What’s The Story? In the middle of the Great Depression, Janie (Joan Crawford) just wants to dance. And the only place that will take her in the Big Apple is a burlesque house. She has an admirer in Tod (played by Crawford’s then-boyfriend-soon-to-be-second-husband Franchot Tone), a rich playboy who brought a bunch of friends to see the act. Janie is one of many dancers who gets arrested in a police raid (!) and then heads to night court (!) where she ends up in jail because she doesn’t have the $30 to post bond. Tod swoops in, pays the bills, and then starts to seriously woo Janie. Meanwhile, our heroine bluffs her way into doing an audition for theater director/auteur tyrant Patch Gallagher (played by Joan’s on-again, off-again lover Clark Gable). Tod pulls some strings and Janie gets into Patch’s newest show. Using her skills, talent and a lot of moxie, Janie proves to be an asset to the show and not just some rich guy’s girl.
Tod starts to put the screws to Janie to give up her career and marry him while Janie just wants to dance. And then sparks begin the fly with her and Patch. After Patch puts her in the lead of the show, she gets a charlie horse and he takes her up to his office.
The sparks, they are a-flyin’.
Now, the plot is pretty conventional but the execution is wonderful. The film is full of strong acting, fun dialogue and tons of charm. Dancing Lady not only features the film debuts of Nelson Eddy and Eve Arden (in a hilarious small role as an actress pretending to be Southern), but also the Three Stooges as stage hands (!) and Fred Astaire! His big number with Joan is a ton of fun, if very… very odd.
The number continues with them landing their flying carpet in Germany (!) where they all sing a song about beer and pretzels. (No, I’m not kidding) The film is a total blast.
Oh, And How’s Joan? She’s great! In 1933, we’re still in a transition between highly presentational and more naturalistic acting. Some of Joan’s co-stars (like Robert Benchley) are playing to the back of the house while others (like Gable) are scaled to the camera. Joan is mostly natural while lapsing every now and then into presentational. She’s very affecting (like the above clip with Gable) and her dancing is good too. In her first few years in Hollywood, she danced at nightclubs to help pay her bills. And that pays off here. She’s also quite funny. Here’s a great scene where she and Gable flirt/fight as they work out.
Joan even pulls the “You should smile more” line on Gable decades before people turned that phrase on its ear on Twitter! (And side note: Gable is suuuuuuuuper sexy in this. And their chemistry is great. it’s a lot better than her chemistry with Tone, who Joan married a couple years after this film… and then divorced.)
Should I See It? Absolutely! It’s fun and charming and super winning. It’s one of the best I’ve seen since i started this project.