Film poster
Directed by Ray Enright
Busby Berkeley
(musical numbers)
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Written by Robert Lord
Delmer Daves
Starring Ruby Keeler
Dick Powell
Joan Blondell
Guy Kibbee
Zasu Pitts
Hugh Herbert
Cinematography George Barnes
Sidney Hickox
Sol Polito
Editing by Harold McLernon
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) 16 August 1934
1 September (general)
Running time 91 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Dames is a 1934 Warner Bros. musical comedy film directed by Ray Enright with dance numbers created by Busby Berkeley. The film stars Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Joan Blondell, Guy Kibbee, ZaSu Pitts, and Hugh Herbert. Production numbers and songs include "When You Were a Smile on Your Mother's Lips (and a Twinkle in Your Daddy's Eye)", "The Girl at the Ironing Board", "I Only Have Eyes for You", "Dames" and "Try to See It My Way".



Eccentric multimillionaire Ezra Ounce (Hugh Herbert), whose main purpose in life is raising American morals through a nationwide campaign, wants to be assured that his fortune will be inherited by upstanding relatives, so he visits his cousin, Matilda Hemingway (Zasu Pitts) in New York City, in Horace's view the center of immorality in America. What Ounce finds most offensive are musical comedy shows and the people who put them on, and it just so happens that Matilda's daughter, Barbara (Ruby Keeler), is a dancer and singer in love with a struggling singer and songwriter, her 13th cousin, Jimmy Higgens (Dick Powell). On Ezra's instructions, Jimmy the "black sheep" has been ostracized by the family, on pain of not receiving their inheritance.

Matilda's husband, Horace (Guy Kibbee) meets a showgirl named Mabel (Joan Blondell), who's been stranded in Schenectady when her show folds, and connives her way into sleeping in Horace's train compartment as a way to get back home. Terrified of scandal, he leaves her some money and his business card, along with a note telling her to not mention their meeting to anyone; but when Mabel discovers that Horace is Barbara's father, she blackmails him into backing Jimmy's show.


Dick Powell in Dames trailer.jpg Dick Powell as Jimmy Higgens
Ruby Keeler in Dames trailer.jpg Ruby Keeler as Barbara Hemingway
Joan Blondell in Dames trailer.jpg Joan Blondell as Mabel Anderson
Zasu Pitts in Dames trailer.jpg ZaSu Pitts as Matilda Ounce Hemingway
Guy Kibbee in Dames trailer.jpg Guy Kibbee as Horace Peter Hemingway
Hugh Herbert in Dames trailer.jpg Hugh Herbert as Ezra Ounce

Supporting cast

A typical Busby Berkeley geometrical arrangement of dancers from Dames
Arthur Vinton as Bulger, Ounce's bodyguard
Phil Regan as Johnny Harris, songwriter
Arthur Aylesworth as Train Conductor
Johnny Arthur as Billings, Ounce's secretary
Leila Bennett as Laura, the maid
Berton Churchill as Harold Ellsworthy Todd

Cast notes

  • Songwriter Sammy Fain, who contributed to the music used in the film, has a small role as "Buttercup Balmer", a songwriter. This character's name, along with "Johnny Harris", came from two men who owned movie theatres in Pennsylvania - this was done at the behest of producer Hal Wallis.[1]
  • Veteran bit-part actor Milton Kibbee, brother of Guy Kibbee, has a bit-part as a reporter.
  • Jean Rogers, who later played "Dale Arden", Flash Gordon's girlfriend, in 30's serials, is in the chorus.

Musical numbers

The musical sequences in Dames were designed, staged and directed by Busby Berkeley - the Warner Bros. publicity office invented the phrase "cinematerpsichorean" to describe Berkeley's creations.[1] By this time, after the success of 42nd Street, Footlight Parade and Gold Diggers of 1933, Berkeley had his own unit at Warners, under his total control as supervised by producer Hal Wallis.[2]

  • "I Only Have Eyes for You" - by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics). At one point in this number, sung by Dick Powell to Ruby Keeler, all the girls in the chorus wear Ruby Keeler masks as they move around the stage, but in just about every shot, the real Keeler passes by the camera briefly. In 1989, this song won an ASCAP Award as the "Most Performed Feature Film Standard".[3]
  • "The Girl at the Ironing Board" - by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics). Joan Blondell was seven months pregnant at the time this number was filmed, and care had to be taken by her husband, cinematographer George Barnes, not to show her condition. Also, at one point in the number, a property man can be seen in the background, hanging up clotheslines.[2]
  • "When You Were a Smile on Your Mother's Lips and a Twinkle in Your Daddy's Eye" by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal lyrics

One of the effects of the Production Code on this film is a musical number that never made it to the screen. Berkeley had planned one featuring Joan Blondell about a fight between a cat and a mouse that ended with Blondell inviting everyone to "come up and see my pussy sometime." Producer Hal Wallis removed this number from the script before it even got to the censors of the Hays Office.[2]


The director originally slated to do the film was Archie Mayo, and then a second director before Ray Enright got the job a week before filming began.[2] Some early casting considerations had Ruth Donnelly playing "Mathilda" instead of Zasu Pitts, and Hobart Cavanaugh as "Ellsworthy Todd".[1] At one point, it was suggested that Eleanor Powell do a specialty number, but she declined to do so.[5]

Dames began production at the Warner Bros. studios in Burbank, California on 28 March 1934. Ray Enright completed the dramatic scenes in mid-April of that year, while Busby Berkeley continued working on the musical numbers until 3 July. The film had its premiere on 16 August 1934 and went into general release on 1 September.[6][7]

See also


  1. ^ a b c TCM Notes
  2. ^ a b c d Brian Cady TCM article
  3. ^ IMDB Awards for "Dames"
  4. ^ TCM Music
  5. ^ TCM Trivia
  6. ^ TCM Overview
  7. ^ IMDB Release dates

External links

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