Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Ten Cents a Dance (1931)
The story of a "taxi dancer" named Barbara (Stanwyck) who meets rich Mr. Carlton (Ricardo Cortez) at her job and has to choose between his "friendship" and marriage to a well-educated looser, Eddie (Monroe Owesley). She goes the good girl route and lives to regret it as her husband turns out to be a cheat, a liar and a thief and just all around jerk face. Eddie's an interesting villain in that he presents himself as being a well-mannered gentle sort of fellow but behind the scenes he's as manipulative as they come. And yet he's also sincere. He actually believes all the hard luck stories he gives people. The idea that Barbara Stanwyck could fall in love with such a guy, even if he presents the appearance of the opposite of the sort of guy she meets at work, is just really hard to swallow. Even harder to believe is that she sticks with him as long as she does. She soldiers through and he gets worse and worse and the audience waits impatiently for inevitable melt-down. When it comes, it's a doozy, though somehow not quite enough. By that point I was really hoping she'd actually belt him as she threatens to do earlier in the film. It doesn't help much that Owesley is probably the least attractive of all the fairly unattractive leading men in this run of pre-code Stanwyck films. Had Eddie an ounce of charm than I could see her falling for him and the story about her struggle to help support their income with part-time work might be more compelling. At the very least the movie makes a strong case for women being able to work in more respectable jobs. Though Barbara escapes the degradation of her job by marrying Carlton at the end, it's very clear that women didn't have a lot of legitimate options when once or twice in the story prostitution is hinted at and one of Barbara's co-workers reminds her that working for a dime a dance is at least legal. Ten Cents a Dance also points out how unfair it is for society to dictate that men be the sole breadwinners by showing just how helpless women who don't work outside the home are when dealing with a spendthrift, good for nothing like Eddie.