Yesterday's view of New York in the early 1930s whetted my appetite for some more vintage Broadway stuff from the era. Fortunately one doesn't have to look too hard to find examples, thanks to the glut of stage material transferred to film in the first few years of the talkies. Above I've posted the full version of the film 'The Dance Of Life', a fascinating relic from 1929 derived from 'Burlesque', a popular play of the era. It stars Hal Skelly and Nancy Carroll as two vaudevillians who meet, dance, marry, break up (when fame comes to him) all the while enduring his drunken escapades and her romance with another man. Pretty typical stuff of the time but I'm always fascinated by early talkies as they seem to bring the period to life in ways that films made just a little bit later don't. This has to do, I suspect, with the clumsiness of the technology then deployed by filmmakers, which led actors to perform with a strange lack of polish. All filmmaking strategies--close-ups, moving cameras, rapid cutting, things that had all been perfected in the silent era--were abandoned due to the heavy, immobile camera equipment of the time. The result is an accidental authenticity; scenes play as if you're eavesdropping on actual events, as if you're getting a distant view (while not being able to hear particularly well) of things going on between people that you're not supposed to be seeing.

Hal Skelly was a popular Vaudeville and Broadway star of the twenties, notable for his 'eccentric dancing', a wonderful, now-lost art form that was gloriously alive in that distant era. For examples of his terrific work go to 17:20 (approximately) and 1:05. The best bit, though, is a famous (in its time) 'mad dance' that he does when he learns that his wife will be divorcing him and marrying another man. The scene this occurs within beings around 1:25 and the big climax comes about five minutes later. It's a weirdly disturbing, jagged and neurotic moment and was considered daring--and not quite savory--at the time. When the film was remade in 1948 as "When My Baby Smiles At Me", Dan Dailey reproduced Skelly's dance to great effect. Skelly died stupidly only five years after making this movie; the car he was driving stalled on a railroad track and a rapidly arriving train mowed him down.

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1 comment:

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