Friday, September 27, 2019

Re-visiting the Astaire and Rogers Musicals

FLYING DOWN TO RIO (1933) -- Fred and Ginger have supporting roles in this South American-flavored love story. The leads are Gene Raymond and Dolores Del Rio, but it's Astaire & Rogers who made a big impression, especially with the extended "Carioca" number. It's an enjoyable romantic-musical comedy but mostly of note today for introducing Astaire and Rogers to the screen as a team.

THE GAY DIVORCEE (1934) -- One of the team's funniest pictures, especially the "Let's Knock Knees" number with Edward Everett Horton. Contains some of their best numbers, including "Night and Day" and "The Continental". I enjoyed this one primarily for the great comedy.

ROBERTA (1935) -- Coming after THE GAY DIVORCEE, this one feels like a step backward, putting Astaire and Rogers into supporting roles under stars Randolph Scott and Irene Dunne. But their scenes together are fun, as always, and the movie comes to life when they are on-screen. Unlike the later misfire CAREFREE, this one is just a rather dull film lacking the energy of the best Astaire & Rogers pictures. Musical highlights are "I Won't Dance" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes".

TOP HAT (1935) -- Perhaps Fred and Ginger's most elegant film. The plot is a solid farce of mistaken relationships, making it one of the team's most fun pictures as well, topped by a first-rate Irving Berlin score.

FOLLOW THE FLEET (1936) -- Possibly the lightest and most entertaining entry in the Astaire & Rogers cycle, with a nice ensemble cast (Fred and Ginger, along with Randolph Scott and Harriet Hilliard) who gel nicely together. The shipboard scenes are a lot of fun, and offer a nice backdrop for some dance numbers. The highlight for me is "Let's Face the Music and Dance", performed on a stunning Art Deco stage.

SWING TIME (1936) -- Some really beautiful numbers here that showcase the team here to their full potential. Astaire's "Bojangles of Harlem" number is particularly impressive for the synchronized dancing against the backdrop of dancing shadows, and the "A Fine Romance" number get my vote as the most beautiful that the team ever did, performed on a snowy soundstage -- Hollywood artifice at its most appealing. Often cited as the team's best film, but I found myself missing the colorful supporting cast of some of the other films who were always such a welcome presence.

SHALL WE DANCE (1937) -- Another one I enjoyed primarily for the comedy, another romantic farce with an amusing premise of a bit of gossip getting blown up into a full-fledged scandal. The syncopated shipboard machinery of the "Slap That Bass" number is great example of the really innovative numbers that I love about these films. Several great George & Ira Gershwin tunes appear here including "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off", "They Can't Take That Away From Me", and the title song.

CAREFREE (1938) -- The weakest of the team's vehicles. It has a strong feel of the "Screwball" comedy style about it, which makes for some fun, zany scenes, but it lacks the tender, subtle moments of their best films, and contains no especially memorable dance numbers.

THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE (1939) -- This biopic of the husband-and-wife dance team is a sprawling but charming affair. Somewhat an atypical film in the Astaire and Rogers cycle, much more dramatic than usual for them, but still a fine showcase for their talents, and featuring a virtual songbook of late 19th- and early 20th-century tunes.

THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY (1949) -- Fred & Ginger's final film as a team, about a husband and wife musical comedy team whose relationship (both personal and professional) is threatened when the wife decides to pursue a dramatic acting career. An MGM production, it's bigger and more elaborate than their earlier RKO pictures, and their only film together to be shot in Technicolor, but Astaire and Rogers never get overwhelmed by the production value, and it's great to see them reprise "They Can't Take that Away From Me". A fitting capper to one of the finest pairings in all of cinema.

No comments: