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Dance, Fools, Dance
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MGM. 82 minutes.
US general release: 3/20/31.
VHS release: 3/27/91.
Warner Archive DVD release: 3/23/09.
Cast: Joan Crawford (as "Bonnie Jordan"), Lester Vail, Cliff Edwards, William Bakewell, William Holden, Clark Gable, Earle Fox, Purnell B. Pratt, Hale Hamilton, Natalie Moorhead, Joan Marsh, Russell Hopton.
Credits: From the story by Aurania Rouverol. Continuity: Richard Schayer. Dialogue: Aurania Rouverol. Director: Harry Beaumont. Camera: Charles Rosher. Editor: George Hively.
Plot Summary: Joan Crawford and William Bakewell play the spoiled-rotten grown children of stockbroker William Holden. When Wall Street lays its famous egg in 1929, Crawford and Bakewell find that they can no longer pursue their flamboyant lifestyle (for example, they'll have to put a moratorium on the sort of "lingerie parties" with which this film opens). Crawford gets a newspaper job, while Bakewell ties up with vicious bootlegger Clark Gable. When Gable is implicated in the murder of seven gangsters (a transparent reenactment of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre), Crawford's fellow reporter Cliff Edwards gets proof of Gable's complicity. Bakewell is ordered to kill Edwards; Crawford, not knowing of her brother's actions, takes Edwards' place, wooing Gable in hopes of getting a scoop. When Gable finds out that Crawford's working undercover (so to speak), he prepares to rub her out, but her life is saved by Bakewell at the cost of his own. Compared to the rest of the stick-figure leading men in Dance Fools Dance, Clark Gable stood out like a testosterone-soaked thumb, and it wouldn't be long before he'd be promoted from villains to heroes. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
• The film began production on 11/4/30.
• It cost approximately $289,000 to make and returned more than $900,000 in profit (Ultimate Star).
• An initial title for the film, which was printed on some lobby cards, was Key to the City.
• This was Joan's first of eight films with Clark Gable.
Mordaunt Hall in the New York Times
March 21, 1931
Probably "Dance, Fools, Dance" is a good title as motion-picture titles go, but a metaphysician might exhaust his learning trying to reconcile it with the melodrama of newspapers and gangdom in which Joan Crawford is featured at the Capitol. Outside of that and a number of incredible turns in a strictly made-to-order plot, the new picture is a brisk and lively entertainment of its sort, and it brought scattered applause from a thin audience at its first showing yesterday. The scenes of a city room in a metropolitan daily are authentic.
The story draws for its drama on two high spots in Chicago's recent crime history—the shooting of Jake Lingle and the celebrated St. Valentine's day massacre. Miss Crawford, as Bonnie Jordan, goes to work as a cub reporter after her wealthy father loses his fortune in the market. Her brother Rodney, a shiftless youth, gets mixed up with a beer-running gang, and is the man at the wheel of the car from which a machine gun mows down seven members of a rival gang.
The star reporter, played without the aid of a banjo by Cliff Edwards, is put on the story, learns too much, and is murdered. The paper offers a $25,000 reward for the capture of the murderers. Bonnie is sent out to gain the confidence of the suspected gang chief, Jake Luva, and what happens thereafter is just about what four out of five will suspect at this point in the film.
The love motif presents Lester Vail as an heir to millions who regards Bonnie as an empty-headed playgirl, while she has money, and who discovers his love for her only after she has gotten along very well without his aid.
Clark Gable's characterization of the gang chieftain is a vivid and authentic bit of acting, and Mr. Edwards makes an interesting reporter. Miss Crawford's acting is still self-conscious, but her admirers will find her performance well up to her standard. William Bakewell never loses sight of the fact that his part calls for a hard-drinking young weakling. On the whole, Harry Beaumont, for his direction, deserves most of the applause for "Dance, Fools, Dance."
John Campbell in the New York Times (after a showing of DFD at a French film festival)
January 10, 1932
...Another film which has attracted attention in the past fortnight has been "La Pente." This is the dubbed version of "Dance, Fools, Dance" and marks the first of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films completed in Hollywood under their new system. It is also the first appearance of Joan Crawford and Clark Gable here in talking pictures for the French public, although several of their films have been released in small houses in the original versions.
For the first time the critics have been lenient with dubbing. Eleven out of fourteen recommended the picture, with the result that the box office records of the Folies-Dramatiques have been shattered.
One critic predicted that Gable would become an idol of such importance in France within eight months that he will soon be acclaimed the new Valentino. And it appears to be the presence of the two stars rather than the story of this film—considered by the French to be too brutal—that will make the picture a success throughout French-speaking countries.
