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Of the ten films that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers starred in together, Swing Time was the sixth, and certainly one of the most popular.  At this point, I’ve only seen four of their collaborations and I’m torn between Swing Time and Carefree as my favourite.  In this film, Astaire stars as Lucky Garnett, on stage dancer and off stage gambler, who is due to marry his fiancee Margaret.  Due to some shenanigans and dirty tricks by his fellow stage dancers (who don’t want Lucky to marry because it will ruin their careers), he turns up very late for the wedding.  Margaret’s father says that the couple can only get married once Lucky has proven himself and earned $25,000 dollars.  Lucky heads off to New York to make his fortune, and there meets dance instructor Penny Carroll (Rogers).  The two soon fall for each other, but their romance is hindered by Lucky’s prior commitment, and band leader Ricky Romero, who is in love with Penny.

Well, I loved this film.  It had some fabulous dancing (obviously), and lots (and lots and lots) of humour.  Fred Astaire is probably at his best here, and Ginger is just beautiful.  It’s no wonder that the film studio wanted to keep pairing these two up – their chemistry on screen is undeniable.  I particularly liked their first dance together (which is in the clip I’ve posted).

The two other main characters are played by Victor Moore, as Lucky’s dad – always ready to try and make an easy dollar, and is not above petty theft or deceit; and Helen Broderick as Mabel Anderson, Penny’s fellow dance teacher and best friend.  They prove to be an excellent addition to the story and between them provide a lot of laughs.

There was one scene which jarred slightly; the Astaire dance ‘Bojangles of Harlem’ where Astaire wears ‘blackface’ make-up.  The dance itself is visually stunning, and the use of shadows behind Astaire is imaginative and effective.  I just do not like to see white actors in blackface make-up, but I accept that when the film was made (1936), it was considered a perfectly legitimate form of entertainment.

Aside from that one scene, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this musical, and it will be one that I will certainly be watching again in the future.

Year of release: 1936

Director: George Stevens

Writers: Howard Lindsay, Allan Scott, Erwin Gelsey, Ben Holmes, Rian James, Anthony Veiller, Dorothy Yost

Main cast: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Helen Broderick, Victor Moore, Georges Metaxa

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Singin’ In The Rain is one of Hollywood’s best loved films.  The American Film Industry named it the Best Musical Film of all time.  They also listed it as the fifth best film of any genre of all time, and it came the top 20 films of both their lists of romantic movies, and comedy movies.  More importantly, it is loved by film fans all over the world, even almost 60 years after it was released.

This book tells the story of how the film was created, beginning right at the genesis of the project, when screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green were asked to write a musical using MGMs back catalogue of Freed/Brown songs.  All they knew was that it was to be called ‘Singin’ In The Rain’; they had no guidance regarding what the storyline should be about.  The book describes the writing process, and then goes on to describe how all the main players in the cast came on board, providing short but detailed biographies of the main cast.

There are detailed descriptions of the various problems encountered by the cast and crew during filming, and also of the personal relationships between the people involved in the film.  It also gives details of how the dances were worked out, how the sets were created, and how the characters were developed.  (And finds time to debunk a few myths – for example, despite popular reports that milk was used instead of water for the title dance, this is not true.)

Finally the book describes the impact which the film had on the cast and crew, the critics, and the viewing public, and discusses its enduring appeal (giving details of life after the film for the main cast).

This book is jam-packed with details and facts, but it is all presented in a very readable and engaging style.  It’s clear that the authors love their subject (and indeed, who doesn’t?!), and have carried out exhaustive research for this book.

Above all, it is a fitting tribute to a wonderful film, and is definitely recommended for fans of the film, or anyone interested in how movies were made.  And I guarantee that when you’ve finished it, you will want to get the film out and watch it!

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Click here for my review of the 1952 film.

Click here for my review of the 2012 (started) West End Theatre production.

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