Barbara O’Neill (Barbara Stanwyck) is one of the best dancers in the dime dance joint she works in. But lately, her personal life has been distracting her at work. She’s fallen in love with her friend Eddie Miller (Monroe Owsley), but she’s also being pursued by the wealthy Bradley Carlton (Ricardo Cortez). Barbara does her best to keep from getting too close to Bradley, but she convinces him to give Eddie a job working at his company. She keeps Eddie in the dark about what her real job is, but eventually he finds out and when he does, he declares that he wants to marry her and wants her to quit her job.
Eddie and Barbara are married and money is tight for them. Things get even worse when Eddie runs into some old friends and goes to play cards with them. He winds up losing $240 and tries to keep it a secret from Barbara. Barbara secretly goes back to working at the dime dance joint and although Eddie often claims to be working, he’s actually off cavorting with his old friends and getting even deeper into debt. When their lights are turned off because they can’t pay the bill, Eddie resorts to stealing $5,000 from Bradley.
Eddie admits what he’s done to Barbara and plans to leave town, but she gets him to stay by going to Bradley and borrowing the $5,000 from him, even though he was the one who was robbed in the first place. But when Eddie finds out where she got the money, he gets extremely jealous and Barbara walks out on him and heads right into the arms of Bradley.
Ten Cents a Dance is far from being one of Barbara Stanwyck’s better pre-codes. Even though 1931 was still very early in Stanwyck’s film career, she was already capable of giving some great performances. After all, 1931 was the same year she made Illicit, Night Nurse, and The Miracle Woman. But what movies like The Miracle Woman and Illicit have that Ten Cents a Dance lacks is interesting material. Those were roles that Stanwyck could really sink her teeth into and there just isn’t a whole lot of meat to Ten Cents a Dance. It’s not a terrible movie, just underwhelming compared to some of Stanwyck’s other work from the same year.