Sunday, August 28, 2022



AFTER THE DANCE, a 1935 Columbia film, is one of the most weirdly constructed movies I've ever seen. 

Nightclub entertainer Jerry Davis (George Murphy) is implicated in an accidental death. Jerry accepts a manslaughter conviction after he learns that the partner in his act, Mabel King (Thelma Todd) will not testify in his behalf. While in prison Jerry is forced to take part in an ill-fated escape attempt. Jerry gets away from the authorities, and while on the run, he befriends Anne Taylor (Nancy Carroll), who just so happens to be a nightclub entertainer herself. Jerry teams up with Anne on-and-off stage, while hiding his real identity. Mabel happens to get a job at the club Anne and Jerry perform at, and she starts to blackmail Jerry. Mabel then demands that Jerry let her take Anne's place, or she'll inform the police on him. 

The first half of AFTER THE DANCE is a mini-prison melodrama, with Jerry trying to get along in the Big House, and then becoming an unshaven transient while on the run. After his incredibly lucky break in getting help from Anne, Jerry gets to show off his singing and dancing talents, while wearing a Lone Ranger-style mask on stage. (One would think that appearing this way would just attract even more unwanted attention on him.) 

The return of Mabel complicates matters, and the viewer expects a climatic blowup of some kind--but it never happens. AFTER THE DANCE ends in such an abrupt, unsatisfactory manner that one wonders if there was another ending that for some reason didn't make the final cut. 

Actually, one wonders if there were several sequences that were originally supposed to be in AFTER THE DANCE, since the movie clocks in at only an hour long. The incident of the accidental death that gets Jerry in trouble is never shown, and we never find out why Mabel refuses to give testimony that would help Jerry out. (In the movie the prosecutor tells Jerry that Mabel is a "bad" girl, but it's never explained why she is, or what she has done to make her so.) There's also a number of montage sequences that cover certain passages of time. My theory is that the original script might have been written during the Pre-Code era, and that a number of adjustments were made on it to conform to post-1934 standards. 

George Murphy is a likable, if lightweight personality, but he seems much more comfortable performing song & dance routines instead of being stuck in the Crossbar Hotel or appearing as a desperate guy on the run. Nancy Carroll gets to sing and dance as well, but her nice girl role doesn't give her much to work with, and you have to wonder why her character would take such a chance in helping out Jerry. 

Thelma Todd is very vindictive here as Mabel--so much so that even though she doesn't have a lot of screen time, she's still able to overshadow Nancy Carroll. At the beginning of the film Thelma is dark-haired, but she's her beloved blonde self when she reappears toward the end. 

AFTER THE DANCE was directed by the Russian-born Leo Bulgakov. With such a strange plot construction, I don't think it wouldn't have made a difference who directed it. It's a uneasy mixture of hard-boiled prison drama and backstage theatrics, and it feels as if a number of scenes were left out of it. While looking for an appropriate image from the movie to go with this blog post, I noticed that none of the posters and advertising material for AFTER THE DANCE refer to the prison subplot--it was sold as an apparent musical comedy. I can only imagine what moviegoers must have thought after seeing it. 

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