review for Dance, Girl, Dance on AllMovie

Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
by Craig Butler review

Dance, Girl, Dance was a huge flop upon its initial release, but it has grown in stature in the intervening years. While it still cannot be considered a great film, it's a much better film than was originally believed -- and one that has gained a reputation as an early attempt at making a feminist statement in a popular movie. How successful Dance is on the latter point is open to some debate. Proponents generally point to the now famous "telling off" speech in which Maureen O'Hara chastises the men who have come to gawk and drool over the female flesh that is paraded before them onstage. However, Dance makes its proto-feminist points in other ways as well, such as keeping women as the focus of the film and relegating men to the kind of non-descript roles that women often had to play. On the other hand, the glorious cat fight that rivals O'Hara's chastising speech in popularity also serves to reinforce an anti-feminist view of women. This "have it both ways" approach also affects the film's dramatic qualities, especially when it also gets into a high art vs. popular art debate. Fortunately, Dance is helped over its rough spots by Dorothy Arzner's solid direction and, especially, by its cast. O'Hara is good, but she's outshone by Lucille Ball in what is undoubtedly one of her finest big screen performances. Tough, tart, ambitious, and selfish, but also able to have sympathy for others, Ball makes Bubbles a truly memorable character. The rest of the cast is generally quite good, but Ball is exceptional.