Beware of The Unfinished Dance (1947)

Film fans always talk about The Omen or The Bad Seed as if the characters that those kids played were truly disturbing children. Poppycock, I say.
So what if Damien’s presence on earth was a sign of the coming apocalypse and if Rhoda Penmark’s blond sweetness masked a murderous soul? 1940s child star Margaret O’Brien could act rings around those kids with one pigtail tied behind her back, break your heart neatly in half in the process, and make you wish that you could thank her for that privilege. When seven of her films air this Friday, January 15th on TCM in honor of her 73rd birthday, you may be able to catch at least a few of them. While I’m sure we’d all like to calmool in sick and spend a gray January Friday in the company of Ms. O’Brien, for the purposes of this brief piece, I’ve tried to narrow my focus a bit, looking at one extraordinary film out of several exceptional ones featuring this actress.

Let’s see if I can describe the disquieting effect of The Unfinished Dance adequately for those who haven’t been exposed to it. The formula for The Unfinished Dance (1947-Henry Koster), a rarely seen film that will be aired at 1:15pm on January 15th, is a heady brew, composed of mysterious elements blended from this:

Take the early adolescent intensity of Velvet Brown in National Velvet (1944), as played by Elizabeth Taylor, (who was apparently channeling Diana the Huntress and Aphrodite on the half shell). Carefully mix in some of the Machiavellian deviousness of Mary Tilford in These Three (1936), as performed with a chilling calculation by Bonita Granville, then add a generous dash of Marcia Mae Jones‘ vulnerable roller coaster personality when she played Renfrew to Granville‘s manipulative Draculetta in that same film. Don’t forget to add some atmosphere to the movie that borrows from the hormonally tense Mädchen in Uniform (1931 or 1958 versions) and, for added measure, just a little soupçon of Louise Brooks‘ “cheerful” school days in The Diary of a Lost Girl (1929). For artistic atmosphere borrow a bit of Maria Ouspenskaya‘s hauteur as a ballet martinet instructor in Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) and Waterloo Bridge (1940).

Blend these explosive, decidedly distaff ingredients with care, seasoning with a dollop of schmaltz (courtesy of Danny Thomas as O’Brien‘s hapless guardian) –and you’ll have some idea of the potent power of this unhinged but fascinating MGM movie set in the ballet world “…of those who love, of those who hate–and one who loved too much …”

Distill all these performances celebrating “girl power” down to their contrary glory, toss in the dazzling, icily graceful Cyd Charisse as a rising ballet star oblivious to her impact on others, and the beautiful, otherworldly Karin Booth as a visiting prima ballerina assoluta, and you have the setting for an unforgettable performance by the remarkable Margaret O’Brien. Both adults are seen as powerful, well-known figures from the child’s point-of-view initially, only gradually taking on more flawed humanity and warmth as the story progresses in intensity.
I suppose that many viewers will pass over tomorrow’s entire day of Margaret O’Brien‘s movies on TCM thinking it was an invitation to a dose of sugar shock. Think again.
Sure, O’Brien could be cute, sing and dance, cutting a rug in a spontaneous cakewalk with none other than Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) in their duet singing “Under the Bamboo Tree”.  Her extraordinary performance as a the whimsically morbid Tootie under Vincente Minnelli‘s enchanted direction won the 8 year old child a special Oscar for her work in that film, in a part that the author Sally Benson said was based on her own childhood. Seeing her play the mischievous, morbid Tootie in that movie, whose dolls may have “four fatal diseases” but can look forward to a heckuva funeral in a cigar box wrapped in silver paper, who half-hopes to see rather than simply imagine that “Mr. Braukoff was beating his wife with a red hot poker” and who hopes to be “the most horrible” on Halloween always stole the movie, bringing out the best in Minnelli‘s brilliant sequence around that holiday.
Casual viewers might dismiss O’Brien‘s sentimental appeal as treacle, though from her star-making turn as a war orphan who clings to bomb casing as if it were a teddy bear in Journey for Margaret (1942-W.S. Van Dyke), the intensity of this girl’s work set her apart from most of her peers, bringing a sometimes disturbing realism as well as an infectious mirth to her roles.  The daughter of a circus performer and an accomplished Flamenco dancer, O’Brien also surprised her own studio by her startling ability to absorb the basics of ballet quickly enough to dance on pointe for The Unfinished Dance, (dancing on pointe at an early age was then common enough, but it is now an aspect of this film that makes serious ballet teachers blanch when they contemplate the injuries that could result for girls attempting this without the years of strength training needed.)

