When John Cromwell was hired to direct "The Dance of Life", a film version of the Broadway success "Burlesque", it was automatically assumed that the key members of the cast would be tested and hired. They all turned up for a one act screen test - all except one. Barbara Stanwyck's husband refused to let his wife do the film (according to Oscar Levant). He was an egomaniac and wouldn't let her go to Hollywood until he was also summoned (Stanwyck made her film debut a few months later in the static "The Locked Door"). So the assignment was given to Paramount's latest star Nancy Carroll - she was not only more relaxed and natural in front of the cameras than many of the other "stagies" in the film, she definitely boosted the film's popularity at the box office.
Skid Johnson (Hal Skelly), a talented comedian, who is also an alcoholic, is fired from a third rate burlesque show. He meets Bonny Kane (Nancy Carroll) who has failed to make specialty dancer from the same show. "You wouldn't kid me lady? I would if I could mister, I would if I could" - that became a popular catch phrase of the day. They become friends and get jobs in the same show. Under Skid's guidance Bonny becomes an expert dancer and through her steadying influence he really starts applying himself to his work.
Someone else has their eye on him -Sylvia (beautiful Dorothy Reiver). Skid performs "King of Jazzmania with the chorus then Bonny takes the stage for "Cuddlesome Baby". The manager wants to get rid of Bonny but Skid persuades him to keep her and deduct her wage from his salary. She finds out and decides to quit but in the middle of their routine Skid proposes and she accepts. Their wedding night is disastrous as Skid gets drunk - but from now on Bonny holds him on a tight rein. He sings "True Blue Lou" - a beautiful song inspired by Bonny's love. (The song became the hit of the year with Ethel Waters doing a marvelous recording of it). His act is seen by Flo Ziegfeld and suddenly Skid is on his way to the top. There is a musical interlude ala the Ziegfeld Follies - "Ladies of the Dance" - showing beautiful show girls parading down stairs, then cutie, Marjorie "Babe" Kane sings "The Flipperty Flop", followed by an Eccentric Dance by Skid. (This was obviously the "Technicolor Sequence" but it was only in black and white on my copy). But who's this - bad girl Sylvia is the leading showgirl and trying her best to be Skid's leading girl in real life as well. When Bonny goes to New York to see Skid she accidentally sees them together and thinking he has forgotten her, she leaves without seeing him. She files for divorce and turns to Harvey Howell, a "big breath of fresh air" from Wyoming who wants only the best for her. Just before her marriage Skid calls on her and after a riotous reunion, Harvey walks in and Skid embarrasses himself. Nancy Carroll here sings "In The Gloaming" - she actually sung this for her first screen test.
After going on a gigantic bender and being sacked from Ziegfeld's show, he is finally given a last chance by Lefty Miller (Charles B. Brown) the manager who gave him and Bonny their first break. Bonnie is asked to come back and help him through - he is now a skid row drunk. Bonnie, who has never stopped loving him, helps him back on his feet and as their dance starts up with the familiar patter, realises her place is beside Skid.
This film was one of the most popular and highly regarded films of the year. Made at a time when most films adapted from stage plays were usually inferior, this was a standout in every way. Oscar Levant had a bit as a songwriter - his part was not cut out, he did play a couple of songs and had a few lines. Nancy Carroll gives a remarkable performance in this primitive talkie - anybody could tell she was destined for big things.
Highly, Highly Recommended.
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