Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) starring Lucille Ball, Maureen O’Hara
Dance, Girl, Dance is the story of hard-working ballet dancer Judy O’Brien (Maureen O’Hara). She and her street-wise gal-pal Bubbles (Lucille Ball) work as members of a small-time dance troupe operated by Madame Basilova (Maria Ouspenskaya). The story begins with their dance troupe performing in a seedy nightclub in Akron, Ohio. A rich young man named Jimmy Harris (Louis Hayward) is there drowning his sorrows — his marriage is falling apart. No sooner do the dancers finish their number when the place is raided by the police for illegal gambling. Jimmy makes eyes at Judy — which irritates Bubbles, since she’s always the first to get a man’s attention. Since Judy reminds him of his wife, however, he goes off with Bubbles. This leaves Judy behind to focus on her true love – ballet dancing.
Back in New York City, the troupe is desperately trying to find a new job. They’re auditioning for a hula dance routine. They’re failing until Bubbles returns, and auditions an earthy hula dance — and gets the job. The rest of the troupe, however, is out of luck. After 3 days of her hula dancing, Bubbles is “discovered” by “Dwarfie”. He turns her into Tiger Lily White, the queen of burlesque.
When Bubbles leaves to become a burlesque headliner, Madame arranges for Judy to get her big break with New York’s leading ballet company. However, a typical Hollywood plot twist prevents it. Instead, Judy is recruited as the “stooge” for Bubbles in her burlesque act. Judy does a legitimate ballet dance after Bubbles’ sexy “Mother, What Do I Do Now?” act — getting the rowdy crowd to demand more of Bubbles.
Complications arise when recently-divorced Jimmy Harris comes back onto the scene, falling for Judy — but marrying Bubbles while inebriated. Bubbles doesn’t love him, but sees him as a source of money. This puts some steel in Judy’s spine. She tells off the audience, leading them to applaud her instead of Bubbles. This leads to an all-out catfight between Judy and Bubbles on stage, which ends up in night court. At the court, the talent agent Steve Adams (Ralph Bellamy) — who Judy was supposed to audition for earlier, and who has been keeping an eye on her — offers to pay her fine. But Judy’s feminine pride gets in the way — for a little while.
The film ends on a happily ever after note. Jimmy Harris is reconciled with his wife. Judy is dancing the ballet she loves. And Bubbles now $50,000 richer for her convenient divorce from Jimmy. In all, Dance, Girl, Dance is an excellent film. Lucille Ball giving a good performance, both comedic and dramatic, as the gold-digger with a heart of gold. I rate it 3.5 stars out of 5.
Songs in Dance, Girl, Dance
- Beer Barrel Polka – danced and sung by Lucille Ball and the chorus girls
- Mother, What Do I Do Now? – sung by Lucille Ball in the Bailey Brothers Burlesque Theater
- Jitterbug Bite – sung by Lucille Ball in the Bailey Brothers Burlesque Theater
- Morning Star
Quotes from Dance, Girl, Dance
Dancer: If you fell in the gutter, you’d come up with a diamond necklace.
Bubbles / Tiger Lily White (Lucille Ball): Listen, squirt! I don’t fall in gutters. I pick my spots.
Dancer: Nice fur; is it from Sam?
Bubbles / Tiger Lily White (Lucille Ball): Yeah, it’s fox; but there’s a little skunk in Sam, or I wouldn’t be here.
Stage manager: Give ’em all you got, baby!
Bubbles / Tiger Lily White (Lucille Ball): They couldn’t take it.
Bubbles / Tiger Lily White (Lucille Ball): You never told me he had money!
Judy O’Brien (Maureen O’Hara): Go on, laugh, get your money’s worth. No-one’s going to hurt you. I know you want me to tear my clothes off so you can look your fifty cents’ worth. Fifty cents for the privilege of staring at a girl the way your wives won’t let you. What do you suppose we think of you up here with your silly smirks your mothers would be ashamed of? We know it’d the thing of the moment for the dress suits to come and laugh at us too. We’d laugh right back at the lot of you, only we’re paid to let you sit there and roll your eyes and make your screamingly clever remarks. What’s it for? So you can go home when the show’s over, strut before your wives and sweethearts and play at being the stronger sex for a minute? I’m sure they see through you. I’m sure they see through you just like we do!
Bubbles / Tiger Lily White (Lucille Ball): [to Judy] I married a friend of yours … James Harris, Jr.
Trivia for Dance, Girl, Dance
- Lucille Ball and Maureen O’Hara became inseparable friends while shooting this film. They remained lifelong friends until Ball’s death in 1989. O’Hara was having lunch with her when Ball first saw her future husband Desi Arnaz.
- Lucille Ball met her future husband, Desi Arnaz, while she was shooting the picture. On the very day she first met him, she was made-up to look like she had just emerged from a catfight with scratches, a black eye and bandages. This resulted in Arnaz not paying much attention to her. The next time he saw her, she was not in costume and he was instantly smitten.
- A critical and commercial failure in its day, RKO ended up losing $400,000 over the film’s underperformance.
Editorial review of Dance, Girl, Dance by Amazon.com
If you only know Lucille Ball from her phenomenal success as a TV comedienne, Dance, Girl, Dance will be a surprising revelation. Not only can Lucy dance and sing with the best of them (after all, she spent part of the 1930s playing a glamorous showgirl in various Goldwyn musicals), but she handily steals the spotlight from Maureen O’Hara in this good-looking RKO production from 1940. Lucy’s big break had come only three years earlier (in Stage Door), but she’d been working in Hollywood for seven years when this enjoyable movie demonstrated the potential for movie stardom that Lucy deserved but never fully achieved.
She’s a bit brassy and a bit sassy, but she’s got a heart of gold as Bubbles, a struggling ballet dancer who takes a skin-baring job in a burlesque club (under the man-teasing stage name of “Tiger Lily White”) to boost her chances of show-biz success. She’s a saucy gold-digger compared to the modestly forthright Judy (O’Hara), but their friendship sees them through as they share a dangerous dalliance with a millionaire playboy (Louis Hayward) before Judy discovers true love with Steve (Ralph Bellamy) the gentlemanly leader of a ballet company.
It’s not a classic by any means, but Dance, Girl, Dance is still briskly entertaining, and there’s a touch of surprising melodrama involving O’Hara’s ballet mentor (played by Maria Ouspenskaya). This movie also has the greater distinction of being directed by Dorothy Arzner, one of the only women (along with Ida Lupino) to break into the male-dominated profession of directing in golden-age Hollywood.
Working from a savvy screenplay by Tess Slesinger and Frank Davis, Arzner gives Dance, Girl, Dance a feminist sensibility that was ahead of its time, later embraced by fans and critics as one of this movie’s most enduring qualities. Also included in The Lucille Ball Film Collection, this DVD includes two short subjects from 1940: The 20-minute Vitaphone “two-reeler” “Just a Cute Kid,” from a story by Damon Runyon and featuring comedy star Frank Faylen, and “Malibu Beach Party,” a pun-filled Merrie Melodies cartoon hosted by “Jack Bunny” and featuring a variety of sun-tanned cameos from animated Hollywood stars. –Jeff Shannon