Film Score: Heinz Roemheld Cinematography: Leon Shamroy
Starring: Sylvia Sidney, Fredric March, Jack LaRue and Noel Francis
Good Dame did not fare well in terms of reviews. The story of a carnival huckster redeemed by the love of a good woman was fairly trite even in 1934. Sylvia Sidney, who is the only reason for watching the film, is glorious as always, but Fredric March is decidedly weak in the picture. The review in the New York Times blamed the screenplay for this, but for March it was just too much of a stretch to ask him to carry a picture he wasn’t equipped to handle. He just doesn’t have the kind of authenticity that any number of actors over at Warners would have brought to the part. The screenplay is credited to four writers, and that’s probably one of the reasons it never gels. But while the plot isn’t much, the carney slang is pretty fascinating. In the end, March and Sidney are a nice paring and enjoyable to watch, but it’s definitely no It Happened One Night. Director Marion Gering began his career in Russia as a theater director, and this was one of only seventeen films he directed in his career in Hollywood, none of them really noteworthy. Nevertheless, there are some moving camera touches that are arresting, but too isolated to form a cohesive directorial vision the way that someone like Lewis Milestone was able to achieve during the same period.
The film opens with a nice credit sequence, a train passing by a series of billboards containing the cast and crew in art deco lettering. The train, it turns out, is transporting a carnival, and after a montage showing the various games of chance, Fredric March is seen running a three-card Monte with Sylvia Sidney looking on. March is about to lose fifty bucks, but then Sidney has her purse stolen and March gets away in the commotion. The thief takes her money and tears up her train ticket, and it turns out it was March’s partner, Russell Hopton, who stole the purse. Sidney is a legitimate chorus girl with a traveling show but now she is forced to take a job as an exotic dancer with the carnival in order to get to Chicago. March is a ladies’ man who tries to pick up Sidney, but she’s having none of it--that is, until he offers to buy her dinner--but she chases him off before he can close the deal. When March gets wise to the fact that she’s a chorus girl, he follows her back to the train to collect on his dinner investment, but it turns out she really isn’t the kind of dancer he thought she was and takes pity on her. Then the two of them wind up accidentally locked in the animal car and have to spend the night together. The title comes from March’s line, “A car full of animals and a good dame. Nuts!”
The next morning March wakes to find Sidney already gone. That night the cops shut down the show and arrest Sidney along with the rest of the dancers. March has Hopton steal the money from LaRue to pay her fine and she’s released, on condition she leave town with the carnival. When LaRue catches her on the train, however, he kicks her off. Then LaRue threatens to kill March unless he gets the money back, and March makes his own getaway. The two naturally wind up in the hotel March told her about earlier in the picture. March takes the room next door because he believes she’s the beauty from New York that the desk clerk told him about, while Sidney has to run off a guy who wants to take advantage of her. So when March knocks on the door he gets a jug full of water in the face, intended for the creep, for his troubles. Fortunately, one of March’s fun time girls, Noel Francis, is staying just across the hall, and so he makes it his mission to get Sidney’s money back and put her on a bus before she makes his life any more miserable--and before he falls for her so much he can’t let her go. Though the film was made at the very end of the pre-code days, it’s difficult to tell. The implications of easy sex, social drinking, scantily clad dancers, and the brazen law breaking by carnival owner Jack LaRue seem to place it squarely in the middle of the era. It’s not a great film by any stretch, and maybe not even be a good one. But there’s definitely enough perverse charm to Good Dame to warrant a viewing.