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Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)

An R-K-O Radio Picture

Executive Producer: Harry E. Edington
Produced by Erich Pommer
Directed by Dorothy Arzner

Screenplay by Tess Slesinger and Frank Davis
Story by Vicki Baum

Maureen O'Hara as Judy O'Brien
Louis Hayward as Jimmy Harris
Lucille Ball as Bubbles
Virginia Field as Elinor Harris
Ralph Bellamy as Steve Adams
Mary Carlisle as Sally
Edward Brophy as "Dwarfie" Humblewinger
Maria Ouspenkaya as Madame Lydia Basilova

Songs: "Mother, What Do I Do Now",
"Morning Star", "Jitterbug Bite"
Lyrics by Chester Forrest and Robert Wright
Music by Edward Ward ("Morning Star" & "Jitterbug Bite")

Dances staged by: Ernst Matray
Gowns by Edward Stevenson

The Gist of it: An aspiring ballerina and a gold-digging burlesque queen are rivals in everything from love to the spotlight.
Detailed Synopsis:
Dance, Girl, Dance is about the trials and tribulations of two dancers. One is a sweet, good-natured aspiring ballerina named Judy O'Brien (Maureen O'Hara). The other is a beautiful, self-centered "dame" who puts alot more "oomph" into her dancing, she's known simply as "Bubbles" (Lucille Ball). They belong to the same dancing troupe. The scene opens at a seedy nightclub the girls work at in Akron, Ohio. Just as they finish their number the club is raided because it's really a front for a gambling den in the back room. The handsome, wealthy Jimmy Harris (Louis Hayward) happens to be there that night, drowning his sorrows because his marriage is falling apart. Bubbles makes a play for him but he looks right past her to Judy, to whom he is instantly attracted. The feeling is mutual. They hit it off until he notices her blue eyes, which remind him all too much of his estranged wife. When Bubbles tries to work her charm on him again he responds and goes off with her, leaving a disappointed Judy wondering what on earth just happened. But she quickly puts it past her. As she points out to her friend Sally (Mary Carlisle), "The only thing I really care about, is dancing". Of more importance at the moment is finding another job, so the troupe make their way back to New York.

Back in the big city, their agent, Madame Basilova (Maria Ouspenskaya) gets them an audition for a hula number. Bubbles has yet to return from Akron so Judy does the solo. She is a ballet dancer, and unfortunately, her "classy" style is not what they are looking for in a hula. Just when the girls think they've lost another job, Bubbles comes along and saves the day with her more "oomph"-filled interpretation of the hula. Unfortunately, she does it so well on her own, she alone gets the job. After three days of hula dancing in Hoboken, Bubbles is discovered by burlesque show producer "Dwarfie" Humblewinger (Edward Brophy), who turns her into "Tiger" Lily White, burlesque queen.

Dwarfie has a new idea for Lily's show- before her big number, he'd like to have a ballerina go out and get the crowd riled up, a "stooge", if you will. The crowd will be expecting a striptease and demand for Bubbles to come back out, which he hopes, will turn "Tiger" Lily into an overnight sensation. Bubbles suggests Judy for the part. Judy is ecstatic about the job, she doesn't realize she is really being hired to be Bubbles' "stooge". On opening night it comes as a big surprise to her when she hears all the boo's and hisses from the audience. She feels awful, but the job pays well and all she cares about is that she gets the chance to do what she loves, dance ballet, so she stays on. Dwarfie was right, Lily becomes the biggest hit on Broadway and Judy climbs the ladder of fame right along with her.

Then one night, the gentleman they'd met in Akron, Jimmy Harris, goes to their show, still reeling from his recent divorce. But his troubles are forgotten when he sees Judy. He doesn't remember that they'd met before in Akron at first, but when he does, they decide to pick up where they left off before Bubbles came between them. Harris begins romancing Judy and enraging Bubbles with jealousy because he's the first man to prefer Judy over her! Everything seems to be going great between Judy and Jimmy, but, she soon finds out, he is still in love with his ex-wife, Elinor (Virginia Field). Though he does genuinely care for Judy, Elinor still has his heart. The truth comes out and Judy is reasonably upset. But Jimmy's still confused about his feelings. Though he and his estranged wife obviously still love each other, it doesn't look like they can ever make it work out, so he comes to the false conclusion that he loves Judy, not Elinor. After hitting the bottle, trying to drown his sorrows, he goes to see Judy to explain everything, but she won't see him.

Meanwhile, Bubbles' interest in Mr. Harris escalates when she learns he's rich. She takes advantage of his drunken state and elopes with him solely for the purpose of getting his money. That night at the show, Judy learns of the elopement and is heartbroken. When her number comes up, after a few of the usual boo's and smart remarks from the audience, she stands up to the them and tells the entire crowd off. After her speech the audience gives her a rousing applause and when Bubbles comes out with her burlesque routine, she gets all the boo's and hisses. This infuriates Bubbles and she slaps Judy. Then, the already infuriated Judy hits her back. From this a full scale fight ensues between them on stage.

The girls are hauled into the night court. While Bubbles is complaining about her black eye, Judy, without a hair out of place, tells the judge the whole story. She willingly admits she started the fight is sentenced to ten days in jail or fifty dollars bail. A talent agent, Steve Adams (Ralph Bellamy), who had been interested in Judy (both romantically and professionally) the entire time, bails her out the following day and gives her a real dancing job, doing what she's always dreamed of, ballet dancing. Meanwhile, Jimmy arranges for his marriage to Bubbles to be annulled and finally gets back together with Elinor. As for Bubbles, she exits her last scene telling reporters, "Just call it 'Tiger Lily Throws Playboy Back to Mate' -for fifty thousand dollars."

Background, Notes & Quotes:
Dance, Girl, Dance began filming in late 1939. Lucille played, by her own description, "a tough, wisecracking stripteaser", in contrast to the prim and proper ballerina played by Maureen O'Hara - two personalities so different that the characters indeed come to blows in one scene. I've heard that during filming of this scene they closed the set and charged admission to anyone who wanted to see the two screen beauties battle it out! Then they donated the money to charity. The two had a knockdown, drag out fight for the cameras, then went over to the studio commissary to have lunch together!

It was immediately after the filming of this scene that Lucille met Desi Arnaz for the first time, in the RKO commissary. She was still in her torn dress and sporting a fake black eye when they were introduced to each other by George Abbott, the producer of her next film, Too Many Girls. It was not the ideal first impression, but it didn't matter. Maureen O'Hara says, "Lucille fell like a ton of bricks." They went on a publicity tour together across the country for Dance, Girl, Dance and she remembers Lucille talked about him all the time.

Though some of you may not agree with me, I think Dance, Girl, Dance is really a terrific film. It may have been just a "B" picture, and may not be considered a cinematic masterpiece but it's actually one of my all-time favorites. It's one of those films I could never get tired of watching. It's a sweet movie with a message of hope and perseverance that speaks to me. The director was Dorothy Arzner, one of the first female directors in Hollywood. She elicited fantastic performances from both Lucille and Maureen. Maureen's performance of Judy O'Brien is simply touching; it wasn't long before she became a major star.

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