DANCERS IN THE DARK
Sog.: dalla pièce Jazz King (1928) di James Ashmore Creelman. Scen.: Herman J. Mankiewicz, Brian Marlow, Howard Emmett Rogers. F.: Karl Struss. Mus.: John Leipold, Stephan Pasternacki. Int.: Miriam Hopkins (Gloria), Jack Oakie (Duke), William Collier Jr. (Floyd), Eugene Pallette (Gus), Lyda Roberti (Fanny), George Raft (Louie), Maurice Black (Max), De Witt Jennings (McGroady), Paul Fix (Benny). Prod.: Paramount Publix Corp. 35mm. Bn.
A dime-a-dance hall is a familiar enough background for early 30s Hollywood, but Karl Struss’s nimble camera movements and the weird Caligari-look of the sets and the title sequence make this modest entry more interesting. The visual humour is crude (a huge woman-for-hire seems to be dancing alone, until we discover the shrimp between her breasts), the verbal firecrackers a mite better. The plot has been around the block, just like the singer (Miriam Hopkins), who falls hard for a saxophone player. Band leader Jack Oakie is sympathetic but also jealous. George Raft plays the menace here, a real crud named Louis who has a thing for St. Louis Blues. Hopkins gets to belt the W.C. Handy number not once but twice, although her black dress with the vertiginous decolleté (both sides) is much more affecting. Oakie plays the straight man, very creditably, better than his Maurice Chevalier imitation, which has to be the worst ever. Raft gets to go splaaat on the sidewalk in his white spats. But the show stealers are Eugene Pallette and Lyda Roberti, he as a guy named Gus looking for a good time, she as a Polish blonde who’s been in the country for just six months but knows how to play a trick (“I’m a guy who’s been around,” he says.“You’re round,” she replies). Some times Mank shows off a bit, straight from the Algonquin table:
– What’s your name anyway?
– It’s a long one, but you can call me
– Not one of those Boston Zobolowskis?
She calls him Goose throughout the picture but he only balks at Goosie. Journeyman director David Burton was a Russian refugee from Odessa who hopscotched from studio to studio in the 30s. As for the ending, one could argue that the St. Louis Blues gag is no more hokum than “Rosebud”.