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"Joan Crawford is doubtless the best example of the flapper, the girl you see at smart night clubs, gowned to the apex of sophistication, toying iced glasses with a remote, faintly bitter expression, dancing deliciously, laughing a great deal, with wide, hurt eyes. Young things with a talent for living."
So wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald, the most celebrated novelist of the Jazz Age, about the star of Our Dancing Daughters (1928). This was the vehicle that turned 24-year-old Crawford into a star after three years as an ingenue and featured player at MGM. Always brazenly ambitious, Crawford had stolen a copy of the screenplay from the studio script department and presented it to producer Hunt Stromberg, begging him for the role.
Crawford later said that, after Stromberg relented and gave her the part, the script was revised to suit her persona, marking the first time a studio screenwriter wrote especially for her. (Josephine Lovett would be Oscar-nominated for the screenplay, adapted from her magazine serial.) Crawford also acknowledged that, at the time, she was much like her character, Diana: "It was a way of life I knew. I was the flapper, wild on the surface, a girl who shakes her windblown bob (mine started a craze) and dances herself into a frenzy while the saxes shriek and the trombones wail, a girl drunk on her own youth and vitality."
The film portrays Diana as an innately refined young socialite whose identity as a wild young thing is really a ruse and a wake-up call to her high-living parents. Once into the swing of things, however, she goes all out as a gin-guzzling party girl given to uninhibited dancing and feverish flirtations with the opposite sex. In one scene Crawford even sheds her dress and dances in her white satin underpants.
The plot also has Crawford falling for millionaire Johnny Mack Brown and suffering a broken heart when he marries a promiscuous gold digger instead (she's played by Anita Page). The third major female character in the story, a socialite haunted by past indiscretions, is played by Dorothy Sebastian.
Shot partly on location in Carmel, Calif., with typically lush MGM production values, beautiful Art Deco sets by Cedric Gibbons and Oscar-nominated cinematography by George Barnes, Our Dancing Daughters was released with synchronized music and sound effects. It was an instant hit, grossing a then-spectacular $40,000 in its first weekend. The movie was followed by two similar films, Our Modern Maidens (1929) and Our Blushing Brides (1930), that reunited Crawford, Page and Sebastian. By that time, however, Crawford had far outpaced her costars to become one of MGM's reigning superstars.
Producer: Hunt Stromberg
Director: Harry Beaumont
Screenplay: Josephine Lovett (from her story), Marian Ainslee (titles), Ruth Cummings (titles)
Cinematography: George Barnes
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Editing: Margaret Booth, William Hamilton
Costumes: David Cox
Cast: Joan Crawford (Diana Medford), Johnny Mack Brown (Ben Blaine), Nils Asther (Norman), Dorothy Sebastian (Beatrice), Anita Page (Anne), Kathlyn Williams (Anne's mother), Edward Nugent (Freddie).
By Roger Fristoe