DAMES (1934) B/W 90m dir: Ray Enright
w/Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, ZaSu Pitts, Guy Kibbee, Hugh Herbert
From Variety's contemporary review of the film: "Heavier on comedy but lighter on the story than WB's predecessors. There are five song numbers and all amazingly well done. [Dance director] Busby Berkeley pyramids attention in spectacular manner, at times making 'em wide-eyed with his choreographic mating of rhythmic formations with the camera.
"Three sets of songwriters fashioned a corking score. Al Dubin and Harry Warren have the cream of the crop with the title song, 'I Only Have Eyes for You,' and 'The Girl at the Ironing Board.' Mort Dixon and Allie Wrubel are responsible for 'Try and See It My Way,' and Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain (latter a personable youth who plays himself in a songwriter's bit) contributed 'When You Were a Smile on Your Mother's Lips.'
"'I Only Have Eyes for You' is one of the two most spectacular numbers with the entire chorus in Benda masks of Ruby Keeler. 'Dames' is the spectacular topper-offer with the girls in opera length black tights and white blouses.
"Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell are again the romantic interest, and again he is the ambitious songwriter who has just written a surefire musical comedy hit that's only begging for a backer, and again Keeler is the sympathetic and romantic inspiration. Joan Blondell is prominent as a decorously subdued but otherwise flip chorine who perpetrates a mild 'shake' on Guy Kibbee."
Rick Altman, in his book The American Film Musical, identifies DAMES as being one of four extremely influential musicals produced by Warner Bros. Studios in 1933-34 (the other three being 42ND STREET, GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933, and FOOTLIGHT PARADE). These popular films, Altman says, constitute the "nucleus" of the archetypal backstage musical; in these musicals, two problems are intertwined: putting on a Broadway show and constituting a romantic couple. These problems are so intertwined, in fact, that the separate activities become equated. There's a long final number in these films that celebrates the two successful conclusions: the show and the romance. In the typical Berkeley pattern, the young couple's love is developed simultaneously with the show, and the success of one depends on the success of the other. Altman writes about the final film in this group of very special musicals:
"The fourth film in the Berkeley series, Dames (1934), is in many ways the most sophisticated and complex. Relationships only roughly sensed in the earlier films are here carefully worked out. By now Berkeley could count on an audience familiar with the Warner plot formula and the Berkeley choreographic touch --- so much so, in fact, that he for the first time abandons the consecrated three-number formula guaranteed to establish thematic, visual, and structural links between the numbers and the narrative. The specialty number, 'The Girl at the Ironing Board,' comes first in order, while both the other major numbers (all Dubin and Warren songs) move directly to sophisticated play on the male = camera/eye, woman = image equation, without bothering to establish it by inserting the couple from the narrative into the number (that function having been fulfilled by the previous films of the series). Under the influence of Dick Powell's love, 'I Only Have Eyes for You' turns a subway ad into a vision of Ruby Keeler, which soon multiplies into dozens of small Ruby Keelers, one enormous jigsaw composite of Ruby Keeler, and finally a montage of Ruby Keelers of various sizes and shapes. A strikingly clear summary of the visual structures informing Berkeley's previous backstage films, this song clearly identifies the feminine show as the product of a loving male eye. As such, it prepares the spectator for a generalization and reinterpretation of the optical/amorous metaphor in the final number, 'Dames.'"