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Film / Dames

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Busby Berkeley!

"What do you go for,
Go see a show for?
Tell the truth, you go to see those beautiful dames."

Dames is a 1934 musical comedy directed by Ray Enright, with musical numbers directed and choreographed by Busby Berkeley. It stars the usual Busby Berkeley stock players: Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, and Joan Blondell.

Ezra Ounce (Hugh Herbert) is an eccentric millionaire with a strong puritanical streak. He is setting out to distribute his massive fortune, and is about to write a $10 million check to his cousin Matilda (ZaSu Pitts) and her husband Horace (Guy Kibbee). However, Ezra won't write the check if Horace and his family aren't up to his high moral standards. He has already cut off his distant cousin Jimmy (Powell) for working in the musical theater, which Ezra finds offensive more than all other sins. What neither Ezra nor Horace knows is that Horace and Matilda's daughter, Barbara (Keeler) is in love with her distant cousin Jimmy, and is going to be in his show.

Meanwhile, Horace has an awkward train encounter with a starlet named Mabel (Blondell). He doesn't sleep with her or anything, but it's sufficiently embarrassing for Mabel to blackmail Horace into backing Jimmy's show—which Ezra is plotting to disrupt with a horde of Mooks.

All of this, of course, is only an excuse to have a lot of ornate Busby Berkeley numbers.


  • Blackmail: Mabel gets Horace to back the show by threatening to tell everyone that the two of them shared a hotel room.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: During the "Dames" number, the camera swoops in on a woman in a bathtub, who turns and shoves a sponge into the camera lens. Later, the camera focuses on a woman doing her makeup, only for the woman to turn and spray her perfume bottle at the camera.
  • Busby Berkeley Number: Several in classic Busby Berkeley style, with hordes of scantily clad dancers forming intricate geometric patterns.
  • Chorus Girls: So many! And as the title song points out, they're basically the whole reason for the movie.
  • Curse Cut Short:
    Horace: I've called up every—
    Matilda: Horace!
    Horace: —blankety-blank drugstore in this town!
  • Eccentric Millionaire: Ezra is introduced on the telephone, demanding a refund from a tire salesman because his 10,000 mile tire blew out after 9,998 miles. Then he plays with the toy elephants on his desk for a while. Discussed Trope when Ezra tells Horace that Ezra is rich and therefore can afford to be eccentric.
  • Fanservice: Mandatory for a Busby Berkeley musical. Besides all the half-naked chorus girls, Mabel is introduced in Horace's train berth clad in only a nightie—she got put there after a ticket snafu. Even the title song is basically just explaining how the only reason men go to the movies is to see beautiful women.
  • Foreshadowing: The camera captures the front label of Ezra's hiccup tonic, "Dr. Silver's Golden Elixir", revealing that it's 53% alcohol. Sure enough, during the theater performance, and after Ezra's body guard gets some "triple strength" tonic, Ezra, Horace, and Matilda all get hammered during the show.
  • Hiccup Hijinks: Ezra gets a persistent case of the hiccups, which he claims can only be cured by "Dr. Silver's Golden Elixir", an obscure and hard-to-find tonic that happens to be over half alcohol. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Intoxication Ensues: No one seems to notice that Ezra's hiccup tonic is mostly alcohol. They all get trashed during the show.
  • Kissing Cousins: "It doesn't seem right loving each other the way we do, being related," says Barbara, only for Jimmy to parry that they're "13th cousins."
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Jimmy's song about how a musical doesn't really need much in the way of plot if you have a lot of "dames" describes Busby Berkeley's whole career, but especially this movie.
  • Magical Realism: Busby Berkeley numbers weren't ever very realistic as supposed stage performances, but this film crosses over into magical realism when the background players disappear during the "I Only Have Eyes for You" number.
  • Male Gaze: Loads and loads of hot chorus girls ogled by the camera.
    Horace: No nudity at all. I'm disappointed.
  • Match Cut: There's a shot of Ezra ripping a picture of Jimmy in half, forming a V onscreen. This is immediately followed by a V-shaped wipe to the next scene, introducing Jimmy and Barbara in New York.
  • Moral Guardians: Satirized in the person of Ezra, whose most cherished ambition is to found "The Ounce Foundation for the Elevation of American Morals." One night at the theater, plus a lot of alcohol, are sufficient to totally change Ezra's point of view.
  • The Musical Musical: As with every other Berkeley film, someone's putting on a show.
  • Punny Name: Ezra Ounce, a takeoff on poet Ezra Pound.
  • Show Within a Show: "Sweet and Hot", Jimmy's rather risqué musical.
  • Source Music: All the music, except the music over the opening titles, is in-universe. When Jimmy is serenading Barbara with "I Only Have Eyes for You" in a harbor boat, the camera shows that the boat has a band.
  • Staggered Zoom: One shot features a single chorus girl in the far distance on a bare stage. Four staggered zoom cuts take us to a closeup of her face. A conventional zoom out reveals her to be just one part of a huge chorus.
  • Title Drop: "Who cares if there's a plot or not when they've got a lot of dames?", sings Jimmy, as the title number gets underway.