Not being able to get any other kind of job, Janie Barlow (Joan Crawford) resorts to taking a job in a burlesque club. When her club gets raided one night, she gets dragged into night court and the wealthy playboy Tod Newton (Franchot Tone) and his friends go along with them to see what happens. Finding himself attracted to Janie, he pays her bail and once she’s out, takes her out on a date and sends her home with some extra money for a new dress. She’s attracted to Tod, too, but is afraid he’s out of her league. She also decides that she’s had enough of burlesque and is determined to get a job in a legitimate show. She hears that Patch Gallagher (Clark Gable) is putting on a new show and starts stalking him, determined to get in. Patch blows her off at every turn, but as anybody in showbiz knows, it pays to have connections. Tod offers to send a letter of introduction to Jasper Bradley, Patch’s boss. That letter gets her an audition and even though they try to brush her off, she proves to be a very talented dancer and gets in the show.
What Janie doesn’t know is that Tod also offered to help fund the show if she gets in. She works very hard in rehearsals and even begins to win over Patch, who is starting to fall for her. He even takes her out of the chorus and makes her a star. Meanwhile, she continues seeing Tod. Tod is very much in love with her, but with Janie’s career taking off, she’s not particularly interested in getting married. But Tod sees an easy solution to this — buy the show out and close it so that Janie has nothing else to do but get married to Tod. Janie isn’t just disappointed because she doesn’t get to be a star, but also because she had fallen in love with Patch, too.
Janie and Tod take a trip to Cuba together, but Patch is determined to have the show go on and puts his own money into it. Janie and Tod return just before the show is set to open, but they run into a very drunk Patch in a nightclub. Patch can’t resist telling Janie about what Tod has done and when she finds out the truth, she is horrified. She goes to see Patch and begs him to let her back into the show. Janie gets her job back, the show opens, and naturally, it’s a big success. Tod makes one last attempt to win Janie back, but now she knows where her heart truly lies.
Dancing Lady was clearly MGM’s attempt to keep up with Warner Brothers’ Busby Berkeley musicals. You clearly see the influence of Berkeley’s choreography, but even MGM couldn’t fully capture the brilliance of the real thing. But that being said, it’s a very entertaining movie. It’s got lots of fun, saucy pre-code lines and I loved the entire cast. Actually, I think the cast is the most interesting thing about Dancing Lady. First of all, you’ve got Joan Crawford with Clark Gable and Franchot Tone, two of her best co-stars. But then you’ve also got The Three Stooges plus Nelson Eddy and Fred Astaire, both making their film debuts. Yes, believe it or not, it is possible to see Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, and The Three Stooges together in the same movie. It’s a very unlikely bunch of people to wind up in a movie together, but I can’t help but love the fact that it actually happened. All in all, a great movie, one of my favorite 1930s Joan Crawford movies.