If you are a balletomane who has watched some of the great movies about the world of dance, such as The Red Shoes (1948-Michael Powell), countless times, you might find this technicolor movie, photographed by the superb Robert Surtees,  to be lacking  aesthetically in realistic dance sequences. The dance scenes were choreographed by the unjustly forgotten David Lichine, and the dancers were costumed by designer Helen Rose (sometimes to lovely effect, but too often in her brightest Ice Follies style), with portions of Kreisler’s Liebesfreud, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, and a really maddening sequence employing David Rose’s relentless Holiday for Strings. Despite any quibbles with the brevity of the musical interludes in this film, the highly charged, some would say kitschy atmosphere might entertain the ironic viewer, but this film has an addictive quality, once it gets its hooks in you.

The ferocity of O’Brien‘s commitment to the role and the longing for transcendence through art may seem more memorable than the talent behind the scenes, in large part because of this then ten year old girl’s utter believability.  Directed by Henry Koster in The Unfinished Dance, O’Brien had previously worked with the even-tempered Koster in the charming Music for Millions (1944), in which the girl played the sister of the other actress at MGM known as “the town crier” for her many lachrymose performances–June Allyson. The director, who had been instrumental in showcasing the phenomenalnal Deanna Durbin for the public a decade earlier, found working with O’Brien required some patience, though not for her acting, which was impressive.

According to Koster, working with the child star “was very easy. It was her mother sitting behind me on the set who caused problems. I’d say, ‘That was good, print it.’ Playing a child whose own pare I’d see Margaret O’Brien look at me, but look a little over my head.

 

Sometimes she’d shake her head and say, ‘Mr. Koster, could we do that once more.’ Her mother behind me had made a sign that she wanted it done again, but the child had to tell me. So I asked the higher ups if it would be possible to keep her mother off the set. ‘No, no,’ they said, ‘Margaret doesn’t feel secure if her mother isn’t there, and we agreed that she could be on the set.’  So when you direct pictures, you have these little incidents to cope with.”

 

Koster was also not particularly enamored of Karin Booth, whose role as La Darina required, in his view, a performer who was “a great personality and a great ballerina.” The director was compelled, he said, by an executive to take the relatively inexperienced former model for the part, despite the fact that she “had never been in a movie, had no experience as an actress, and couldn’t dance.” [Actually, Booth had been in around 31 movies when The Unfinished Dance was filmed, appearing first in 1941 in Hold Back the Dawn. Almost all of her parts up until The Unfinished Dance were uncredited or had few or no lines.]  Koster had a skilled ballet dancer double Booth in the long shots when she danced. For close-ups the director said that he had constructed a rotating disk, tied Booth‘s legs to the spinning platform and filmed the actress spinning on it for shots that did not show her legs.

Despite these measures, and Booth‘s mastery of rudimentary ballet movements in a few sequences, he felt that “You just can’t an amateur to do something so dramatic.” With all due respect to Henry Koster, despite his lack of respect for Karin Booth‘s abilities, I think that she is quite effective in her dramatic scenes in this role.  Booth‘s somewhat remote air and exceptional beauty adds to her mysterious, refined quality in this part as the personification of physical and ethical grace. On screen, she seems to be perceived through a child’s eyes, not those of a weary film director contending with studio politics.

Interestingly, according to O’Brien‘s comments made during her Private Screenings interview with Robert Osborne on TCM, her relationship with her widowed mother, while  undergoing some understandable strains during her adolescence, never seems to have caused a breach in her family. She spoke of her mother with considerable compassion and understanding. As a matter of fact, in the ’50s, when auditioning for the role that was later filled so memorably by her friend Natalie Wood in Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause, it was O’Brien’s positive comments about her family life that may have lost her that plum part, (it probably also had something to do with Ray’s reckless involvement with a teenage Natalie Wood too).

