According to the title of one of Norman Mailer's novels, Tough Guys Don't Dance.
The loose theme of this post is inspired by 99.9%-retired professor Hank Smith who, in a talk last week about tap dance and vaudeville at the American Tap Dance Foundation, emphasized how versatile early film actors often were, especially if they came out of vaudeville.You probably wouldn't think of actors specializing in the role of hardened gangsters as also being light-on-their-feet comic dancers, but indeed they were.
This first clip, which was part of Hank's presentation, is from The Seven Little Foys and features James "Public Enemy" Cagney, the quintessential tough guy, partnering Bob Hope, better known to modern audiences for his verbal wit. Yes, both grew up in vaudeville.
George "Scarface" Raft likewise got his feet wet as a dancer, and was credited by Fred Astaire with "the fastest Charleston I ever saw." Here he is in a very early sound film, Take a Look at Her Now (1929). The dancing starts at the 1-minute mark.
You can see Raft and Carole Lombard do a rumba here and dance to Bolero here.
Next up is Edward G. "Little Caesar" Robinson, another movie gangster who also had a flair for comedy, here having a jolly, swinging time.
A short clip of Clark "Frankly I Don't Give a Damn" Gable puttin' on the ritz; link again courtesy of Hank Smith.
Okay, these next guys were never famous as gangsters, but the same versatility sure is there. The late, great Gregory Hines was a superb dancer (and member of the American Tap Dance Foundation) who also excelled as a comic actor. Steve Martin is a brilliant comedian who did not grow up as a dancer. According to our good friend Wikipedia, his training began with "his first serious film, Pennies from Heaven, a movie he was anxious to perform in because of his desire to avoid being typecast. To prepare for that film, Martin took acting lessons from director Herbert Ross, and spent months learning how to tap dance." Here they are reprising "Fit as a Fiddle" from Singing in the Rain, originally performed by Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor.
Finally, to be a bit more contemporary, let's throw in Christopher Walken, a versatile Hollywood actor who really likes to move. This first is a compilation that's gone viral on YouTube but is a little frustrating because it never stays on any one dance long enough to really savor it.
I prefer this music video of Fatboy Slim's Weapon of Choice: