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lydecker

Dancing Lady -- What A Mess!

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Watched this recently ("Early Clark Gable" Day) and, sheesh, what a train wreck it is!  After about 10 minutes it became abundantly clear that David O. and MGM simply wanted to outshine 42nd Street but missed by a country mile. First of all, has anybody ever noticed that Joan Crawford simply CANNOT DANCE.  I don't care if she started out as a "dancer" prior to making it big  --  all she ever does is flail around and look like she is doing some bad variation of the Charleston. So very painful to watch.  Obviously Joan (who never really had a very realistic sense of self) thought she was Ginger Rogers and demanded that MGM star her in a big budget musical.  I can't even imagine what poor Fred Astaire went through having to do that big production number with her. Also, didn't anyone realize she was a bit old (almost 30 when the film was made) to be playing the young hopeful???  MGM certainly surrounded her with talent  --  Gable, Astaire, Tone, Robson and the sets and costumes were grand but nothing and nobody could fix this mess.  And, just when you thought it could not get any worse, Ted Healy and the Three Stooges kept popping up. MGM and David O.  What were you thinking????

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When I got the Clark Gable Signature DVD Collection years ago, I watched Dancing Lady for the first - and maybe the last - time. I had the same feeling you did - What IS MGM trying to do here? And WHY does WB think this film is worthy of a Gable signature collection?

Answer to the first question - yes they were trying to copy Warner Brothers' working class/Depression era films but MGM simply had a hard time taking the glitz and gloss off of their films and this mess was the result. It was good to see Astaire in his first film role in which he has such a small part he is simply called "Fred". It is also good to have hard evidence that Ted Healy cutting the Stooges loose was probably the best thing that ever happened to them.  I find Healy insufferable.

Answer to the second question - I think Warner Brothers was planning on releasing a bunch of Gable's other films in the "Forbidden Hollywood" DVD collections they  were planning until the economy crashed at the end of 2008. I specifically remember George Feltenstein saying "starting next year you'll get two boxes (of Forbidden Hollywood DVDs) a year." So lots of films more worthy than Dancing Lady ended up in the Warner Archive. Then the speed with which streaming was feasible surprised everybody (starting in 2012) and so disc releases of any kind just dried up.

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1 hour ago, lydecker said:

Watched this recently ("Early Clark Gable" Day) and, sheesh, what a train wreck it is!  After about 10 minutes it became abundantly clear that David O. and MGM simply wanted to outshine 42nd Street but missed by a country mile. First of all, has anybody ever noticed that Joan Crawford simply CANNOT DANCE.  I don't care if she started out as a "dancer" prior to making it big  --  all she ever does is flail around and look like she is doing some bad variation of the Charleston. So very painful to watch.  Obviously Joan (who never really had a very realistic sense of self) thought she was Ginger Rogers and demanded that MGM star her in a big budget musical.  I can't even imagine what poor Fred Astaire went through having to do that big production number with her. Also, didn't anyone realize she was a bit old (almost 30 when the film was made) to be playing the young hopeful???  MGM certainly surrounded her with talent  --  Gable, Astaire, Tone, Robson and the sets and costumes were grand but nothing and nobody could fix this mess.  And, just when you thought it could not get any worse, Ted Healy and the Three Stooges kept popping up. MGM and David O.  What were you thinking????

I have seen Dancing Lady exactly once and the only reason I watched it was to see Fred Astaire.  I agree with you completely, Joan Crawford is a terrible dancer.  A horrendous dancer.  I know that the "hoofing" style was popular back then.  I find hoofing completely unappealing to watch.  It resembles my impression of tap dancing.  Ruby Keeler's hoofing I also find unappealing.  However, I would watch Keeler clomp around before I'd watch Crawford's attempt at "dancing" again.

I'm actually not a big fan of Crawford in the early part of her career.  My favorite part of her career is the 1940s-1950s era before she got into the horror phase of her career.  I absolutely loved Mildred Pierce, Sudden Fear and Autumn Leaves

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1 minute ago, speedracer5 said:

I have seen Dancing Lady exactly once and the only reason I watched it was to see Fred Astaire.  I agree with you completely, Joan Crawford is a terrible dancer.  A horrendous dancer.  I know that the "hoofing" style was popular back then.  I find hoofing completely unappealing to watch.  It resembles my impression of tap dancing.  Ruby Keeler's hoofing I also find unappealing.  However, I would watch Keeler clomp around before I'd watch Crawford's attempt at "dancing" again.