Despite this issue, Koster later said that he liked The Unfinished Dance “fairly well.” The director recalled that The Unfinished Dance was not a financial success, perhaps in part because it was a remake of a critically hailed French picture,  Ballerina (1938) aka La Mort du Cygne, directed by the nearly forgotten Jean Benoît-Lévy (1888-1959) from a story by Paul Morand, a French diplomat and writer.  Benoît-Lévy was a filmmaker whose movies blended documentary realism with poetic examinations of human life in small groups such as a rural village, a nursery school,and a ballet company.Benoît-Lévy‘swritten works, which presaged the emergence of auteurism well before the Cahiers du Cinema crowd, have faded into obscurity, along with his films. The black and white, reportedly spare and powerful La Mort du Cygne is only available, apparently, to film schools and archives–though it would be lovely to see his work on TCM someday. For those of us who have been both transfixed and discombobulated by The Unfinished Dance, it would be fascinating to see the original that this remake inspired a decade later.

In the American version of this story, as in so many fairy tale films involving children, (see just about all of Shirley Temple‘s work in the ’30s), the parents of Margaret O’Brien‘s character are seemingly AWOL, (O’Brien seemed to play an orphan at least 10 times in her years at MGM). While being watched over by a humble working man, Danny Thomas, (who was making his film debut after telling film execs that he would not have a nose job, thereby ensuring his relatively brief movie career), the lonely character of ‘Meg’ Merlin loses herself in her ballet lessons, and becomes particularly enchanted with ‘Ariane Bouchet’ (Cyd Charisse), the shallow, kindly but preoccupied star of the ballet school of the Metropolitan Opera, who unwittingly overlooks the ballet student’s laser-like gaze and fervent devotion. When casually asking O’Brien how she is going to learn to be a great dancer, the girl whispers “By watching you, Mademoiselle” in the same reverent tone as a prayer. After watching this movie again recently, it occurred to me that one reason I’ve always found the elegant, sometimes facially inexpressive Charisse a compelling figure on screen was similar to something that I thought I felt when watching Margaret O’Brien. The precise and sometimes haughty dance persona that the beautiful dancer Cyd Charisse could project on screen often seemed only reluctantly aware of others. Charisse rapturous expression when she dances is only matched by the ardent devotion seen on O’Brien’s face as the wistful, isolated child observes her heroine.  Watching Charisse dance or act, she seems to be preoccupied by an inner voice and point of view all her own, aware of her surroundings, but reserved from them. In her own child-like way, O’Brien too–particularly in this role, is someone whose inner vision of herself is shaped by her single-minded devotion to ballet as a way of finding her way through the world around her–even though her sometimes warped and limited understanding lead her to destructive actions of near pathological proportions. No wonder O’Brien and Charisse seem like soul mates.

This brief taste of the highlights of escalating and descending emotions during The Unfinished Dance may help set the mood for you:

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The hothouse atmosphere of this small world, peopled by often brusque adults just trying to keep their jobs and others striving for an elusive level of excellence is sharpened by a demanding training and discipline that molds the girl’s psyche.  Displaying the range of emotions from the euphoric to the hysterical, O’Brien‘s devotion to Charisse is tested when the glamorous and celebrated ‘La Darina’ (Karin Booth), an outsider, joins the ranks to dance the coveted role in Swan Lake–a part that Meg (O’Brien) believes should have gone to Cyd Charisse. Hatching a plan to undermine the child’s perceived injustice in this situation with her friend Josie (played with conspiratorial zeal by Elinor Donahue, several years before Father Knows Best) the fragility of Meg’s equilibrium and her edginess overwhelm any timidity and restraint in her nature, especially after another, “disloyal” girl in the corps de ballet loudly proclaims La Darina’s superior poise, beauty and artistic technique.

*Spoiler Alert*

While La Darina dances across a stage lined with mirrored flooring during a performance (an impressive visual, but I wonder how the dancers felt about this dangerous bit of staging), O’Brien‘s character pulls a switch that she believes will plunge the stage into darkness. However, O’Brien‘s action inadvertently allows a trap door in the floor to descend, causing the ballerina to fall beneath the stage, and ending a promising career, but setting in motion Meg’s journey on a road paved with guilt, deception and paralyzing remorse that Eugene O’Neill and Ibsen might have felt at home traveling down.

