Dancing Lady (1933): Robert Z. Leonard’s Backstage Melodrama, Starring Clark Gable and Joan Crawford

Robert Z. Leonard’s Depression-era backstage melodrama, Dancing Lady, teamed together two of MGM’s biggest stars, Clark Gable and Joan Crawford, in a vehicle designed more to Crawford’s than to Gable’s specifications. (Crawford gets top billing).

Grade: B

Dancing Lady
Crawford gable astaire dancinglady poster.jpg

theatrical poster

Once again, Crawford played a poor but ambitious upwardly-mobile girl, determined to succeed at all costs.

Poverty and lack of opportunity force Janie Barlow (Crawford) to work as a showgirl in a cheap downtown burlesque house in New York. Tod Newton (Franchot Tone, who later married Crawford and made several other movies with her), a wealthy young rounder, takes a slumming party of friends down to the burlesque house, and is immediately attracted by Janie’s fresh and young beauty.

When the show is raided and taken into court on a charge of indecency, Tod volunteers to pay Janie’s $50.00 fine.

Tod persuades her to return home with him, where he attempts to seduce her. But the tough Janie doesn’t buy his line, telling him she will pay back every cent when she gets work. Tod informs her that a striptease on Second Avenue is “art” on Broadway, which predictably fires Janie’s ambition to crash Broadway.

She accepts Tod’s help to reach Patch Gallagher (Clark Gable), the hard-boiled (what else?) dance director for Jasper Bradley (Grant Mitchell) musical shows. Once a hoofer himself, Patch is annoyed by the girls’ importunity but is persuaded by Tod to hire her.

True to formula, Patch and Janie don’t hit it off at first. While recognizing her talent, he refuses to acknowledge it public. Initially resenting the fact that Janie was forced on him, he harasses and humiliates her in front of the cast. Gradually, though, Janie wins his friendship through her devotion to hard work, and he decides to feature her in the show.

Meanwhile, the insecure Tod hadn’t anticipated Janie’s success, and trying to force her to marry him, he buys Bradley out and closes down the show. When Janie finds out, she gives Tod the brush-off, and assisted by Patch, continues with the show, while using Patch’s savings. The show proves to be a great success, reuniting Patch and Janie discover in a love affair.

In this picture, Crawford drew on her background as a hoofer, and it only helped that her partner was the great Fred Astaire, just a year before he became a star with his RKO musicals opposite Ginger Rogers. (See our reviews)

Made on a budget of close to $1 million, the movie was popular at the box-office.


Joan Crawford
Clark Gable
Franchot Tone
May Robson
Winnie Lightner
Fred Astaire
Robert Benchley
Ted Healy
Floria Foy
Art Jarrett
Grant Mitchell
Maynard Holmes


Nelson Eddy, Moe Howard, Jerry Howard, and Larry Fine.


Produced by David O. Selznick.
Directed by Robert Z. Leonard.
Screenplay by Allen Rivkin and P.J. Wolfson, based on the 1932 novel by James Warner Bellah.
Photography by Oliver T. Marsh.
Music by Burton Lane, Harold Adamson, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Jimmy McHugh, and Dorothy Fields.
Costumes by Adrian.
Edited by Margaret Booth.
Release date: November 24, 1933 (premiere), December 2, 1933.

Running time: 94 Minutes.

Budget $923,000
Box office $2.4 million