I'm actually not a big fan of Crawford in the early part of her career.  My favorite part of her career is the 1940s-1950s era before she got into the horror phase of her career.  I absolutely loved Mildred Pierce, Sudden Fear and Autumn Leaves

From 1925-1942 Crawford was a contract MGM player who had to take whatever awful role she was given. I really don't fault her for that. Warner Bros. seemed to have a much better idea of how to utilize her, I agree.

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5 minutes ago, calvinnme said:

From 1925-1942 Crawford was a contract MGM player who had to take whatever awful role she was given. I really don't fault her for that. Warner Bros. seemed to have a much better idea of how to utilize her, I agree.

I wouldn't fault her for the bad roles she had to take on either.  Even just the persona she puts forth just doesn't do anything for me.  There's nothing about her early roles that makes me seek her out and yes, I suppose her lackluster roles could have played a part in that.  I do like her in The Women.  She does play the catty "other woman" very well.  When she moved to Warner Brothers, she seemed to have developed more of an identity and seemed more confident.  Even in lesser films of that era like This Woman is Dangerous, I found her more interesting.  I also loved her in her semi-trashy films like Flamingo Road and The Damned Don't Cry

As shown in The Women and later films, Joan does excel at playing a floozy. 

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1 hour ago, calvinnme said:

From 1925-1942 Crawford was a contract MGM player who had to take whatever awful role she was given. I really don't fault her for that. Warner Bros. seemed to have a much better idea of how to utilize her, I agree.

Were there any young actresses in the early 1930’s that got roles that were right for them 100% of the time? At any studio? The number of films studios were cranking out back then is mind boggling. And the studio heads really were learning on the fly about what worked & what didn’t. I’m not saying that studios today are much better but at least the actors have more autonomy these days. 

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Maybe it's the difference between the high powered grittiness (at its best) of a Warner Brothers melodrama, as opposed to the high gloss (and artificiality) of MGM's products that made the difference for Crawford and the quality of her films. For my money Mildred Pierce and Humoresque represent the twin peaks of the actress's career, no matter what you may think of the material (I'm thinking of the second film, in particular, when I say that).

When I think of Crawford's MGM career I think of three strong performances: Grand Hotel, The Women and A Woman's Face. Maybe there's more than that as there's a lot I haven't sat through but that's three films in around 17 years that have stood the test of time well, by my standards, at least.

Whereas her first two films at Warners, the two I named above, blew 95% her MGM career away as far as dramatic power is concerned.

Crawford, as her middle years approached, also never looked better than in her early Warners films, I thought. I never thought she was more physically striking than when, ironically, playing a dipso n y m p h o in Humoresque.

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I saw Dancing Lady years ago and remember it primarily as the only film to have both Fred Astaire and the Three Stooges in it. Maybe we should all be grateful that the studio didn't ask Fred to dance with them. One more thing, and please pardon the shallow observation, Joan Crawford had very nice legs, which Dancing Lady verifies.

As for her dancing . . .

2057e599130eecf99f5e85eb8de7c6a2.gif

. . . even Ted Healy is speechless.

 

 

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3 hours ago, lydecker said:

First of all, has anybody ever noticed that Joan Crawford simply CANNOT DANCE.

Ruby Keeler couldn't dance either, and that didn't stop 42nd Street.

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2 hours ago, calvinnme said:

Answer to the first question - yes they were trying to copy Warner Brothers' working class/Depression era films but MGM simply had a hard time taking the glitz and gloss off of their films and this mess was the result.

I think that's true for a lot of MGM.  It's a feeling I really get with Johnny Eager and East Side, West Side, and even to an extent with Fury in comparison to Warner Bros.' They Won't Forget.

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1 hour ago, TomJH said:

As for her dancing . . .

2057e599130eecf99f5e85eb8de7c6a2.gif

. . . even Ted Healy is speechless.

