The Dance of Life

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The Dance of Life
Directed byJohn Cromwell
A. Edward Sutherland
Written byBenjamin Glazer
Julian Johnson (titles)
Based onBurlesque (play)
by George Manker Watters and Arthur Hopkins
StarringHal Skelly
Nancy Carroll
CinematographyJ. Roy Hunt
Edited byGeorge Nichols Jr.
Music byAdolph Deutsch
Vernon Duke
John Leipold
Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release dates
  • August 16, 1929 (1929-08-16) (New York City)
  • September 7, 1929 (1929-09-07) (U.S.)
Running time
115 minutes
The Dance of Life
(full movie, public domain)

The Dance of Life is a 1929 American pre-Code musical film. It is the first of three film adaptations of the popular 1927 Broadway play Burlesque, with the others being Swing High, Swing Low (1937) and When My Baby Smiles at Me (1948). The film was directed by John Cromwell (who also appeared in the film with a small part)[1] and A. Edward Sutherland.[2] Hal Skelly appeared in the lead role as Ralph “Skid” Johnson after playing the same role in the Broadway version at the Plymouth Theater. He took part in the production for fifty two weeks before leaving his role to take part in the film.[3] Charles D. Brown, Ralph Theodore and Oscar Levant also appeared in the Broadway production.[4]

The Dance of Life was shot at Paramount's Astoria Studios in Astoria, Queens, and included Technicolor sequences, directed by John Cromwell and A. Edward Sutherland.


Burlesque comic Ralph "Skid" Johnson, and specialty dancer Bonny Lee King, end up together on a cold, rainy night at a train station, after she fails an audition with a vaudeville company and he complains about her treatment by the impresario of the show and is fired. They decide to team up and apply for work with a much better show on "the big wheel" called the High Steppers Burlesque Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, run by Lefty Miller.[4]

Miller hires the duo and the two fall in love. Later Skid asks her to marry him, but he gets drunk and ruins their wedding night. During this time a female comic, Sylvia Marco, who is attracted to Skid, tries to come between them. Skid is offered a solo part in the Ziegfeld Follies in New York and Bonnie encourages him to take it, but stays behind. Unbeknownst to Bonnie, Sylvia is also hired for the show. After his success on the big stage he neglects to send for her so after Lefty's show closes, Bonnie travels to New York to see him. She sends him a telegram letting him know she's coming to see him and to meet her backstage at the theater. After she arrives Skid has already left the theater, but she is told he may be at a speakeasy. She talks the doorkeeper into letting her in to see her husband but she finds him kissing Sylvia. Bonnie leaves him a note that says she will be filing for divorce which leaves him devastated.

The two are separated and Bonnie plans to marry Harvey Howell. Skid is still heartbroken over the break up and finds solace in alcohol, which is ruining his career. Lefty hires him for the lead role in his upcoming show provided Skid can stay sober, but Skid's drinking problem leaves him unable to perform, which puts the show in jeopardy. In order to save the show, Lefty sends for Bonnie to help Skid sober up so that he can perform and the two are reunited. But Skid passes out on stage on opening night which ruins the show. Bonnie joins him on stage the following night and Skid is able to perform.[2][4]



  • "True Blue Lou"
Music by Richard A. Whiting
Lyrics by Sam Coslow and Leo Robin
Sung by Hal Skelly
  • "The Flippity Flop"
Music by Richard A. Whiting
Lyrics by Sam Coslow and Leo Robin
  • "King of Jazzmania"
Music by Richard A. Whiting
Lyrics by Sam Coslow and Leo Robin
  • "Ladies of the Dance"
Music by Richard A. Whiting
Lyrics by Sam Coslow and Leo Robin
  • "Cuddlesome Baby"
Music by Richard A. Whiting
Lyrics by Sam Coslow and Leo Robin
  • "Mightiest Matador"
Music by Richard A. Whiting
Lyrics by Sam Coslow and Leo Robin
  • "Sweet Rosie O'Grady"
Written by Maude Nugent
  • "In the Gloaming"
Music by Annie Fortescue Harrison
Lyrics by Meta Orred
  • "Sam, the Old Accordion Man"
Written by Walter Donaldson

Copyright status[edit]

In 1957, the film entered the public domain (in the USA) because the claimants did not renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.[5]

Preservation status[edit]

No color prints survive, only black-and-white prints made in the 1950s for TV broadcast.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tibbetts, John C. (1985). The American Theatrical Film, Stages in Development. Bowling Green, Ohio, USA: Bowling Green State University Press. p. 130. ISBN 0879722894.
  2. ^ a b Mordden, Ethan (2016). When Broadway Went to Hollywood. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. pp. 17–19. ISBN 978-0199395408.
  3. ^ "Now At the Circle "Dance of Life"". The Indianapolis Times. Indianapolis, IN. September 21, 1929. Retrieved September 9, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c Bradley, Edwin M (2004). The First Hollywood Musicals, A Critical Filmography of 171 Features, 1927 Through 1932. Jefferson, North Carolina, USA: McFarland Inc. Pub. pp. 54–56. ISBN 9780786420292.
  5. ^ Pierce, David (June 2007). "Forgotten Faces: Why Some of Our Cinema Heritage Is Part of the Public Domain". Film History: An International Journal. 19 (2): 125–43. doi:10.2979/FIL.2007.19.2.125. ISSN 0892-2160. JSTOR 25165419. OCLC 15122313. S2CID 191633078.

External links[edit]