Again Joan Crawford proves herself a great dramatic actress. The story... is hokum, but it's good hokum and Joan breathes life into her characterization.
Harry Marshall of harrys-stuff.com (2003)Dance, Fools, Dance was conceived as a Crawford vehicle - and she certainly lives up to it. This film will set her on a new path, the "strong woman," and will lead her to films like "Rain" and "Sadie McKee." In Dance, Fools, Dance we see the on-screen persona of the true star - we can believe in her as the character Bonnie Jordan, but we are also always aware we are watching Joan Crawford. And her dancing is not bad either....
If you've seen Dance, Fools, Dance and would like to share your review here, please e-mail me. Include, if you like, a picture of yourself to accompany your review, as well as a star-rating (with 5 stars the best) and any of your favorite lines from the film.
Michael Lia (January 2011)
Rating: of 5
A perfect movie of the times and of the genre. Miss Crawford moves in to the '30s with her drive for perfection strictly in focus, and MGM guides their young investment with roles for growth and public consumption.
This is a film that can get better after more than one viewing. It does have the "early talkie feeling" in photography and sound recording; however, most films of that time had that awkward balance. Miss Crawford jumps over the cables and the confusion of the sound stage to deliver a performance that is quite fetching at times. She is still rough around the edges but ripening before our very eyes and the audience's, too!
The writers supplied a script with everything: the stock market crash of 1929; the Depression; high society and the class system, including judgment and limitations, bitchy jealous women, bootlegging, gangsters, murder, unrequited love, sex, innuendo, dancing, and speakeasies, journalism, reporters, sibling relations, death of a parent, danger and intrigue -- everything but cowboys and Indians! After 80 years, this film and our lives have not changed that much!
has not changed too much, either. Miss Crawford’s character, after losing her father in the stock market crash, gets a job at a newspaper to help get rid of a gangster, played by (this film marks the duo's first film appearance together -- and we know what that led to!).
Well, of course she gets a job in Gable's night club in true Hollywood tradition and dances with a bevy of chorus girls as the lead dancer -- that is fast action and advancement! If she drove a car in this film she would always get a parking spot in the busiest city. No matter. I just went with the fun.
My enjoyment of this film includes those familiar Miss Crawford is often graced with, most of whom came from vaudeville and early American theater. My cinema sentiment loves Cliff Edwards (Montana Moon), Purnell Pratt (Grand Hotel), and Natalie Moorhead (The Thin Man and an uncredited role in The Women), who dated fast but got a nice close-up and smoke blown in her face by Gable. The script dumps her after a few moments and she disappears. Miss Moorhead sadly never got a chance to perform a good role as changes in Hollywood and the fickle public moved very fast.
William Blakewell, as Joan’s brother, plays a lazy, soppy, weak, impressionable alcoholic with great skill and redeems himself in the end by killing bad guy Gable and saving Joan and the memory of the reporter Gable had killed. Lester Vail plays Joan’s love interest, whom some might think rather dull. However, he had success on Broadway as an actor and director, ending his days on The Donna Reed Show! Miss Crawford was lucky to learn from many artists of her day.
I enjoyed Miss Crawford’s dancing costume; her dancing was perfectly suited to the times and to Mr. Gable’s night club. She really does sparkle here with a vivacity that is energizing and performs in the fashion we expect. She catches Mr. Gable’s eye -- and probably something else, too! I hope you see what he saw!
Stephen (January 2007)
Dance Fools Dance is one of Joan's better early sound films. It starts out with Joan as a rich jazz baby partying on a yacht with other young ne'er-do-wells. It's easy to partake of the fun and the risque lingerie show. After the stock market crash, and Joan's dad's subsequent death by heart attack, Joan has to go to work as a newspaper reporter. Her brother gets a job with the mob.
Joan goes undercover as a dancer at a mob dive to get a story. She meets Clark Gable and sparks fly. Joan does arguably her best dancing in this film. She's young, sexy and fun. Clark on the other hand is menacing and a treat to watch. One of his molls, Natalie Moorehead, lights his cigarette and in gratitude Clark blows smoke in her face. But the tables are turned when Clark lights Joan's cigarette and she pays him back in kind by blowing smoke in his face.
I won't spoil the ending but Dance Fools Dance is worth 2 hours of your time. Joan's monumental magnetism comes through loud and clear and even overshadows Gable's much-ballyhooed magnetism. Rent it today. Or better yet buy the vid.
Above left: An MGM photo-montage publicity card.
Above: A U.S. pressbook.
Above: A herald from Uruguay.
Below left: A Danish program. Below right: A Pelham, New York, window card.
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