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Top Hat, made in 1935, was the fourth of ten films which Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made together, and one of the most popular.  Astaire plays Jerry Travers, an American in London, who falls for Dale Tremont (Rogers).  However, due to a case of mistaken identity, Dale believes that Jerry is married – to Dale’s friend Madge, no less – and ends their relationship, while at the same time trying to warn Madge (Helen Broderick), that her husband is a philanderer.

The plot was never the focal point of any Astaire/Rogers movie (or indeed a lot of other musicals); it’s basically there to tie the musical numbers together – and that’s absolutely fine, because the plot here is wafer thin, with holes all over it.  However, the film itself is a total joy to watch, from start to finish.  There are a lot of comedic moments, due to the fantastical identity mix-ups, and also courtesy of the characters of Madge, Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Morton), who is in fact Madge’s actual husband, and Horace’s trusty valet Bates (Eric Blore).  Erik Rhodes, as Alberto Beddini, fashion designer and potential rival for Dale’s affections also provides many very funny moments, playing a similar character to the one he played in the early Astaire/Rogers pairing, A Gay Divorcee.

The dancing is, of course, sublime.  I am actually more of a Gene Kelly fan, but there is no doubt that to watch Astaire dance is a wonderful experience.  My favourite number was the one which caused him to first meet Dale, when his tap dancing in a hotel, in the room above hers, caused her to complain about the noise.  The Cheek To Cheek dance was also beautiful and elegant (and the feathered dress that Rogers wore, caused some problems when it shed its feathers during the dance).

I’m steadily working my way through the Astaire/Rogers film, and have now watched five.  This and the screwball comedy/musical Carefree are my two favourites.

Forget the plot holes, enjoy the laughs, and admire the beautiful, creative and elegant dancing – this is a gorgeous film, which remains as entertaining as ever, 77 years after it was initially released – a real treat!

Year of release: 1935

Director: Mark Sandrich

Writers: Dwight Taylor, Allan Scott, Sandor Farago, Aladar Laszlo, Ben Holmes, Karoly Noti, Ralph Spence

Main cast: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, Helen Broderick

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Click here for my review of Top Hat on stage in 2014.

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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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