Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)

Maureen O'Hara and Lucille Ball are dueling dancers in this film directed by one of the few female directors of the time, Dorothy Arzner.

Times are tough for the Judy O'Brian (O'Hara), she's a dedicated ballerina and is having a hard time landing jobs in the world that is more interested in sex appeal. Her fellow dance troupe partner is Bubbles (Ball), a brassy girl who can swing her hips in ways Judy could only dream. This sort of sisterly rivalry between the two is the main focus of the film, with a romantic triangle of sorts occurring (but the guy is a grade-A prick so it's hard to really care).

What's interesting about this story is that it's really a story of a young woman's journey into adulthood, but wrapped in the trappings of a musical-ish romance. We get to see various dance numbers which use dance to great affect. Judy is very classic ballet, but Bubbles is pure burlesque, perfectly establishing what kind of girls they are. But it's a very Hollywood type of film, given a touch of a modern edge with its main focus being on a female character's journey, especially considering how the end plays out.

Maureen O'Hara is good as a sort of insecure good girl, but Lucille Ball steals the film away from her. Bubbles may be a bitchy character, but she's given depth and Ball pulls it off perfectly. She's strong, smart and caring, but she presents this fun and slightly mean persona to the world almost as armor. It's a great performance to see especially if you've only associated her with her legendary sitcom.

The film itself is actually pretty good. As I said, the romance plot does hurt the film, because the male character is not worth the sort of girlhood swooning the Judy does (but that could be entirely the point), but it's a very entertaining film about the relationship between two very different women.

Friday, October 15, 2010

All That Heaven Allows (1955)

I'm not even going to try to make an excuse, kids.

So here we have the classic soap in its purest form. The kind where middle class suburban women walk around in fabulous coats and live in fear of being gossiped about. If you've seen Peyton Place, it's a lot like it.

All That Heaven Allows is a melodrama about an older, middle-class widow Cary (Jane Wyman) who falls in love with her younger gardener (Rock Hudson). And of course, societal pressures fight to keep them apart.

That's it folks, it's one of those movies where the plot is established in the first few minutes (or at least hinted at) and the rest of the film is spent waiting for these two crazy kids to finally get together, with the likes of the neighborhood bitch and Cary's horribly obnoxious kids complaining and sniping enough to make Cary second guess her love.

It's in this sense that the movie is a bit of a sly social satire, using the film (much like Peyton Place) to condemn the sort of gossipy, country club set who place reputation and image over happiness and truth.

The two leads are serviceable, given the material. As I said, it's a straight up soap, so they aren't given much to do besides embrace, kiss, and look longingly at each other. Jane Wyman effectively portrays the conflicted woman, but her character is written as being so weak and malleable that it can be a bit hard to watch at times.

But this is also a movie where you're either going to love it or hate it. It's an absolutely gorgeous film, but it's such a soap opera that it's not going to appeal to those who are maybe more cynical or having acquired a taste of the good old fashioned Hollywood melodrama.

So, if you're into the DRAMA of the suburban middle class, I highly recommend this movie. It's exactly what you'd expect.