DANCE, FOOLS, DANCE (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1931), directed by Harry Beaumont, is not a movie starring The Three Stooges participating in an all night dance marathon, nor is it a musical starring the comedy team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey. Oddly enough this is only a title, though there are some dancing sequences involved, but not enough to categorize this as a musical. Overall, this is a Depression-era story that opens with high society party, followed by newspaper/newsroom melodrama before shifting to the its popular genre of the time, a crime story. With the leading players being Joan Crawford and Lester Vail, by the time the movie reaches its conclusion at 82 minutes, the names of Joan Crawford and Clark Gable immediately come to mind for their first on-screen collaboration together.
The story opens with a society party on a yacht hosted by socialite Bonnie Jordan (Joan Crawford). Bonnie is loved by Robert Townsend (Lester Vail), but she prefers her carefree lifestyle with her rich friends as opposed to becoming his wife. After the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which results to a fatal heart attack on Bonnie's father, Stanley (William Holden). leaving both Bonnie and her spoiled younger brother, Rodney (William Bakewell) paupers. With most of their personal possessions sold at public auction andf dismissing their servants, Rodney refuses to take the family lawyer Selby's (Hale Hamilton) advice by going to work. As for Bonnie, she breaks away from her former high society lifestyle and friends by getting an apartment in the Chicago district and working for a newspaper under her editor, Mr. Parker (Purnell Pratt. Rodney, however, gets in with the wrong crowd where his friend, Wally Baxter (Earle Foxe) introduces him to Jake Luva (Clark Gable), nightclub owner, bootlegger and tough crime boss. When Bonnie's reporter friend, Bert Scranton (Cliff Edwards), gets shot down by one of Luva's gang for learning too much about his organization, Bonnie is assigned to go undercover as Mary Smith from Missouri, to not only work as a dancer at Luva's cabaret, but to gather enough information to convict Scranton's killer. While her assignment goes well as planned, Bonnie eventually learns too much for her own good. Others in the cast include: Natalie Moorehead (Della); Joan Marsh (Sylvia); Russell Hopton (Whitey); and Sam McDaniel.
While DANCE, FOOLS, DANCE, is early Crawford at best, it's also early Gable, sans mustache, treating 'em rough, and giving all the orders. After entering the scene 36 minutes into the story, Gable no doubt gathers the most attention in the story as both villain and aggressor trying to get Crawford's Bonnie to "be nice to him." William Bakewell resumes his type-casting in his usual cowardly rich brother more concerned about what his father left him in the will as opposed to his death. He spends much of the time smoking and drinking, and learning the hard way that crime does not pay. Lester Vail, whose name comes second after Crawford's, is definitely a forgotten name in cinema history. The only thing to recommend for his performance is that his role might have worked to better advantage had it been played by the up and rising Robert Montgomery. Natalie Moorehead as Jake Luva's tough/blonde mistress, has the film's most notable scene where Jake Luva blows cigarette smoke in her face followed by her blowing out the fire of the lighted match held on Luva's hand. Being a pre-code motion picture, no doubt there's suggestive dialogue, but nothing as suggestive where the society guests cool themselves off on a hot summer night by taking a swim in their underwear.
DANCE, FOOLS, DANCE starts off well, slows down a bit before picking up speed during the newspaper vs. underworld segment. Distributed on home video in 1990 as part of "Forbidden Hollywood" tapes with Leonard Maltin, movie critic, doing an introduction about the movie itself. Also available on DVD, DANCE, FOOLS, DANCE is in a class in itself, especially when Crawford and Gable are concerned. Watch it next time it comes on cable television's Turner Classic Movies. (***)