At this point, O’Brien‘s acutely realized angst takes the film over the cliff as she seeks to avoid detection, becomes an even more morose little lass, prone to bouts of hysterical crying in mid-performance when she is confronted with the devil on stage. After learning that La Darina may never dance again, Meg is haunted by the thought that “if a dancer doesn’t dance, it is like not being alive anymore. During a visit to La Darina she performs briefly for the invalided ballerina, but is never able to explain her role in her being sidelined at the ballet.

Meg ultimately has a meltdown the size of Radio City Music Hall, which, by the way, could have been where several of the overly bright, fragmentary dance sequences in this film might have been filmed–though apparently the producer Joe Pasternak (whose MGM films often seem to have a candy box pastel color scheme), appears to have filmed these moments on one of the larger sound stages in Hollywood.  In any case, Megan’s descent into near catatonic guilt becomes one of Margaret O’Brien‘s most forceful, if somewhat unbalanced performances, especially after she learns that the object of her worship may be more interested in marriage than scaling the artistic heights. During a visit with the victim of her misadventure, Meg finally realizes that Darina is a human being and one who might just be her friend.

O’Brien‘s characteristic canny look and genuine giggle crumples away, folding up as her capacity for expressing grief, rage, and sorrow on screen escalates, until, in a series of unlikely turns, her sin is expiated, she takes responsibility for her actions, (sort of), even if there do not seem to be any lingering, long lasting consequences for her choices once confession is made.  The film may seem to be an easily dismissed melodrama, but in this stage of the movie, as the world as seen through Meg’s eyes begins to crumble, there is a poignancy and a sense of doom that is rooted in O’Brien’s artful performance that may not be supported by all the glossy elements of the production, but that is impossible to dismiss. O’Brien‘s character has lost her innocence, and gained self-knowledge. Even Karin Booth‘s character recognizes that Meg too has suffered. While the ending seems happy enough for any forties film, when Meg quietly murmurs that she loves the kindly, now ex-dancer La Darina too, I must admit I had a shudder, wondering if  Meg may have transferred her fixation on Ariane (Cyd Charisse) to La Darina (Karin Booth).

One of the pleasures of this studio film is spotting such well remembered actors as Marie Windsor and Barbara Billingsley as sales ladies in a very upscale shop. The backstage crew includes the bespectacled Harry Hayden as an unctuous publicity man whose loyalty shifts with the prevailing wind. I also enjoyed Charles Bradstreet‘s dimples and his healthy attitude toward the ballet in his role as Cyd Charisse‘s marriage-minded boyfriend, Esther Dale as La Darina’s salty amanuensis and watchdog, and Connie Cornell, as Phyllis, the snippy member of the ballet school who never misses a chance to stir the pot of Meg’s roiling anxieties. Danny Thomas‘ role as Mr. Paneros, the kindly if fairly clueless watch maker who is the guardian of Meg, does allow him to show his gentle qualities in a few scenes he shares with O’Brien alone, such as the one where he sings the somewhat melancholy “I Went Merrily Merrily on My Way” for her while scrambling an egg. Unfortunately, in other scenes, Thomas appears to have been coached to lay on the ethnic obsequiousness larded with folksy wisdom.

The qualities of superficial charm, and the uncanny ability of Margaret O’Brien to convey deeply felt, imaginary experiences buoy this film, just as they did every one she appeared in, beginning in  an uncredited bit in Babes on Broadway (1941) and extending throughout her childhood during the rest of that decade as she continued to create characters that audiences could not resist, even if the messy human issues raised could not be entirely erased by any semi-happy endings.  In real life, it is a pleasure to read about a child actor whose story does not end in sordid scandal and disappointment in adulthood.  Crediting her family’s good sense, (the bulk of her childhood earnings are said to have been saved for her in a trust fund), Ms. O’Brien continued to work in the theater and on television as well as an occasional movie long after her days at the top at Metro. Her recent activities, aside from her private life as a wife and mother, have included working to assist AIDS patients, and establishing her own website, found here.

The Unfinished Dance (1947) has just been issued in remastered form on the Warner Archive, with details available here. It can also be readily found on VHS on the second hand market, to the best of my knowledge.

Please click on the link below to see upcoming films on the TCM schedule featuring Margaret O’Brien:

Margaret O’Brien Movies on TCM

Sources:

Davis, Ronald L., Just Making Movies: Company Directors on the Studio System , University Press of Mississippi, 2005.
Ellenberger, Allan, Margaret O’Brien: The MGM Years, Classic Images, December, 1998.

