Dance, Fools, Dance (Harry Beaumont / U.S., 1931):

The tale is summed up as a tabloid headline ("Society Girl Turns Reporter"), a long joke on the end of the Twenties. The era's hedonism is promptly sketched as a moonlit tango danced aboard a Chicago yacht, the ocean welcomes the posh nitwits in their undies while the Old Guard plays cards. "Spare the love, spoil the child... A good alibi." Down goes the stock exchange and with it the indulgent paterfamilias, the pampered Jazz Baby (Joan Crawford) and her sodden brother (William Bakewell) must join the rest of the country struggling to stay afloat. Muckraking and bootlegging are the current markets, she leaps from typist to cub reporter while he stumbles into the world of speakeasies and penthouses, a gangland rubout braids them together. The no-frills director, Harry Beaumont, perks up for wordless curlicues of glamour involving hair dryers and cigarette smoke, then wakes up in a brief, striking sequence: The nosy newshound (Cliff Edwards) is gunned down in a back alley, the camera pans across a row of fulminating typewriters before pausing on a vacant, silent one. (Wellman’s Love Is a Racket and Ozu’s Dragnet Girl are adjacent.) First and foremost a Crawford film, a key persona transition from carefree party girl to self-determined working girl, with quite a frisky gamut in between. The star laughs at her fiancée’s half-assed proposal, narrows her high-beam peepers at the friends scavenging through her old mansion, clomps her way through a nightclub rendition of "Accordion Joe," and scores her scoop through a tide of tears. (As a tuxedoed hoodlum, the raw Clark Gable matches her in swagger.) A kiss photographed before a cheering crowd figures in the self-reflexive closing gag, MGM always knew its audience. With Lester Vail, William Holden, Earle Foxe, and Natalie Moorhead. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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