Thursday, April 15, 2010


A troupe of dancing girls including sweet, young Maureen O'Hara and saucy, experienced Lucille Ball gets stuck in Akron, Ohio when the nightclub where they're performing is closed in a gambling raid. A wealthy playboy (Louis Hayward) helps them collect some money from the customers to cover their wages, and one by one they make their way back to New York City and Madame Lydia (Maria Ouspenskaya) who is having trouble getting the girls another booking. O'Hara desperately wants to be a ballerina and Ouspenskaya helps her get an audition with impresario Ralph Bellamy, but on their way to the appointment, the old lady is hit by a car and killed. By the time O'Hara tries to see Bellamy again, her audition has been forgotten (though Bellamy flirts with her in the rain, not knowing who she is). In the meantime, Ball, using the name Tiger Lily White, has hit it big as a burlesque queen; she gets O'Hara a job doing a ballet number intended as a comic palate cleanser between strip acts. O'Hara gets booed and heckled, but the bit is a hit and both women become stars. One night, Hayward pops into the theater and romantic entanglements begin: O'Hara falls for him but he still has ties to his freshly divorced wife, and Ball, who had a one-night stand with him in Akron, is after his money. Bellamy is brought back in to the proceedings and a relatively happy ending occurs for most everyone.

This is an average working-girl vs. gold digger melodrama with a couple of interesting elements. It was directed by Dorothy Arznar, one of the only female directors of the classic movie era. Of course, there are feminist themes if you care to look for them; for me, the most interesting point is that O'Hara and Ball, though at odds for much of the film (and despite a climactic onstage "catfight"), aren't really enemies, just two women doing what they can for themselves and each other to survive in the working world. This is the movie that made me realize that the beautiful O'Hara isn't really a very good actress--she's flat and wooden; somehow in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, it doesn't matter, but it does here. However, Ball (pictured above) is terrific, giving the best performance I've ever seen her give in a movie; she's cocky, sexy, and feels very natural, and she gets some of the best lines. One is her coy admission, "I ain't got an ounce of class, sugar--honest!" Another is when her director sends her on stage saying, "Give 'em all you got!"; her snarled reply, "They couldn't take it!" Ouspenskaya wears a jacket and tie, like the director did in real life, and her car accident is surprisingly explicit for its day. Both male leads are serviceable, but Ball is the real reason to watch this film. [DVD]

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