review for Dames on AllMovie

Dames (1934)
by Craig Butler review

As Dames amply demonstrates, some musical films simply have to be judged by a different standard than other films. Dames is enormously entertaining, but it really shouldn't be. The script is a re-hash of every other backstage musical; for novelty, the writers have thrown in some nonsense about bluenoses trying to clean up entertainment and take away all the fun in the world. It's absolutely no more convincing on screen than it sounds in that brief summary, and neither it nor any other part of the screenplay is exactly overflowing with genuine wit or originality. Dames' cast has some genuine appeal, with the always-reliable wisecracking Joan Blondell and character actors like ZaSu Pitts, Guy Kibbee and Hugh Herbert around for solid support. Leading man/juvenile Dick Powell is in very fine voice, and as usual gives this kind of role a lot more than it deserves. Ruby Keeler is as flat and unconvincing as ever, and doesn't get to dance as much as one might wish. But Dames gets such high marks, in spite of its screenplay and Keeler's non-acting, because of its fine score and because of Busby Berkeley's wildly imaginative treatment of the musical numbers. This is especially true of the "big 3" that climax Dames. "The Girl with the Ironing Board" is a zany, cartoon-ish exploration of clothing coming to life, and immense fun. "I Only Have Eyes for You," in addition to boasting a gorgeous Harry Warren melody, benefits from incredible, nightmare-like staging, with Dick Powell seeming to be driven crazy as every girl he sees comes to look like Keeler; it's far more bizarre and delightful than it sounds on paper. And the title number features the kind of heightened "marching band" routine and delirious shots that one expects of Berkeley. This trio raises Dames from the standard to the unbelievable, making it a film that really must be experienced.