A Movie A Day: Quint ogles some DAMES (1935) I’m free, white and 21! I love to dance and I’m going to dance!
Published at: June 21, 2008, 11:45 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today’s movie is DAMES, another Busby Berkeley musical from the ‘30s, featuring three of the key players from yesterday’s film, 42ND Street. Stars Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler and Guy Kibbee.
As much as I liked 42nd Street, DAMES elbows it out of the way in terms of enjoyment. Maybe that’s just because I like Guy Kibbee so much and he has a lot more to do in this film than he did as the horny investor yesterday.
Actually, he plays a similar role here… without the horniness. He’s a desperate man, married into a rich family. But all the wealth is held by his cousin-in-law, who makes Howard Hughes look sane. Ezra Ounce is worth tens of millions, the world is at his fingertips… but he hates women, abhors vices and wants to start a Morality control counsel. Sounds like he’s a dark character, but Hugh Herbert plays him loony, a little like Uncle Albert in MARY POPPINS without the laughter.
The film opens with Kibbee summoned to his cousin Ezra’s office where he has to go past his constantly sleeping bodyguard and his fast talking and supernaturally anal personal secretary in order to get to Cousin Ezra.
He is told that due to Ezra’s lack of children and the fact that he’s disowned the only male heir (a distant nephew) he decided to preempt his death and divide up his fortune, but he wants to make sure Kibbee and his family are up to snuff, insisting on moving in with them for a month.
To complicate things, Kibbee’s daughter (Ruby Keeler) is romancing a lad by the name of Jimmy Higgins, played by Dick Powell, still sporting the aw-shucks Jimmy Olsen style performance. Oh, and to Jerry Springer things up a little bit, Higgins is Ezra’s disowned nephew.
So, yeah. That makes Keeler and Powell kissing cousins. When I first saw them together I thought maybe I misunderstood the plot, but then they address it! It’s okay that they love each other because they’re 13th cousins, so it almost doesn’t count, see?
I was laughing out loud at many points during this film. It misses the catty nature of 42nd Street, but it has many more laughs. It flew by. It seemed like it just began when we got to the Busby Berkeley numbers in the last half hour. I couldn’t believe it moved so quickly.
I love that uptight Cousin Ezra needed a certain elixir to cure his hiccups and that it works for him because it’s essentially a bottle of pure alcohol. He kept turning his nose up to smoking and drinking and then chugs away at his “medicine.” Kinda like pill poppers that think marijuana is the devil.
I loved the role Joan Blondell played. The blonde bombshell just turns up in Kibbee’s compartment on the train ride back home with Cousin Ezra. Remember, Ezra is looking for any excuse to not cut Kibbee in on $10 million of his fortune, especially looking at his morality. I don’t know how she knew she could take advantage of this, but she snuck on the train and stole his compartment, threatening to make noise and make a spectacle if he kicks her out.
So, of course he bends, sleeps out in the passenger compartment and leaves her some quiet money to make sure she doesn’t tell anyone she slept in his room. Of course, this opens the door for blackmail later on.
But the main plot point is Ezra’s complete disdain for plays. They promise entertainment, but flaunt morality and show too much skin! Through a series of manipulations and blackmail, Kibbee ends up inadvertently putting up his entire bankroll on a Broadway play written, produced and starring Dick Powell, and the real comedy begins.
But how are the Berkeley numbers? At first, I thought they were kind of tame, but then came perhaps my favorite Berkeley number so far… because it’s fucking creepy… It’s the number for the fantastic song I Only Have Eyes For You which features Ruby Keeler’s disembodied head… then multiple disembodied heads… in giant cardboard cutout versions held by dancers… It’s hypnotic and terrifying, but the song is beautiful. I’ve always loved that song and had no idea it came from this film.
Final thoughts: Dames moves lightning quick, is still genuinely funny, not just “good for its time,” funny, and has a great (if creepy) Berkeley sequence.
Here’s the schedule for the next 7 days:
Sunday, June 22nd: GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 (1935)
Monday, June 23rd: MURDER, MY SWEET (1944)
Tuesday, June 24th: BORN TO KILL (1947)
Wednesday, June 25th: THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)
Thursday, June 26th: TORN CURTAIN (1966)
Friday, June 27th: THE LEFT HANDED GUN (1958)
Saturday, June 28th: CALIGULA (1980)
Tomorrow’s our last Busby Berkeley flick called GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935, following over Berkeley, Dick Powell and Uncle Ezra himself Hugh Herbert. See you tomorrow for that one!