Flitterman-Lewis, Sandy, To Desire Differently: Feminism and the French Cinema, Columbia University Press, 1996
Koster, Henry, Atkins, Irene Kahn, Henry Koster: Volume 7 of Directors Guild of America Oral History Series, Rowman & Littlefield, 1987.
Rathgeb, Douglas L., The Making of Rebel Without a Cause, McFarland, 2004.

29 Responses Beware of The Unfinished Dance (1947)
Posted By suzidoll : January 14, 2010 4:27 pm

THE UNFINISHED DANCE sounds terrific. You would never see a film like that get made today. How sad for little girls of today, who don’t seem to be allowed the luxury of being little girls.

I always get the willies during the scene in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS in which Tootie and her pals get so excited about “killing” Mr. Braukoff. You never know what little kids really have on their minds!!!

Posted By suzidoll : January 14, 2010 4:27 pm

THE UNFINISHED DANCE sounds terrific. You would never see a film like that get made today. How sad for little girls of today, who don’t seem to be allowed the luxury of being little girls.

I always get the willies during the scene in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS in which Tootie and her pals get so excited about “killing” Mr. Braukoff. You never know what little kids really have on their minds!!!

Posted By Lerema : January 14, 2010 9:30 pm

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE “The Unfinished Dance” and am so glad to finally catch it again after so long. When I a high-school Air Force brat in Germany, there were four things that made me a TCM fan forever: 1) Anything Joan; 2) Anything Bette; 3) Anything Bogie and 4) The Unfinished Dance.

It made me an instant and lifelong fan of both Cyd Charisse (who danced circles around anyone she shared the screen with) and Margaret O’Brien (who could reduce me to tears like no other) lots of X’s and O’s to TCM for airing it. If it were not for DVR, I would be tempted to skip work on Friday, too.

Posted By Lerema : January 14, 2010 9:30 pm

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE “The Unfinished Dance” and am so glad to finally catch it again after so long. When I a high-school Air Force brat in Germany, there were four things that made me a TCM fan forever: 1) Anything Joan; 2) Anything Bette; 3) Anything Bogie and 4) The Unfinished Dance.

It made me an instant and lifelong fan of both Cyd Charisse (who danced circles around anyone she shared the screen with) and Margaret O’Brien (who could reduce me to tears like no other) lots of X’s and O’s to TCM for airing it. If it were not for DVR, I would be tempted to skip work on Friday, too.

Posted By Patricia : January 15, 2010 8:44 am

“The Unfinished Dance” was such a surprise. I didn’t expect such an honest portrayal of loneliness.

Posted By Patricia : January 15, 2010 8:44 am

“The Unfinished Dance” was such a surprise. I didn’t expect such an honest portrayal of loneliness.

Posted By Jacqueline T Lynch : January 17, 2010 8:17 am

I had to set the recorder based on your excellent essay. Fascinating. I think I have to watch this one a couple more times to be able to really mull it over. One the elements that really keeps the viewer off balance is the way a dramatic scene is ended with offbeat humor, or conversely, something silly then suddenly shifts to something heavy. What an unusual movie. Thanks for the heads-up.

Posted By Jacqueline T Lynch : January 17, 2010 8:17 am

I had to set the recorder based on your excellent essay. Fascinating. I think I have to watch this one a couple more times to be able to really mull it over. One the elements that really keeps the viewer off balance is the way a dramatic scene is ended with offbeat humor, or conversely, something silly then suddenly shifts to something heavy. What an unusual movie. Thanks for the heads-up.

Posted By ziggy 6708 : January 21, 2010 7:50 pm

I guess what bugged me the most was the lack of a deserved ‘comeuppance’ to the O’Brian character for destroying the career and nearly the life of La Darina. I thought with ‘the code’ in place no rotten deed could go unpunished. Geez, she almost got away with unintended murder.
But thanks for an excellent & thoughtful review on an unusual O’Brian performance in a little known film.

Posted By ziggy 6708 : January 21, 2010 7:50 pm

I guess what bugged me the most was the lack of a deserved ‘comeuppance’ to the O’Brian character for destroying the career and nearly the life of La Darina. I thought with ‘the code’ in place no rotten deed could go unpunished. Geez, she almost got away with unintended murder.
But thanks for an excellent & thoughtful review on an unusual O’Brian performance in a little known film.

