Dames (1934) dir. Ray Enright
Starring: Dick Powell, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keelor, Guy Kibbee, Zasu Pitts, Hugh Herbert
By Alan Bacchus
Warner Bros has packaged yet another fabulous, reasonably priced four pack of Hollywood classics under their label association with Turner Classic Movies, this time, the films of Busby Berkeley, the unique choreographer/director/magician/showman renowned for visually inventive dance sequences.
Dames, a film Berkeley only directed the musical sequences for, finds his usual leading man Dick Powell playing Jimmy Hughes, a broadway actor and producer looking to 'put on a show', but lacking the financial backing to make it happen. Remember this was the time of Great Depression and many of these populist movies pitted big business vs. the common working man. In this case, Jimmy targets his rich Uncle Ezra Ounce (Hugh Herbert) for the cash. Problem is Ezra is a right wing boob and thinks anything to do with the arts, especially shows with 'dames' as immoral. And so the scheme is on to free Ounce's money from his tight reins and to put it to good use, that is, a lavish Busby Berkeley revue full of scantily clad ladies with pretty smiles and long legs.
Like most of the Berkeley pictures, it's 60mins of screwball plotting and one long 30mins musical sequence wherein our young hero finally gets a chance to put his work on the stage. In this case, Ray Enright's direction in especially stodgy compared to when Berkeley's whirling dervish of a camera takes over.
Berkeley wasn't a dancer by trade, in fact he couldn't dance at all. But his eye for design and patterns and composition is what put him in the business of Hollywood musicals. Once Jimmy's show starts, it's truly a magical experience, something no other director then or now could recreate. Even Berkeley would admit the dancing of each individual is not perfect, but watching all the dancers elegantly move in time with one another is majestic.
Two numbers anchor the big grand finale, which of course, takes place in a theatre. The "I Only Have Eyes For You" sequence has Jimmy in song confessing his love to Ruby Keelor's character on a journey through the streets of New York and aboard a subway ride, intercut with expressive fantasy sequences visualizing Keelor's eyes and head in Berekley's grand kaleidoscope style.
The other song, is shamelessly sexist, “What Do We Go For? Beautiful Dames!”, which is Jimmy's answer to a question asked in a dramatized financial meeting in the story within the story. To visualize Jimmy's theory, Berkeley has his camera travelling through the lilly white legs of a hundred dames wearing nighties, and then having them lather up their naked bodies in a hundred bubble baths.
Who can resist that? Luckily the new TCM set has four of these pictures, and even better ones than this gem, specifically 42nd Street, Footlight Parade featuring James Cagney, and The Golddiggers of 1937. More coverage on these pictures to come. Enjoy.