Dames (1934)

Dames (1934)

“I’m free, white, and 21. I love to dance, and I’m going to dance!”

A priggish multi-millionaire (Hugh Herbert) promises $10 million to his relative (Guy Kibbee) if Kibbee and his wife (Zasu Pitts) prove that they live morally upright lives; but the couple’s chance at wealth is compromised by both their performance-loving daughter (Ruby Keeler) — who is secretly dating a songwriter (Dick Powell) — and a blackmailing gold-digger (Joan Blondell) who takes advantage of innocent Kibbee.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Blackmail
  • Busby Berkeley Films
  • Dick Powell Films
  • Inheritance
  • Joan Blondell Films
  • Millionaires
  • Morality Police
  • Musicals
  • Ruby Keeler Films
  • Zasu Pitts Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately writes that “Busby Berkeley production numbers give needed flash to [this] lackluster comedy and make it a suitable second feature to the Gold Diggers films, Footlight Parade, or 42nd Street.” Indeed, it’s the three finale numbers — most notably the surreally choreographed “I Only Have Eyes For You”, in which Ruby Keeler’s image is replicated ad infinitum — that will stick in one’s memory after the film is over; you’ll likely quickly forget most of the ho-hum plot, featuring an unconvincing (miscast?) Hugh Herbert as an “eccentric millionaire”, and Joan Blondell (“seven months pregnant at the time”) as a surprisingly unlikable blackmailer whose manipulative treatment of “befuddled” Kibbee doesn’t seem fair or justified.

Peary — clearly not an enormous Ruby Keeler fan — writes that she “does about 20 clunky tap steps to win a part in the show and does little else memorable except wear shorts” (!); and he further notes that Powell, while “obnoxiously brash”, “does a good job crooning”. Ultimately, this one is only must-see viewing for Berkeley completists — but the culminating numbers (including the “extravaganza [title] finale… featuring lots of beautiful chorus girls swooping into dramatic close-ups and… forming bizarre geometric patterns”) are most definitely worth a look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Berkeley’s marvelous finale songs: “The Girl At the Ironing Board”, “I Only Have Eyes for You”, and “Dames”

Must See?
No, though it’s recommended for one-time viewing.


One thought on “Dames (1934)

  1. Not a must.

    If you glance at the various titles of the musicals of this period which only became more like extravaganzas thanks to Busby Berkeley, you will probably have difficulty (as I do) remembering which one is which. In that sense, they are rather like films with The Marx Brothers and Hope and Crosby. Truth be told, without Berkeley on board, many of them would probably not be worth viewing at all. What’s particularly annoying about some of them – like ‘Dames’ in particular – is that Berkeley’s work does not enter the picture until close to the end, when apparently it is expected to save the day. (And ‘Dames’ needs a lot of saving because it has one of the worst scripts in the series.)

    Were the producers thinking ‘Dames’ would be forgiven by audiences once the big numbers started? It’s likely. …If they’re still awake at that point. Busby does indeed come up to the plate for a big, extended finale. But that’s why YouTube can be such a blessing these days. If you’re asking me, search the songs from this film on YouTube – and spare yourself the general dumbness of ‘Dames’.

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