AFI Movie Club: DANCE, GIRL, DANCE
Directed by Dorothy Arzner and edited by AFI Life Achievement Award recipient Robert Wise, DANCE, GIRL, DANCE features star-making turns from Maureen O’Hara and Lucille Ball as two hoofers whose fates are intertwined as professional dancers.
In the exclusive AFI Archive video, Lucille Ball talks about her career:
Movie Trivia for DANCE, GIRL, DANCE
DID YOU KNOW? DANCE, GIRL, DANCE screenwriters Tess Slesinger and Frank Davis went on to write the 1945 adaptation of A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN – which earned them an Academy Award® nomination for Best Screenplay.
DID YOU KNOW? DANCE, GIRL, DANCE screenwriter Tess Slesinger, a progressive novelist and screenwriter who often tackled class and gender inequity in her work, was one of the first to broach the taboo subject of abortion in American literature. She also helped found the Screen Writers’ Guild in 1933.
DID YOU KNOW? Shooting had already begun on DANCE, GIRL, DANCE when Dorothy Arzner stepped in to direct after Roy Del Ruth quit over creative differences with producer Erich Pommer.
DID YOU KNOW? DANCE, GIRL, DANCE director Dorothy Arzner is credited with inventing the boom mic for her first sound film THE WILD PARTY and was the first female member of the Screen Directors Guild – now known as the Directors Guild of America.
DID YOU KNOW? While DANCE, GIRL, DANCE was met with mixed reviews upon its original release and was considered a commercial failure at the time, but it was embraced by feminist scholars in the ‘70s who saw the film and its fiery heroines – played by Maureen O’Hara and Lucille Ball – as ahead of their time.
DID YOU KNOW? According to star Maureen O’Hara, she and costar Lucille Ball were at lunch on the set of DANCE, GIRL, DANCE when Ball and her future husband Desi Arnaz first laid eyes on one another. Ball and Arnaz would eventually buy the sound stages and backlot of RKO and incorporate it into the Desilu empire.
DID YOU KNOW? Upon joining the production, Dorothy Arzner changed the male head of the dance troupe into a female character, now “Madame Basilova” – a former Russian ballerina, played by Maria Ouspenskaya. Arzner based Basilova, with her man-tailored suits and ties, on herself.
DID YOU KNOW? DANCE, GIRL, DANCE also featured the work of Marion Morgan – a dancer, choreographer and the longtime partner of director Dorothy Arzner.
DID YOU KNOW? Bubbles was based on vaudeville performer “Texas” Guinan. To prepare for the role, Lucille Ball changed her auburn hair color to blonde and starting visiting burlesque shows to study the dancers in action.
DID YOU KNOW? The stuffed animal of Ferdinand the Bull from Jimmie in the film was actually product placement for Disney, since RKO distributed the studio’s early cartoons.
DID YOU KNOW? Editor Robert Wise’s project following DANCE, GIRL, DANCE was none other than CITIZEN KANE – twice named as the greatest film of all time by the American Film Institute.
Learn more at the AFI Catalog
The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions
-Why do you think the studio turned to Dorothy Arzner, Hollywood’s most prolific female director at the time, when they were in need of a director?
-What did Arzner bring to the production, and how did her perspective as a woman inform her creative changes to the story?
-How is DANCE, GIRL, DANCE unconventional in its depiction of Judy and Bubbles’ friendship and rivalry?
-How does the film create a dialogue about female artistic ambition and self-actualization?
-In what way does the film provide an example of female mentorship in the form of Madame Basilova?
-How does the film contrast high art and low art in terms of ballet and burlesque? What does dance mean to Judy versus Bubbles?
-Why do you think the film wasn’t initially well received by critics? How was it reclaimed as a feminist film in the 1970s? What was the political and cultural climate like to allow for the film to be reexamined from a progressive lens?
-How does Maureen O’Hara’s monologue in response to an audience of cat-calling men spin the idea of the “male gaze”? What impact does her speech have, and why was it revolutionary for the time?
-What is the relationship in DANCE, GIRL, DANCE and in movies in general of the “spectator” and the “spectacle”?
-Writing on Dorothy Arzner, scholar Judith Mayne observed, “Women may be objectified through performance, but they are also empowered.” Do you agree? How does performance open women up to objectification and how can it liberate them as well? How do the characters of Judy and Bubbles embody this?
-How is the ending of DANCE, GIRL, DANCE subversive, particularly in terms of Judy and Bubbles’ ultimate aspirations for their lives? How are their careers given significance compared to their romantic entanglements throughout the film?
-How would you rate DANCE, GIRL, DANCE?
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