Dance, Girl, Dance

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Dance, Girl, Dance
Dance, Girl, Dance (1940 film poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDorothy Arzner
Screenplay byFrank Davis
Tess Slesinger
Story byVicki Baum
Produced byErich Pommer
CinematographyRussell Metty
Joseph H. August
Edited byRobert Wise
Music byEdward Ward
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • August 30, 1940 (1940-08-30)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States

Dance, Girl, Dance is a 1940 American comedy-drama film directed by Dorothy Arzner and starring Maureen O'Hara, Louis Hayward, Lucille Ball, and Ralph Bellamy. The film follows two dancers who strive to preserve their own integrity while fighting for their place in the spotlight and for the affections of a wealthy young suitor.

In the decades following its release, the film was subject of critical reassessment and began to garner a reputation as a feminist film.[1] In 2007, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant",[2] describing it as Arzner's "most intriguing film" and a "meditation on the disparity between art and commerce.[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, Judy 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.



Box office[edit]

The film was a critical and commercial failure, and its theatrical release lost RKO Studios roughly $400,000.[4][5]

Critical response[edit]

Writing for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther panned the film, noting that, "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...  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."[6]

Modern assessment[edit]

Beginning in the 1970s, Dance, Girl, Dance enjoyed a popular revival and critical reassessment.[1] 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.[4]

Alicia Fletcher, writing for the Toronto International Film Festival, deemed the film "A bone fide feminist masterpiece."[1] Richard Brody of The New Yorker wrote: "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."[7]


  1. ^ a b c Fletcher, Alicia (February 22, 2017). "The Passion of Dorothy Arzner". Toronto International Film Festival. Archived from the original on July 17, 2017.
  2. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved June 3, 2020.
  3. ^ "Librarian of Congress Announces National Film Registry Selections for 2007". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-04-24.
  4. ^ a b 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.
  5. ^ Richard Jewell & Vernon Harbin, The RKO Story. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1982. p150
  6. ^ Crowther, Bosley (October 11, 1940). "THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; Laughton in 'They Knew What They Wanted' at Music Hall--Dance, Girl, Dance' at Palace--New Films at Loew's State, Rialto and Cinecitta". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 2, 2019.
  7. ^ Brody, Richard. "Dance, Girl, Dance". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on May 2, 2019.

External links[edit]