SUtS: Maureen O’Hara

Brandie’s choice: Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
Airing at 6:00AM EST

Seriously … how frickin’ gorgeous is Maureen O’Hara? It’s almost sickening.

I’m just going to tell you up front: Dance, Girl, Dance is not the best movie on Maureen O’Hara’s Summer Under the Stars celebration today. It’s not as innocently fun as The Parent Trap (Carrie’s selection; see below), or as suspenseful as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), or as … well, grand, as Rio Grande (1950).

What it does have is an interesting plot revolving around class struggle and feminine relationships, a couple of great associated anecdotes, and a rare female director. For these things alone, it’s worth a viewing. Plus, you’ll get to see O’Hara and Lucille Ball engage in a slapstick catfight, so if that stirs your cup of tea, I think you’ll enjoy this picture.

In Dance, Girl, Dance, O’Hara plays an aspiring ballerina, Judy, who performs with a troupe of young dancers that includes sexy chorus girl Bubbles (Ball). Though Judy longs to be a “legitimate” dancer, she is unable to find work and soon joins Bubbles, now called Tiger Lily, in her nightly burlesque show, where Judy’s serious balletic performances serve as the comedic foil to Bubbles’ gyrations. When both women fall for the same man, Jimmy (Louis Hayward), who is in turn still in love with his ex-wife, their friendship turns to rivalry. Further complicating matters, Judy doesn’t realize that the man (Ralph Bellamy) who could make all of her ballet dreams comes true is the same one she keeps rejecting!

Though O’Hara does a lovely job as the conflicted Judy, this movie really does belong to Lucy. Along with Stage Door (1937), The Big Street (1942), DuBarry Was a Lady (1943), and Without Love (1945), this is one of her better film performances. And this movie would turn out to be significant for Lucy; it was while making this film that she met future husband Desi Arnaz. In fact, Lucy was still in her makeup and slinky burlesque costume after having filmed the catfight scene with O’Hara, looking, Desi would later say, like a “two-dollar whore beaten by her pimp, with her hair all over her face and a black eye … in a cheap costume.” When Lucy was introduced to Desi while still in this get-up, he was horrified to realize that this woman was to be the leading lady in his first Hollywood picture, the upcoming Too Many Girls. But when Desi later saw Lucy cleaned up and dolled up on set, his first response was, “What a hunk o’ woman!” (in true Latin fashion).

Dance, Girls, Dance was directed by one of the rare female directors in classic Hollywood, Dorothy Arzner. She was unique not only because of her gender, but because she was an “out” lesbian who was unwilling to hide it. The better-known of her films–1929’s The Wild Party (significant for being Clara Bow’s first talkie), 1933’s Christopher Strong (with Katharine Hepburn), and 1937’s The Bride Wore Red (with Joan Crawford)–share strong female characterizations and similar thematic elements, leading feminist critics to assess Arzner’s work as representative of early lesbian authorship and influence in the world of classic film.

Author and feminist film scholar Judith Mayne, in her 1994 book Directed by Dorothy Arzner, particularly focuses on Dance, Girl, Dance as “a stunning exploration of women among women, particularly insofar as the pleasures of looking are concerned.” She specifically cites the scene in which Judy, fed up with the heckling of the burlesque-show audience, rears back and lets them have it:

“Go on. Laugh! Get your money’s worth. Nobody’s going to hurt you. I know you want me to tear my clothes off so’s you can look your fifty cents’ worth. Fifty cents for the privilege of staring at a girl the way your wives won’t let you. What do you suppose we think of you up here–with your silly smirks your mothers would be ashamed of?”

By turning the looking-glass around, Judy focuses the bright light of scrutiny on her audience, and though the reaction she gets–applause–is somewhat unrealistic–given the male audience’s behavior up until that point in time–it functions a bit as a feminist fairy tale, handcrafted by Arzner herself (whom Mayne labels, interestingly enough, the “Cinderella Girl of the Movies”). It’s a nice thought; after all, Judy has, for all intents and purposes, slain her own dragon. There’s only one problem: now she needs Ralph Bellamy to come and finish the whole rescuing job.

Well, it’s still progress, however slow.

Carrie’s choice: The Parent Trap (1961)
Airing at 5:45PM EST

Hooray! Maureen O’Hara Day! Any woman who can make a living out of pure attitude has my love and respect, and MO’H definitely qualifies. That said, am I disappointed not to see McLintock! not in this list? Yes, yes I am. Surely an oversight or an issue with the rights to show it or something. It’s my favourite John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara is classic in it. But, moving along….

Oddly, for all my praise for Maureen O’Hara’s feistiness and spunk, my recommendation goes back to my childhood and a rather calm, sedate-ish Maureen O’Hara (as MO’H goes, anyway). The Parent Trap. Hayley Mills. Times two. Classic Disney. It’s part of the collection that remains a gold standard for children’s film.

If you haven’t seen this one (shame on you. Go DVR it NOW and continue reading later), Hayley Mills plays a set of twin girls separated at infancy by divorcing parents. Each parent took one child. As fate would have it, they meet again, not knowing each other, at summer camp. They realize what has happened, switch places and conspire to bring their parents back together.

In this film, Maureen O’Hara plays their mom Maggie. Wealthy family. Boston family. Somewhat dreamy-eyed. After finding out that her “Sharon” is actually her sister Susan, she goes to California, and to her ex-husband Mitch, to get Sharon back.

Up to this point, Maggie is pretty straight-laced. It was a source of contention with Mitch when they were married that she was too uptight. (This argument falls a little flat when you consider her temper- if you know Maureen O’Hara, I don’t have to describe this one.) However, as the girls plot to get rid of Dad’s new girlfriend Vicki, we can see the glimmer and “subtle” sabotage from Maggie (very a la Katherine Hepburn or Irene Dunne). She passively discourages Vicki and Mitch by encouraging them, with that little mischievous glint. Don’t worry- she gets what she wants. This is, after all, Maureen O’Hara.

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