DAMES is another in the string of '30s Warner Bros. musicals featuring elaborate numbers designed and directed by Busby Berkeley. Although the plot is not as engaging as some of Berkeley's other musicals -- links to reviews are at the conclusion of this post -- the kaleidoscopic musical numbers represent Berkeley at his zenith.
The story is silliness about a wealthy man (Hugh Hubert) who has no immediate heirs and wants to give some of his fortune to distant relatives. Two members of his family tree are played by Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler; Dick and Ruby are in love (they're just 13th cousins to each other, you see) and putting on a Broadway musical. Problem: their wealthy relative hates the theater! Once the wealthy relative sees their musical, of course, he likes it, and that's the end of that.
The song "I Only Have Eyes for You" originated in DAMES. It appears first as a quietly charming number which Powell sings to Keeler on a Staten Island ferry. The song reappears in Powell and Keeler's show as a dizzying tribute to Keeler, whose face multiplies in countless ways as endless choruses of Warren & Dubin's beautiful tune are sung.
Even more dazzling is the title song, with its amazing kaleidoscope effects -- it's worth rewinding and taking at second look after the movie concludes, simply to admire Berkeley's creativity. As always, these musical numbers are improbably supposed to be taking place on a theater stage -- suspending disbelief and going on a wild ride with Berkeley's imagination is part of the fun. In an accompanying DVD featurette, USC film historian Richard Jewell opines "Busby Berkeley was from outer space." I'm not sure he was joking (grin).
The cast includes Joan Blondell, Guy Kibbee, Zasu Pitts, and Leila Bennett. Composer Sammy Fain plays songwright Buttercup Balmer. Notable faces in the chorus include Virginia Grey and Jean Rogers, who would go on to act at MGM. Guy Kibbee's brother, Milton, has a bit part as a reporter; Milton was a bit player who was not as well known as Guy, but he managed to accumulate 373 credits in two decades!
DAMES was directed by Ray Enright, with a screenplay by Delmer Daves. The movie runs 90 minutes.
DAMES is available on DVD as a single title or as part of the Busby Berkeley DVD set. It's also available on video.
It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer can be viewed on the TCM website here.
Related posts: FOOTLIGHT PARADE, 42ND STREET, and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933.