 

 

Joan isn't so bad here in this clip from "Dance Fools Dance" (1931).

 

 

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Yes, Crawford's dancing is more impressive in Dance Fools Dance and she looks pretty sexy in that shimmering skimpy outfit, too.

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3 hours ago, speedracer5 said:

As shown in The Women and later films, Joan does excel at playing a floozy. 

I agree, and she seems more interested in those roles, too. She even remarked once (in reference to these type of roles) "If you want the girl next door....go next door." 😄

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1 hour ago, calvinnme said:

Joan isn't so bad here in this clip from "Dance Fools Dance" (1931).

 

 

As my tag-line goes;  nothing is as bad as something not so bad.

 

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3 hours ago, TomJH said:

a26163cb4153c8bfc117cfba303289a7.jpg

I saw Dancing Lady years ago and remember it primarily as the only film to have both Fred Astaire and the Three Stooges in it. Maybe we should all be grateful that the studio didn't ask Fred to dance with them. One more thing, and please pardon the shallow observation, Joan Crawford had very nice legs, which Dancing Lady verifies.

As for her dancing . . .

2057e599130eecf99f5e85eb8de7c6a2.gif

. . . even Ted Healy is speechless.

 

 

Yes, we should all be incredibly grateful that Fred was not asked to dance with the Three Stooges. Small favors . . .

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3 hours ago, Fedya said:

Ruby Keeler couldn't dance either, and that didn't stop 42nd Street.

I hear ya but at least she had the "young hopeful" thing nailed way better than Crawford. (Probably because she actually was in her early 20's when she did the role.)

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5 hours ago, speedracer5 said:

I wouldn't fault her for the bad roles she had to take on either.  Even just the persona she puts forth just doesn't do anything for me.  There's nothing about her early roles that makes me seek her out and yes, I suppose her lackluster roles could have played a part in that.  I do like her in The Women.  She does play the catty "other woman" very well.  When she moved to Warner Brothers, she seemed to have developed more of an identity and seemed more confident.  Even in lesser films of that era like This Woman is Dangerous, I found her more interesting.  I also loved her in her semi-trashy films like Flamingo Road and The Damned Don't Cry

As shown in The Women and later films, Joan does excel at playing a floozy. 

Crawford was really bad in some of those early MGM melodramas like:  Today We Live, Sadie McKee and The Shining Hour, just to name a few. She was much better playing confident, sophisticated women and she did way more of that at Warner Brothers. And, even though it's also a bit of a melodrama, I really like her in Flamingo Road where she refuses to take any crap from Sydney Greenstreet. 

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5 hours ago, calvinnme said:

From 1925-1942 Crawford was a contract MGM player who had to take whatever awful role she was given. I really don't fault her for that. Warner Bros. seemed to have a much better idea of how to utilize her, I agree.

Not sure that Crawford "had to" take every role she was handed at MGM.  She was a pretty big star and after The Gorgeous Hussy did poorly she refused to do Parnell (even with Gable as her potential co-star) and the studio obliged her.  She seemed to be enthusiastic about doing Dancing Lady and apparently had enough clout to insist upon casting Clark Gable (former boyfriend) and Franchot Tone (current boyfriend.) I think she had enough power at MGM to pick and choose at least some of her roles.

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1 hour ago, lydecker said:

Yes, we should all be incredibly grateful that Fred was not asked to dance with the Three Stooges. Small favors . . .

In 1932 Fred Astaire had been cut loose from his longtime partner, his sister Adele Astaire and had one Broadway hit under his belt as a solo artist, "Gay Divorce" by Cole Porter.

In 1933 , he was scheduled to make his first film with RKO, "Flying Down To Rio"; he was to dance in a supporting role  with Ginger Rogers. He had choreographed for her on Broadway. But at this time, they had never danced together in the movies.

Joan Crawford was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood in 1933 and Fred Astaire felt honored to be able to do his film debut with her in "Dancing Lady".

Aside from Broadway audiences, nobody knew who Fred Astaire was.

So he wanted to get some real film experience dancing, as well as audience recognition, before he actually had to be judged in a supporting role.

As terrible as Joan Crawford usually looks when she dances, she appears a lot better with Fred Astaire than I've ever seen her before or after.

