Dance, Fools, Dance (1931)

“Society: what is it but a lot of people who are for you when you’re on the up and up — and what would one of ’em do for you if it came to a showdown?”

Synopsis:
After the untimely death of their businessman father (William Holden), two formerly wealthy siblings — Bonnie (Joan Crawford) and Bob (William Bakewell) — go to work: Bonnie as a cub reporter, and Bob as a bootleg salesman for a local gangster (Clark Gable). Things get sticky, however, when Bonnie’s co-worker (Cliff Edwards) is killed while investigating some gangland murders, and Bonnie discovers that her brother played a part.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this enjoyable “early Joan Crawford talkie” is particularly notable for merging “her then-popular hedonistic flapper/dancing girl” (see, for instance, Our Dancing Daughters) “with the noble working girl she’d play in the following years.” Crawford is indeed “impressive” here, coming across as both “likable and extremely glamorous” — her character is sexy, savvy, and (unlike her spoiled alcoholic brother) easily able to dismiss her former life of comfort once she realizes how shallow her society “friends” really are; as Peary notes, both she and Gable (whose role is minimal) clearly exhibit the “star quality” that would rocket them to future success. While the storyline itself features a few too many coincidences to be entirely believable, it’s nonetheless an enjoyable snapshot of the Depression era, when countless Americans found themselves scrounging for work, and bootlegging dominated the criminal underworld. Watch for risque Pre-Code moments sprinkled throughout the film: in addition to the infamous early “underwear swim” (see photo still below), Crawford offers herself sexually to her boyfriend (Lester Vail) by stating unequivocally that she believes in trying out love “on probation”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Joan Crawford as Bonnie Jordan (Peary nominates her for an Alternate Oscar as best actress of the year)
    Dance Fools Crawford
  • Clark Gable as Jake Luva
    Dance Fools Gable
  • Crawford and Gable’s genuine chemistry together
    Dance Fools Chemistry
  • Several deliciously naughty pre-code moments — including the infamous “underwear swim” off the yacht
    Dance Fools Swim

Must See?
Yes, as one of Joan’s best early flicks.

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One Response to “Dance, Fools, Dance (1931)”

  1. Unfortunately, I don’t find this film all that impressive overall, and don’t think it’s a must.

    Gable does a standard thug thing and Joan comes across to me as much too mannered and much too conscious of the camera; not that she’s uncomfortable in front of it – far from it – but, like an exhibitionist, she seems to keep checking that it’s watching!

    There are plenty of other films of this period, covering similar territory, that are more worthy of must-see status.

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