Posted By Pat : January 22, 2010 1:04 am

Thanks, Moira. It’s nice to know others appreciate this rare movie. I first saw “The Unfinished Dance” a few years ago, but I think I had to watch it two or three times before I could get past the shock of seeing O’Brien in such a disturbing role. It’s now one of my favorites of hers, a great performance that truly showed her range as an actress.

Posted By Pat : January 22, 2010 1:04 am

Thanks, Moira. It’s nice to know others appreciate this rare movie. I first saw “The Unfinished Dance” a few years ago, but I think I had to watch it two or three times before I could get past the shock of seeing O’Brien in such a disturbing role. It’s now one of my favorites of hers, a great performance that truly showed her range as an actress.

Posted By sitting pugs : February 1, 2010 1:37 pm

I love Margaret O’Brien, but that first image of her….yikes! What she up to?!

Posted By sitting pugs : February 1, 2010 1:37 pm

I love Margaret O’Brien, but that first image of her….yikes! What she up to?!

Posted By Cindy : July 2, 2010 12:04 am

I first saw the Unfinished Dance as an 8 year old, and immediately fell in love with Margaret O’Brien and ballet dancing! This movie prompted me to start taking ballet lessons, and instilled in me a desire to become a ballerina. I took ballet lessons for a number of years and danced with a few small (non-professional) companies. This movie gave me a lifelong love of dance, and especially of ballet.

Posted By Cindy : July 2, 2010 12:04 am

I first saw the Unfinished Dance as an 8 year old, and immediately fell in love with Margaret O’Brien and ballet dancing! This movie prompted me to start taking ballet lessons, and instilled in me a desire to become a ballerina. I took ballet lessons for a number of years and danced with a few small (non-professional) companies. This movie gave me a lifelong love of dance, and especially of ballet.

Posted By Mimigy : December 3, 2010 1:39 pm

A HUGE THANK YOU TO TCM FOR BRINGING THE UNFINISHED DANCE TO US. I HAVE LONGED FOR THIS MOVIE FOR YEEEEEEEARS. I DID NOT WANT TO DIE WITHOUT SEEING IT AGAIN. I BLESS THE INTERNET TECHNOLOGY AS WELL. I SAW THIS MOVIE ONLY ONCE AS A CHILD AND IT IMPACTED MY LIFE. I TOOK BALLET UNTIL I WAS 15. DID NOT BECOME A DANCER, BUT THE LOVE FOR BALLET REMAINED INTACT IN MY HEART SINCE THE UNFINISHED DANCE. ACTUALLY, I AM TEARY-EYED WITH EMOTION. CANNOT WAIT TIL JAN. 15TH. THANK YOU!!!!!

Posted By Mimigy : December 3, 2010 1:39 pm

A HUGE THANK YOU TO TCM FOR BRINGING THE UNFINISHED DANCE TO US. I HAVE LONGED FOR THIS MOVIE FOR YEEEEEEEARS. I DID NOT WANT TO DIE WITHOUT SEEING IT AGAIN. I BLESS THE INTERNET TECHNOLOGY AS WELL. I SAW THIS MOVIE ONLY ONCE AS A CHILD AND IT IMPACTED MY LIFE. I TOOK BALLET UNTIL I WAS 15. DID NOT BECOME A DANCER, BUT THE LOVE FOR BALLET REMAINED INTACT IN MY HEART SINCE THE UNFINISHED DANCE. ACTUALLY, I AM TEARY-EYED WITH EMOTION. CANNOT WAIT TIL JAN. 15TH. THANK YOU!!!!!

Posted By Cynthia : January 3, 2011 2:23 pm

Having just seen the horror film “Black Swan”, I got thinking about the parallels between it and “The Unfinished Dance”. “Black Swan gave me nightmares, but “Unfinished Dance was the film that inspired me to take up dance and spend my life devoted to it. As a child, in a small rural town, the ballet was totally foreign to me until I saw this film in ’47. I can’t wait for the 15th; I was not aware it had ever been on TCM and will DVR it to show my daughter who went on to become a beautiful principal dancer and is supporting her own daughter’s interest and talent as a dancer. I hope someday it does come out on DVD.

