23 September 2014 | secondtake
A wild riot with a breezy amoral plot...fun stuff great dancing
Our Dancing Daughters (1928)
Listed as a "silent" movie but actually an early synched-score movie with intertitles, and it's a really good one. If you think a dance and music movie can't be silent, check this out. Yes, it's 1928, less than a year after "The Jazz Singer," but we see a full blown plot about infidelity, some pretty terrific photography, and dancing like only 1928 can offer.
The star is the ever self-aware Joan Crawford.
But there is a whole slew of beautiful "girls" on hand here, daughters all of them, and parents with different kinds of acceptance and worry. All these young women are going out to party hard, and some disguise their intentions and others just let loose. There are lots of scenes for the men in the audience—women dressed in as little as possible for the times (which was quite little, before the 1934 Code) and lots of legs and bright faces and big eyes.
That of course is also the downfall of what is a pretty amazing movie, filled with crazy fun dancing. Crawford was famous for her dancing (she won lots of trophies going out to local competitions—and I mean Crawford, not any character). We see it here. She's the wildest of the women (she tells one suitor she is "Diana the Dangerous"), and one parent even bemoans that their sweet girl is cavorting with the likes of such a wild one.
But what else does this movie offer? Great question. I think it might be about courtship, or falling into superficial love, or maybe just how to snake a rich due with some lifted gauzy skirts. The men don't have much to offer, or show—they are fully clad in expensive tux-like suits. Alas.
It's worth saying, as a photographer, that the visuals are really nice even if the camera is often stuck to a tripod. The use of very shallow focus (allowing for great soft backgrounds behind the sharp foreground figures), and the atmospherics of the place (the rocky coast, or the rainy day) are great. This is no German Expressionist film— nothing that remarkable—but George Barnes does what the film needs really nicely. (He did Hitchcock's "Rebecca," to give you an idea of his talent.) You have to see it with this in mind to get it, and then you'll see what I mean, especially the very very careful shallow focus.
In the end this is all about boy meets girl
and the matchmaking and the engagements and the cheating. It's a fast ride, and if not especially deep or complex, it's fun and wonderfully immoral. I'll say, if you don't like silent movies you should skip this, I think. There are too many silent movie qualities here (like some of the exaggerated reactions, and the stiff over-telling of the story) to keep you going unless you are used to it. But there is a lot of the fun 1920s stuff here if you are prepared for the style. I liked it more than I expected, and some of it even made me wistful and appreciative.