Busby’s life and work
- And She Learned About Dames (Short) – Hilarious promotional short for the film in which a plain Jane gets made over and visits Hollywood so she can kiss Dick Powell
- Good Morning, Eve (Short) – 18 minutes of corny jokes about Adam & Eve. LOVE IT.
- Melody Master: Don Redman and His Orchestra (Short) – Self-explanatory; a little musical short.
- I Only Have Eyes for You (Cartoon) – Merrie Melodies! Cute lil’ romantic spoof about an ice delivery man who must learn to sing in order to impress a lady.
- Those Beautiful Dames (Cartoon) – Merrie Melodies! Makes use of the Dames soundtrack and spoofs the song “Dames” with one about dolls.
- “Direct from Hollywood” (Radio promo for the film) – Radio program promoting the film, featuring songs from the film.
- Original theatrical trailer
And now, for the Reviewin’ the Box rubric…
- Packaging: 5/5 – The DVD cover matches the original promotional posters for the film, and the fonts/design on the back cover suit both the illustrated cover and the film itself very well. It’s very pretty for a standard plastic case jacket, so I deduct no points.
- DVD quality: 5/5 – I noticed no problems in visual or audio quality. The musical numbers look spectacular!
- Special features: 5/5 – Three shorts, two cartoons, a radio program AND a short documentary featurette about the great Busby Berkeley? These features are stellar. The shorts/cartoons are very well-matched to the content of the film itself, and the Berkeley featurette (running at about 12 minutes) is a lot of fun. It provides some basic background information about the man himself and his work, featuring clips of his best films and interviews with knowledgeable Berkeley fans including John Waters.
- Overall score: 5/5! – The film is a true delight, the quality of the DVD is top-notch and the features are just as wonderful. Snatch this one up for your collection!