Swing Time

I don’t think I ever smile more during movies than I do during Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals.  There is something about them that radiates joy and warmth.  Maybe it is the paper thin plots that really don’t make any sense, yet don’t have to.  Maybe it’s the elegance of Astaire who can make anything seem important just because he is in the room.  Maybe it’s the beauty of Rogers who, after almost seventy years still makes men take notice.  But most likely it is the seemingly effortless dance sequences that transcend time and space. 

It is well noted in film history how many hours these two rehearsed their numbers before putting them onscreen and the results are breathtaking.  Take for example the first dance routine in this film.  After randomly bumping into Rogers in the street, Astaire follows her into a dance academy (big surprise) and pretends he can’t dance so that she would give him lessons.  He falls repeatedly and accidentally gets her fired, but then comes to the rescue by showing the boss “how much she taught him” in just that short period of time.  It is these absurd moments that would make any other film falter, but with these two giants of film, the movie shines.

Another staple of the Astaire/Rogers musicals is the comic relief, this time supplied by Victor Moore as Pop and Helen Broderick as Mable.  Their timing is perfect together and they give ample support to the main story which revolves around Astaire earning $25,000 in order to marry his fiancé back home.  He goes to New York and instantly falls for Rogers, so he avoids making the money and tries to stay in New York.  Obviously all he has to do is tell the truth and never go back, but what fun would that be.  The lies and secrets make these films fun.  They don’t try to pretend that this is the real world.  Take for instance the musical number in the park where they drive up with a convertible, top-down during a snow storm.  None of them appear to be cold and no one even mentions that they should probably put the top up. 

Two dance numbers put this film over the top in regards to other Astaire/Rogers collaborations.  The first is the “Bojangles” tribute by Fred Astaire where he dresses in blackface and does an incredible job of matching is projection move for move until the projection can’t keep up anymore and walks away.  It is incredible in its timing and remarkable how closely he can match his movements.  Although the scene is a bit alarming seen today, no one can deny the powerful dancing taking place.  The second number is the “Never Gonna Dance” sequence at the end.  It is a comment on the entire series of films between the two because if they aren’t going to be together, there is no reason for them to dance.  Dancing for them is like making love.  They do it in unison and seem to know exactly what the other is doing before it even happens.

Together Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are the perfect match and the innocence within the world of their films is fantastic and charming.  The dancing is almost always shown in one take, making it even more remarkable, and brings more joy than most films can ever even try to create.

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