March 22 – March 29


Dorothy Arzner (1897-1979) is arguably the woman with the longest continuous career as a director in classical Hollywood. From early stints as a typist, editor and screenwriter she went on to direct 16 features in about as many years, a record still unrivalled by any female director working in Hollywood. Renowned as a star-maker of up-and-coming actresses, Arzner directed Rosalind Russell, Katharine Hepburn, Ruth Chatterton, Maureen O’Hara and the young Lucille Ball in breakout roles. Then, although driven out of feature production by the early 1940s (and for decades largely forgotten), she carved a new career in the late 1950s as a pioneer film production educator. Rediscovered during the feminist reappraisal of classical Hollywood in the 1970s by writers such as Pam Cook, Claire Johnston and Judith Mayne, and now seen as a key early queer filmmaker, Arzner’s films appeal today as much for their subversive interrogation of women’s communal relationships, sexual identities, transgressive desires and social stereotypes as for their drop-dead wit and playful gusto.

This season features a selection of Arzner’s long unseen early sound features resolutely created in the pre-Code era, alongside a couple of her most iconic works: the strikingly designed, bracingly “modern” and sometimes fevered Christopher Strong; the indelible and intermittently frank feminist cult classic, Dance, Girl, Dance.

This season is presented in conjunction with:

The Melbourne Queer Film Festival

March 22

Dorothy Arzner (1929) 77 mins
Unclassified 15+ (unless accompanied by an adult)

The “It” girl talks in this compassionate, “spirited analysis of the pitfalls of gendered conformity” (Kevin Hagopian). Silent superstar Clara Bow stars in Paramount and Arzner’s first talkie as the most popular party girl in a women’s college dorm full of high-spirited flapper co-eds. The film’s critical and box-office success confirmed Arzner’s career as a director of A-list contemporary melodramas and breezy social comedies as well as a specialist in star-making vehicles for up-and-coming actresses. With Fredric March, Marceline Day and Jack Oakie.

Screening to be introduced by Dr Eloise Ross (President and co-curator of the Melbourne Cinémathèque).

35mm print courtesy of the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

‘The Wild Party’ by Kendahl Cruver.
‘The Wild Party’ by Luke Aspell.

Dorothy Arzner (1940) 89 mins
Unclassified 15+ (unless accompanied by an adult)

Arzner’s masterpiece is a hard-hitting, Code-stretching backstage musical featuring a budding ballerina (Maureen O’Hara) who goes to work in a burlesque show alongside a brassy stripper played by Lucille Ball (in a film-stealing performance). This is a feminist cult classic not only because of Arzner’s incisive direction but also for the famous, male-gaze defying scene where O’Hara speaks back to an all-male audience.

The film features supple, gritty camerawork by Russell Metty and a support cast including Louis Hayward, Ralph Bellamy, and the indomitable Maria Ouspenskaya.

35mm print courtesy of The British Film Institute Archive.

‘Dance, Girl, Dance’ by Louise Cole.

March 29

Dorothy Arzner (1931) 77 mins
Unclassified 15+ (unless accompanied by an adult)

Like Sex in the City set in the Great Depression, Arzner charts the adventures of two Indiana sisters who come to New York City searching for work, love and the right man. This subversive, gendered view of marriage, work, class and the social typing of “good” and “bad” girls based on a play co-written by Vera Caspary (Laura) was described by Arzner authority Judith Mayne as perhaps the director’s “most daring and innovative film.”

With Judith Wood, Dorothy Hall and Paul Lukas.

35mm print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

CTEQ Annotation
‘Pre-Code Women’: Dorothy Arzner’s Working Girls by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster.

Dorothy Arzner (1932) 77 mins
Unclassified 15+ (unless accompanied by an adult)

Arzner regular Fredric March stars as dissolute writer Jerry, wooing and wedding Joan, a naïve young socialite played by Sylvia Sidney whose marital ideals crumble as her husband reverts to his self-loathing nature. Arzner cannily reverses her usual barracking for working-class women’s upward mobility by sympathetically looking at the coddled worldview of high society’s young women.

Features an early performance by Cary Grant.

35mm print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

CTEQ Annotation
Kicking Over the Traces: Dorothy Arzner’s ‘Merrily We Go To Hell’ by Wheeler Winston Dixon.

Dorothy Arzner (1933) 78 mins PG

Arzner’s sleek, deco-modernist fable about the taboos, temptations and fatal perils of female independence, ambition and sexual identity stars Katharine Hepburn in her second screen role as a slim-hipped, strikingly costumed aviatrix (check out her moth costume!) and member of parliament who falls in love with a married man (Colin Clive).

Loosely based on the career of flier Amy Johnson, it features a soaring score by Max Steiner and acting support from the wonderful Billie Burke.

Print courtesy of the National Film & Sound Archive, Australia.