15 February 2010

Our Dancing Daughters Revisited

Long-time readers--if there are any--will note that I have fawned over 1928's Our Dancing Daughters (and to a lesser extent, its two pseudo-sequels) more than a few times in the past. Thus far, however, I've not really offered any detailed comment on the picture, at least not beyond the usual obtuse references. Now that I have seen the picture for a second time, I think it's time I gave it a proper review.

Our Dancing Daughters revolves around the romantic foibles of three well-to-do young ladies -- Diana (Joan Crawford), Beatrice (Dorothy Sebastian) and Ann (Anita Page). Diana and Ann have both set their sights on Ben Blaine (Johnny Mack Brown), but Ann manages to snatch him up first, much to Diana's chagrin. Melodrama ensues.

Diana is very much a character of the era -- the seemingly wild flapper who is actually quite virtuous. Ann, meanwhile, is a dipsomaniac and a gold-digger, interested in Ben for his money as much as his good looks. Of the three girls, however, it is Beatrice who is the most interesting. She is a faithful friend to Diana and very much in love with a dashing young fellow named Norman (Nils Asther), but at the same time she is haunted by certain misdeeds in her past (it isn't revealed precisely what these misdeeds are, but we may infer with some confidence). Beatrice does marry Norman, although her troubled past causes some difficulty for the married couple. While it's true that the primary focus of the picture is the Diana-Ben-Ann love triangle, the Beatrice sub-plot is intriguing in its own right (it's unfortunate that it was not fleshed out a little more, I think). In any event, Diana and Ben do eventually wind up together, after Ann is removed from the picture by means of a drunken tumble down a flight of stairs.

With all of that said, the question remains -- is it a good picture? In all honesty, it probably depends on your criteria. As you might imagine from the synopsis offered above, Our Dancing Daughters is a bit thin in terms of character development and plot. On the other hand, it's certainly a well-photographed picture, and the art direction is top-notch -- everything from the set design to the costumes is absolutely lovely, oozing with 1920s awesomeness. Indeed, the very fact that it is such a product and such a relic of its time is what makes Our Dancing Daughters so interesting to watch (notwithstanding the fact that it features three of my favorite actresses). Perhaps it isn't a classic masterpiece of American cinema, but I enjoyed watching it, and I imagine most others interested in the era would enjoy it as well. If nothing else, Our Dancing Daughters must rank highly on my list of guilty pleasures.

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