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Go into Your Dance is one of the better Al Jolson musicals. "The World's Greatest Entertainer" never made more than one film a year and none matched the popularity of his part-talkie breakthrough The Jazz Singer back in 1927. The most interesting was Lewis Milestone's 1933 musical experiment Hallelujah I'm a Bum, a giddy Depression operetta with all dialogue sung as lyrics.
Go into Your Dance is a straight musical vehicle with Jolson playing the thinly-disguised Al Howard, a top Broadway entertainer. The film's Al has an enormous ego (like his namesake) but also a foolish irresponsible streak; he just can't be bothered by show commitments. Al is blacklisted from Broadway for not showing up for his third premiere in a row. His sister Mollie (favorite Warners contractee Glenda Farrell) tracks him to Tijuana, where he's entertaining the locals for free in bars. Part of Mollie's plan to get Al back on the straight and narrow is to hook him up as a performing partner with dancer Dot Wayne (Ruby Keeler). All will be fine if Dot can tame the big ham.
A Chicago booking puts Al in contact with mobster Duke Hutchinson (Barton MacLane), who agrees to bankroll a Howard-produced Broadway show provided his wife Luana Wells (Helen Morgan) is the star. As opening night draws near Dot can't disguise her disappointment -- Al can't seem to understand that she's in love with him. Mollie is framed for a murder and put in jail. Al uses his guarantee money for her bail, which cues the marshalls to cancel the premiere. Worse, word gets to Duke that Al is two-timing him. A pair of killers are dispatched to kill the singer right in the middle of his show.
A Jolson showcase all the way, Go into Your Dance features its star front and center in almost every scene. A self-confident pro too big to be ordered about by a director, Jolson doesn't seem to have paid much attention to performance details. His actions and facial expressions rarely match across cuts. 1935 audiences surely loved the star's rolling eyes, but when Al mugs for the camera he now comes off as rather grotesque. We agree with those critics of the time that noted that film doesn't quite convey Jolson's acknowledged ability to electrify a live audience. It's said that every audience member felt as if he were singing to them personally.
Second-billed Ruby Keeler is now one of the most famous names in Warners musicals but in the 1930s she was also known as Al Jolson's wife -- she married him at age 18, as a dancer in Dutch Schultz's nightclub. Keeler added her own self-criticism to critical sniping that she couldn't sing and couldn't dance. That she's remained such an entertaining presence in all those Busby Berkeley movies invalidates those claims. Some say that husband Jolson belittled her talents in public. Go into Your Dance is the only movie in which Jolson and Keeler co-starred.
Also prominent in the cast is Helen Morgan, perhaps at Jolson's insistence. A famed singer with a tragic life, Morgan is given one torch song, "The Little Things You Used to Do". She would reprise her Broadway role as Julie in the next year's Showboat, the superior James Whale version. It would be her last film, but a personal triumph.
The show's long list of musical numbers by Harry Warren and Al Dubin are tailored to Jolson's needs. The title song "Go into Your Dance" isn't all that memorable but Jolson gets more out of "About a Quarter to Nine", a catchy tune about a man eager not to miss a big date. Some songs provide backdrops for Keeler's dances while others are heard in snippets or used as novelty numbers -- Jolson sings "Cielito Lindo" in the Mexican bar, in broken Spanish. "Swanee" ends up sandwiched into the middle of the big "About a Quarter to Nine" number, without much of a reason.
The picture's best-remembered melody "She's A Latin From Manhattan" provides the basis for an extravagant musical number. Rotund Paul Porcasi introduces the bombshell dancer Dolores (Keeler), the toast of Madrid and Havana, only to have singer Jolson recognize her as "a hoofer from Fifth Avenue" -- Susie Donohue. The lyrics are pretty hilarious: "She can take her tambourine and whack it, but to her it's just a racket!" Although the song becomes a big dance with a hundred couples, it doesn't jump to a new level or tell a story, as would a Busby Berkeley number. We have to assume that Warners saw a dim future in enormous Berkeley constructions that cost more than the films they were in!
The lively script alternates between Glenda Farrell's wisecracks, Ruby Keeler's gee-whiz innocence and Al's charming pomposity. Informed over the phone that he has a club booking only if he's paired with a dancer, Al reinterprets the call to make it sound as if he's giving Dot a big break. Elsewhere he suffers the unsolicited auditions of comedienne Patsy Kelly, who acts as if her miserable talents are exactly what Al needs. The Brooklyn-born Kelly was an entertainment legend in her own right. She did well in television in her later years, although most people remember her as the slovenly nanny-witch Laura-Louise in Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby.
In the rather forced conclusion -- Keeler's Dot takes a bullet meant for the man she loves, like Shirley MacLaine in Some Came Running -- Al learns the importance of delivering a show no matter what happens. Of course, he chirps, "You ain't heard nothing yet!" as he runs out to perform.
Jolson remained the most celebrated singer in the world right up to his death in 1950. His legacy has since fallen victim to PC tastes due to his iconic image as a blackface entertainer. The visual of Jolson singing "Mammy", reinforced through dozens of lampoons in animated cartoons, has become a powerful symbol of racial inequity in the culture at large. Other 30s musicals are revived and celebrated, but by and large not Jolson's. Even the Jazz Singer special edition of a couple of years ago was met with some negative reactions. Race-oriented details now considered harmless in pictures like Footlight Parade draw negative attention in Jolson pictures. Al Howard's backstage valet is played by black actor Fred "Snowflake" Toones. Before going on stage, Al pats Fred's head for good luck, even when wearing blackface himself.
Choice Jolson material, Go into Your Dance is not remembered as one of the great Warners musicals. The fact that audience tastes were shifting to the more sophisticated RKO pictures of Astaire and Rogers probably has a lot to do with it. Archie Mayo's direction is snappy enough under the circumstances and fans of Warners supporting stars have plenty to enjoy. Akim Tamiroff, Ward Bond, Marc Lawrence and Mary Treen are easy to spot in small parts. One good gag makes fun of the legend of how Jolson met Keeler. Al tries to pick up a showgirl (Sharon Lynne) and gets knocked out cold by her husband (Ward Bond). Glenda Farrell chimes right in with an appropriate wisecrack: "Man meets girl, girl meets husband, husband meets man, man meets sidewalk!"
The Warners Archive Collection's DVD-R of Go into Your Dance is an adequate if not exceptional encoding of an older transfer. The picture is intact but a little soft; we'd of course love to see it remastered some day, along with other unheralded WB musicals like the Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein Sweet Adeline with Irene Dunne.
An amusing original trailer, a real fossil, has been added to the disc as an extra. Go into Your Dance is a good example of the Archives' mission to give consumers access to previously unavailable library titles. This is the first chance I've had to catch all of this particular film, ever. I saw parts of a massacred 16mm print on a public access channel almost forty years ago, and that was it.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Go into Your Dance rates:
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