Originally posted on emerysanborne.com on March 10, 2013.
Well, Astaire and Rogers time. After a year and a half lapse, I’ve resumed working my way through the Astaire and Rogers ouvre. Last weekend was Roberta, Top Hat, and Follow The Fleet; this weekend has so far been Swing Time and likely followed by Shall We Dance and Carefree (the latter of which I don’t think I’ve seen before).
First up, Roberta. Like with Flying Down to Rio, Astaire and Rogers are in the supporting role, although to a slightly lesser extent than the first outing. Which actually works pretty well in their favor. Conflict and cross-purposes are all well and fine, but they really are at their best when they’re on the same side and not battling misunderstandings of who the other really is (The Gay Divorcee and Top Hat). And I rather lover Ginger’s character here, a small town girl pretending to be a hoity-toity countess (because apparently royalty in the working world is the going thing in this film). Of course we soon find out her real identity when Fred recognizes her as “Liz” from back home and not “Tanka” the countess she’s pretending to be. But he plays along and they work together to get Irene Dunne (princess working as assistant to designer, but really doing all the designs) and bumbling blond / nephew of the great designer Roberta together as well as get the band a gig in Paris after getting let go for being Indianians and not Indians. Irene Dunne’s singing really doesn’t do it for me, but her character is engaging. I loved Roberta and was disappointed when she died (to serve the plot–nephew inherits because no will even though the business was supposed to go to Irene, then they become partners while not admitting they’re in love and nephew’s ex-fiancee takes renewed interest because he’s essentially rich, etc.). All around, I think this is one of my favorites because Ginger and Fred are working together more than not, plus there’s the conversation dance sequence and the whole small town girl having made a name for herself as singing European royalty.
Top Hat had the misunderstanding front and center, Ginger thinking Fred is her best friend Madge’s (Helen Broderick) husband Horace (Edward Everett Horton), as well as Fred’s charming stalker behavior. But the dance / song numbers are top notch and you have Madge who is awesome and unflappable, the interplay between Horace and his butler (Eric Blore), and great banter. So fun watch but not strong on plot (seriously, it all rides on Ginger not ever asking Fred his name), but again, plot isn’t what these are for.
Follow The Fleet has Fred and the nephew from Roberta on shore leave where Fred bumps into Ginger at the dance hall she’s working at, they win a dance contest, he gets her fired, promises to square things, gets shipped out, eventually screws up another chance by trying to help her…but it works in the way that only they can pull off. And I love the whole fact that they were a dance act, but she refused to marry him, so he ran off to the navy, but they still have a thing for each other and she knows he’s full of himself but they work. Which works. Yeah. What I didn’t like was the subplot (or main plot–because again, Fred and Ginger are more supporting here) between Ginger’s sister Connie and Fred’s buddy (the nephew) Bilge Smith. The two first meet when Connie is in her stereotypical librarian/teacher duds, complete with glasses, and Bilge is sure I’ll help you get into the club but scram Plain Jane. When Connie goes back to see her sister between acts and relates the story, Ginger gets one of the girls (blond Lucille Ball) to make her over. So “pretty” Connie goes out, catches Bilge’s eye, they two hit it off, go back to her place, where she reveals who she is and he’s all like “water under the bridge”, and there’s a boat that was her father’s that he’s all like “girl with a boat, woot!” until she says “husband at the helm”. They sort of agree to meet up next time he’s in port / when his enlistment is up, but he runs into the rich friend of Ginger’s who stops by and winds up spending the rest of the evening with her and meeting up with her when he returns. Yeah, real winner there, Connie. So, of course, she spends her savings, Ginger’s, and the good nature of the harbor master to fix up the boat for when Bilge returns. They wind up together in the end, which yeah, good luck, kids. But Fred and Ginger save the movie just by being in it, then dancing awesomely, and being fun. But, oh Connie, honey, really?
Swing Time has Fred supposing to get married but his act sabotaging him, then him wooing over the girl’s father with how lucky he is as a gambler and that he’ll earn $25k to marry the girl (yeah, ugh). So he hops a freight train to NYC, joined by Pops from the act, and the two cross paths with Ginger upon arrival with an incident with a quarter and a cop. Fred follows her to the dance studio she works at, eventually the two wow the owner (Eric Blore), and earn a tryout at a big club. It’s them dancing, I don’t care. The bandleader is in love with Ginger and won’t play if she dances with someone, so there’s gambling and stuff for Fred to win the band and then tricking the bandleader into playing. Which is far-fetched but works. The dance number near the end where Ginger’s gotten engaged to the bandleader because Fred’s fiancee shows is one of the most gorgeous and heartbreaking. And OMG, I WANT THAT DRESS BAD. Plus Helen Broderick shows up again as Ginger’s gal pal and that’s all kinds of awesome. The one thing I always forget about this movie is Fred’s dance number…in blackface. Yes, different times. Yes, a tribute to Bill Bojangles Robinson. But blackface. The dance number is good but boy is it uncomfortable to watch, especially since it’s so unnecessary. He could have paid tribute without going there, you know?
All in all, still love these movies even if I can’t switch off the critical observer.