 After this film, Fred danced with Ginger Rogers in "Flying Down to Rio" and the rest became history. 

But "Dancing Lady" was just a Prestige Cameo for Fred Astaire, so he could get his feet wet in a big movie without taking any  responsibility if it was a failure. And with two big stars like Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, it was not going to be a failure.

 

*BTW-- I've seen a lot worse MGM movies with big stars than this one.

But I did wince a bit concerning the bigoted  homophobia exhibited by Clark Gable's character against Sterling Holloway.

Just like all of those ugly racist stereotypes, it's interesting to see exactly where the American audiences were in terms of their societal norm's in the1930s.

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2 hours ago, Princess of Tap said:

As terrible as Joan Crawford usually looks when she dances, she appears a lot better with Fred Astaire than I've ever seen her before or after.

 

Astaire apparently agreed with you:  According to Astaire biographer Bill Adler, Astaire "instinctively did all he could in dancing with Crawford to adapt to her limitations and strengths in dancing, and in the end he makes her look good - better, indeed, than she would have looked in anyone else's hands." 

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I am so glad someone else feels that Joan Crawford was a horrible dancer! I know that she always talked about how she started out as a dancer before her film career but she was terrible. I think that *she* thought she was a good dancer & that was part of the problem. I also agree about Ruby Keeler - terrible dancer!

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Its been awhile since I saw this film. At that time, I got the impression Crawford's character was supposed to be a barely able dancer. Barely able to get a job dancing. So it didn't bother me that she wasn't so good. I never fault an actor for playing against type. Sometimes it just doesn't work out.

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I watched this movie, and I have absolutely no recollection of a single thing that happened. 

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19 hours ago, speedracer5 said:

 

I'm actually not a big fan of Crawford in the early part of her career.  My favorite part of her career is the 1940s-1950s era before she got into the horror phase of her career.  I absolutely loved Mildred Pierce, Sudden Fear and Autumn Leaves

Well, MILDRED PIERCE is the "cut-off" point for me as far as Crawford's filmography goes.  Now, I never saw the film in question here, so I can't really comment on her "dancing".  Or too, if her being a dancer was a major factor of her in the story.  I'll have to try to see it whenever it comes around again. 

Sepiatone

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19 hours ago, Fedya said:

I think that's true for a lot of MGM.  It's a feeling I really get with Johnny Eager and East Side, West Side, and even to an extent with Fury in comparison to Warner Bros.' They Won't Forget.

We've never really discussed this on any thread before. Given MGM's reputation as the "Cadillac of movie studios." But I think this studio had a history of copying hits from other studios and infusing their productions with more money, more glamour, as if those superficial layers would conceal the lack of originality. 

This is particularly noticeable when they try to copy RKO's postwar noir of the late 40s, or when they try to compete with Universal's Technicolor westerns in the 50s.

The only area where MGM led the others was in the musical genre.

They ran into trouble in the 60s and 70s when they were trying to compete with television and started copying made-for-TV movies.

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36 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

We've never really discussed this on any thread before. Given MGM's reputation as the "Cadillac of movie studios." But I think this studio had a history of copying hits from other studios and infusing their productions with more money, more glamour, as if those superficial layers would conceal the lack of originality. 

This is particularly noticeable when they try to copy RKO's postwar noir of the late 40s, or when they try to compete with Universal's Technicolor westerns in the 50s. 

The only area where MGM led the others was in the musical genre.

They ran into trouble in the 60s and 70s when they were trying to compete with television and started copying made-for-TV movies. 

Oh, as long as Irving Thalberg was alive I think MGM did pretty well in all genres that they worked in with the occasional miss such as Dancing Lady.  Plus they had a hard time with comedies. Then they coasted on the strength  of their talent until about 1946 when post-War tastes changed.  Then they would waffle back and forth between light family entertainment and hard hitting noirs and dramas. Then they went through a phase of remaking so many of their old hits, often as musicals that were never as good as the original. Ben-Hur (1959), although a remake, was really MGM's  last hurrah. One of MGM's biggest hits in years was "That's Entertainment" in the 1970s, which was really all about MGM's past glories.

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