Saturday, August 23, 2008
Classic Movie Moment -- Fred and Ginger
My mother is a classic movie buff and she got me hooked. One of the things I enjoyed most about reviewing movies for Families.com was the chance I had to share my thoughts and opinions about the films I saw. While Families.com is on hiatus for movie reviews, I'll share my thoughts over here. It's either that or start a new blog, and at last count I had eleven (down from thirteen) so I think we'll just post here.
I'm delighted to announce that I have now seen all ten movies that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made together. Fred was a genius, there's no doubt about that. Not only was he talented in his own right, but he always choreographed his numbers to best highlight the strengths of his partner. You'll notice as he dances opposite different women that his style changes a little bit -- that's because he tailored his steps to her. I think that shows real class.
Fred and Ginger only did ten movies together, although they probably could have made a few dozen and the audience would have loved all of them. But Fred didn't want to pigeon-hole himself or Ginger -- he wanted them both to have other opportunities as well, and they both did have successful careers without each other.
Their movies, in order of their completion, were:
Flying Down to Rio (1933)
The Gay Divorcee (1934)
Top Hat (1935)
Follow the Fleet (1936)
Swing Time (1936)
Shall We Dance (1937)
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939)
The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)
I'm now going to list them in the order of how much I liked them. Titles that have a link will take you the review I did on Families.com, but I didn't see some of these films until after Families.com went on hiatus, so I don't have a link for those.
1. My very favorite Fred and Ginger movie is "Top Hat." The comedy is great -- Fred and Ginger have their banter down to a T. You can tell they've danced together a bit by this point -- they're a lot more in sync with each other and they are flowing together well. I think I like it best for the humor, everything else notwithstanding.
Plot: Ginger meets Fred in a hotel, where he's immediately smitten and she's not impressed -- he woke her up in the middle of the night tap-dancing in his room, which was right above hers. She mistakes him for her friend's husband (Fred was staying in the real husband's room) and she ignores his advances until everything gets cleared up.
The only thing I didn't like was the fourteen-hour long exhibition dance number at the end, called "The Picolino."
Famous Songs from the Film: "Top Hat," "Cheek to Cheek"
2. My second favorite is "Swing Time."
Plot: Ginger is a teacher in a dance studio and Fred pretends he doesn't know how to dance in order to get her attention. It doesn't work for long, and soon they're dancing together in a club. But his gambling problem does cause a little bit of friction along the way.
Famous Songs from the Film: "The Way You Look Tonight," "A Fine Romance"
3. My third favorite is the last movie Fred and Ginger ever made together, "The Barkleys of Broadway." This one's unusual because it's in color and the other Fred and Gingers are black and white. It also incorporates some elements of drama, where their other films were more light comedy.
Plot: Fred and Ginger have been Broadway stars for years and he's directed her career from the get-go. He likes to believe that she'd be nothing without him, but when a fancy-talking playwright tries to steal her away, she decides to go out on her own.
Famous Songs from the Film: A reprise of "You Can't Take That Away From Me," first introduced in "Shall We Dance."
4. My fourth favorite is "Shall We Dance."
Plot: Fred didn't make it in show business as an American dancer, so he's been posing as a Russian ballet dancer named Petrov. Only his business manager knows he's not really Russian. When the tabloids link his name with Ginger's and say they are married, they do everything they can to shake the paparazzi off their tails, but they end up getting married after all. This movie has a great rollerskating sequence in it that I really enjoyed.
Famous Songs from the Film: "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," "You Can't Take That Away From Me."
5. Next was "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle." This one shows the talent and genius of these two dancers as they put aside their own trademark moves and imitated the real dancers, Vernon and Irene Castle.
Plot: Vernon Castle was a performer and a pretty famous one in his own right when a pretty girl named Irene auditioned for him. She wasn't very good, but he fell in love with her, taught her how to perform, and married her. They became one of the most famous dance couples in our history and much of modern ballroom dance is traced back to them. Unfortunately, his career ended when he died in an airplane accident. This film was made with Irene Castle's supervision.
Famous Songs from the Film: "By the Light of the Silvery Moon." To be honest, I'm not sure if this song was introduced in this movie or was just used.
6. My sixth favorite was "Roberta." Even though it was only Fred and Ginger's third film together, they really got along well and seemed an excellent pair.
Plot: Fred takes his band to Paris in company with his good friend Randolph Scott. Who should Fred run into in Paris but his childhood sweetheart, Ginger. While Fred and Ginger are finding their way back into each other's hearts, Randolph has fallen head over heels for the manager of a dress salon, Irene Dunn.
Famous Songs from the Film: "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."
7. Number seven is "Carefree."
Plot: Fred is a therapist who believes that we only do things that our subconcious tells us to do, and if we can just get our conscious and our subconscious to agree, we'll be perfectly happy. When his good friend Ralph Bellamy tells him that he's having woman problems, Fred tells him to send the woman in question in for therapy. That woman is Ginger, and she immediately falls in love with Fred. In order to keep his attention, she pretends to be mentally ill so she can be close to him.
Famous Songs from the Film: There aren't any real stand-out numbers in this one, but I really liked a dance number they do toward the end when he has her in a hypnotic trance.
8. My eighth pick is "Follow the Fleet."
Plot: Fred is a sailor and so's his good friend Randolph Scott. Coming into port one night, Fred decides to look up his old song and dance partner, Ginger. She has a sister who's a little on the plain side (Harriet Hilliard) and Randolph's on the prowl for something prettier. When Ginger fixes Harriet up to look glamorous, Randolph spends some time wooing her, but she doesn't understand that to him, it's all fun and games. She falls in love and he goes merrily on his way. Meanwhile, Fred and Ginger reconnect, but he costs her the job she had and then ruins an audition she had for another one. How do we fix this mess? We'll put on a show, of course!
I didn't like Randolph's character at all and I wanted Harriet to stop being such an idiot and find someone better. But there was some great dancing in the film.
Famous Songs from the Film: "Let's Face the Music."
9. My ninth pick is "The Gay Divorcee." This was Fred and Ginger's second film together and it does show -- she's not very coordinated yet and they don't have that connection established.
Plot: She's trying to get a divorce and her husband doesn't let her. Her lawyer suggests that she pretend to be having an affair. Fred has been following her and she doesn't want anything to do with him, but then she mistakes him for the man she's supposedly having an affair with and ropes him into her little game. We must endure another fourteen-hour long musical number at the end, called "The Continental," which in so many ways mirrors "The Picolino" I mentioned above as to be silly. In fact, in both movies, Fred and Ginger are sitting at a table watching the dancers, Fred asks about the dance, and Ginger explains it in song. It's very ... not interesting.
Famous Songs from the Film: "Night and Day."
10. My tenth selection is "Flying Down to Rio," and it falls last simply for the reason that Fred and Ginger aren't the central characters in the story -- well, that and the fact that the film is shockingly bad. This was their first appearance together and they are performers in the background. We still see plenty of them, but not as much as we expect. They dance a number called "The Carioca," which isn't as long as "The Continental" or "The Picolino," but is along those lines.
And there you have it -- all ten Fred and Ginger films, a little something about each of them, and my order of preference. Hie thee to thy Netflix queue!