Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)

Film Review


Release Date: 30 August, 1940

Studio: RKO

Director: Dorothy Arzner

Editor: Robert Wise

Starring: Maureen O’Hara, Louis Hayward, Lucille Ball, Ralph Bellamy, Maria Ouspenskaya


Ball and O'Hara are the most important members of Ouspenskaya's dance troupe. Ball, a flashy and sexy dancer, attracts male attention. O'Hara favors the less showy ballet. Hayward, separated from his wife, meets Ball and O'Hara at the nightclub where they are performing. He and O'Hara are mutually attracted. Ball is jealous. After the troupe returns home, Ball enters burlesque, but the other girls are not wanted. Hoping to place O'Hara in a ballet company, Ouspenskaya takes her to meet ballet director Bellamy. Before they arrive at his studio, Ouspenskaya is fatally injured in an accident. Unable to join the ballet and without money, O'Hara becomes Ball's stooge in her burlesque act. The all-male audience cheers Ball's rousing routine but boo and hiss O'Hara's refined ballet.

Bellamy has learned about O'Hara's attempt to meet him and goes to see her in the burlesque. Hayward takes O'Hara to a nightclub where they meet his former wife and her new husband. O'Hara quickly realizes that Hayward cannot love her; she sees that he still loves his ex-wife. Later, Ball finds the drunken and confused Hayward on O'Hara's doorstep, carries him off, and marries him. At the burlesque theater, O'Hara has tired of the audience's abuse and lectures them about the proper way to treat a woman. In the dressing room, O'Hara accuses Ball of taking advantage of Hayward, and their argument ends in a hair-pulling, rolling-on-the-floor scuffle. The combatants are arrested and taken to night court. O'Hara is sentenced to 10 days in jail, but Bellamy bails her out. Ball makes up with O'Hara and frees Hayward from the marriage. Hayward reconciles with his wife. O'Hara goes to thank Bellamy, and he promises to work with her and make her the ballet star that Ouspenskaya knew she could be.


This unusual and complex plot centers on determined young women seeking careers in dance. Lucille Ball excels as a flashy, generally sympathetic, and potent personality. Maureen O'Hara character, although young and delicate, is equally forceful, if not as flashy. Louis Hayward's character is superfluous except to provide a reason for the scrap between Ball and O'Hara. Ralph Bellamy is a satisfactory male to pair with O'Hara, but he is implausible as an impresario of ballet.

The films of Dorothy Arzner, the only major female director in Hollywood during the 1930s, center on female stars. In a typical Arzner film, the main character is a strong-willed, self-determining young woman who has a choice between attractive men and struggles to choose correctly.

Arzner began as a film editor and writer in the early 20s, and directed her first film (Fashions for Women) in 1927. Her first talkie, The Wild Party (1929), was also Clara Bow's talkie debut. In the ten features she made in the thirties, Arzner worked with many important actresses, including Claudette Colbert, Ruth Chatterton, Joan Crawford, Katherine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell. Dance, Girl, Dance is her penultimate film; she made a war-themed picture starring Merle Oberon in 1943. In the 1950s, Arzner directed many commercials for PepsiCo. Joan Crawford, wife of the PepsiCo chairman, helped get her the work.