Posted By Cynthia : January 3, 2011 2:23 pm

Having just seen the horror film “Black Swan”, I got thinking about the parallels between it and “The Unfinished Dance”. “Black Swan gave me nightmares, but “Unfinished Dance was the film that inspired me to take up dance and spend my life devoted to it. As a child, in a small rural town, the ballet was totally foreign to me until I saw this film in ’47. I can’t wait for the 15th; I was not aware it had ever been on TCM and will DVR it to show my daughter who went on to become a beautiful principal dancer and is supporting her own daughter’s interest and talent as a dancer. I hope someday it does come out on DVD.

Posted By Christina : January 15, 2011 10:51 pm

I saw the unfinished dance around 8 years of age. I fell in love with ballet. I haven’t seen the film since then and just happen to stumble on this review while trying to find it on dvd. I hope it comes out soon. Childhood is lonely for many children and without guidance, they make mistakes like Meg. Thanks for the insights of the character.

Posted By Christina : January 15, 2011 10:51 pm

I saw the unfinished dance around 8 years of age. I fell in love with ballet. I haven’t seen the film since then and just happen to stumble on this review while trying to find it on dvd. I hope it comes out soon. Childhood is lonely for many children and without guidance, they make mistakes like Meg. Thanks for the insights of the character.

Posted By Judith Goldstein : January 22, 2011 10:35 pm

I have not seen the movie The Unfinished Dance since I was a child.Margaret O’Brian was my idol,I had coloring books and paper dolls. I have been trying to locate a copy of the Unfinished Dance,maybe someone out there can help me.

Posted By Judith Goldstein : January 22, 2011 10:35 pm

I have not seen the movie The Unfinished Dance since I was a child.Margaret O’Brian was my idol,I had coloring books and paper dolls. I have been trying to locate a copy of the Unfinished Dance,maybe someone out there can help me.

Posted By Swan Lake Can Kill You: Morbidity, Ballet, and The Unfinished Dance | Grand Old Movies : September 5, 2011 2:06 pm

[...] for a coveted lead role. TUD’s innovative twist on this category is to add a child into the mix. Moira Finnie notes the “disquieting effect” this addition has, comparing TUD’s youthful protagonist, [...]

Posted By Swan Lake Can Kill You: Morbidity, Ballet, and The Unfinished Dance | Grand Old Movies : September 5, 2011 2:06 pm

[...] for a coveted lead role. TUD’s innovative twist on this category is to add a child into the mix. Moira Finnie notes the “disquieting effect” this addition has, comparing TUD’s youthful protagonist, [...]

Posted By Brian : November 16, 2014 5:21 pm

I just watched this movie for the first time and was stunned by it. Why has it had such a low profile during my movie-watching life? Why had no one written about it in any film texts I’ve read over the past few decades? Why have feminist film critics never rediscovered this? It’s a film about women and girls with their own passions and drives and the strength and will to carry them out, with men playing very little of a role in it all. This film is all about relationships among women and between women and girls. How many major Hollywood films from the Golden Age tackled this subject in such a vivid and meaningful way?

I must say, Moira, that your take on this film is very sharp. I was worried when I saw the title, “Beware of…,” that you might be going negative. But, no, it’s meant as a warning to those expecting something “sugar-sweet” as Maltin’s guide incorrectly labels this film. I enjoyed your piece immensely. I only found it by googling Karin Booth and the film’s title because I wanted to find out if Booth did her own dancing. Your piece answered that question. Thank you.

Posted By Moira Finnie : November 16, 2014 6:32 pm

Hi Brian,
Thanks for taking a moment to share your take on “The Unfinished Dance” and my piece on this resonant film. As someone who gets great fun out of older movies as well as a person who takes film seriously as a storytelling medium that taps into our most visceral dreams, I am so grateful that you understood my reaction to this movie.

I hope that you have a chance to see “La Morte du Cygne” aka “Ballerina” (1937) someday. That French film, drawn from Paul Morand’s novel and presented in a subjective way by the director Jean Benoît-Lévy, expressed the complex connection between love and work for individuals. It also illuminated how a powerful emotion also inspired the MGM version of the story. The earlier film is also fascinating and hardly “sugar-sweet” either.

Posted By THE UNFINISHED DANCE: Hollywood’s Greatest Ballet Film? | Brian Camp's Film and Anime Blog : November 17, 2014 11:58 pm

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