Here's one of the early talkies that has been readily available to home video, but one I've avoided. An early musical, and yet another "backstage" plotline, this was something I've seen done so poorly elsewhere I suspected I'd wind up throwing things at my TV. [Have any of you anguished your way through the musical numbers of The Great Gabbo?] Happily, such was not the case. Here is a film totally accessible to contemporary audiences.
A big film in its time, Paramount popped for Technicolor and assigned it's two top directors, Cromwell and Sutherland. [The directors appear in cameos as doorman and theatre attendant, respectively.] Musical sequences are well done and entertain. Cringe factor on a one to five scale, one. The wonder of seeing the tall, lanky Skelly and diminutive Carroll dancing in perfect unison is still with me. They're the most unlikely team this side of Laurel and Hardy.
Many other splendid differences between this film and its contemporaries are worth noting. Released August, 1929, Paramount's superimposed credits seem so much more modern than the silent card graphics MGM still used. Not everyone cares to know who the associated producer is, we want entertained. Behind The Dance Of Life, silhouetted stage hands scurry about, pulling backdrops and riggings. You're treated to seeing behind the scenes while the obligatory texts play out. The ensemble cast has antagonists which prove to be red herrings. It's loaded with interesting camera compositions. A train is gained and quit at night in a pouring rainstorm. A sandwich is used as a romantic device. And what I enjoyed the most was the personal and up close feeling the directors give scenes. Skelly, after pratfalling from wing to wing, sings "True Blue Lou" so personally it would seem he was oblivious to the camera which closed in three times during the song.
A snapshot of a lost form of American entertainment, The Dance Of Life stands apart from its roots as a great film. See it!
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