Dance, Girl, Dance (Dorothy Arzner / U.S., 1940):

After her Pygmalion (The Bride Wore Red), Dorothy Arzner's Snow-White and Rose-Red. "Can you dance?" "Eh, it's been called that." It tilts down from a factory sign to the little nightclub with the fancy name, then dissolves to a moving camera on a row of top-hatted chorines; a police raid disperses the crowd and the lasses are left unpaid, a depressed playboy (Louis Hayward) takes up a collection in a flash of gallantry. The hopeful (Maureen O'Hara) is idealistic and dedicated and has quite the simmering Irish temper, her opposite number is the brassy wriggler (Lucille Ball) who cloaks her generosity behind a wised-up veneer. Their mentor (Maria Ouspenskaya) is a gray imperial instructor demoted to Times Square "jellyfish salesman," all too aware of the "oomph" in spectacle: Both girls perform a hula routine for the cigar-chomping Male Gaze, O'Hara's demure shimmies (eyes glazed over, stogie at half-chub) versus Ball's swiveling hips (popped peepers, puffing away). "This is the finest demonstration of, uh, something or other that I have ever seen." Rivalries and affections, the ballerina's wallop and the stripper's art, all the contradictions and ironies integral to Arzner's reflexive opus on the feminine divided and reconciled. The morning star the ingénue pines for turns out to be the spotlight at the Broadway burlesque hall, she twirls for boos and hisses while her colleague's erotic razzmatazz reaps the applause. The male love interest has his own drama to deal with (divorce pangs paralyze Hayward, a stuffed toy makes a fine mockery of bullish masculinity), the main focus remains fiercely on the heroines and their contrasting modes of movement. A woman's options in dance and cinema, the gaze at last turned on the audience "who play at being the stronger sex for a minute." (Rivette has it virtually verbatim in Celine and Julie Go Boating.) The catfight and the screwball court lead to the impresario (Ralph Bellamy) at top of the priapic skyscraper, Antonioni in La Signora Senza Camelie remembers the caustic tears of the final close-up. With Virginia Field, Mary Carlisle, Katherine Alexander, Walter Abel, Edward Brophy, Harold Huber, and Sidney Blackmer. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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