Made in 1940, and directed by a woman—Dorothy Arzner—it caught my attention when I saw the TCM info on it, which described it as a "feminist fable"—pretty radical for 1940. TCM was running it as part of a celebration of what would be Lucille Ball's 100th birthday, but my interest was in Maureen O'Hara, an actor I should have had on that list because no matter how mediocre the film, she is always a delight to watch, for me.
And her performance in DANCE, GIRL, DANCE is one of her greatest, in which she is at her most stunningly beautiful, to me. It's a nuanced performance that displays all the emotional colors an actor can bring to a role, or at least most of them. But it's when they allow her to be completely still and just use her big beautiful eyes to convey an emotion as simply and as unadorned as possible that she is most magnificent to behold. And she has several scenes in this flick that allow her to do it.
Lucille Ball is also terrific in a role that only has a touch of what she would become as a TV icon. This was still when she was discovering her strengths and was playing mostly tough beauties from the school of hard knocks and take no prisoners approach [e.g. THE BIG STREET from two years later]. O'Hara plays the more innocent, naive foil to Ball. But despite Ball's, well, "ballsy" performance, it's O'Hara's movie and a tour de force for all her beauty and talent.
I highly recommend this movie if you've never seen it, especially if you're interested in the history of women in film, with these three incredibly strong and way ahead of their time women collaborating on it—Maureen O'Hara, Lucille Ball, and Dorothy Arzner [along with two other women, Vicki Baum, who came up with the story, and Tess Slesinger, who co-wrote the screenplay with Frank Davis].