TOP HAT may be more energetic and glossy, but SWING TIME is arguably the most magical of the ten films Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made together. Their dancing and acting rapport are at a peak and director George Stevens shows more finesse than Mark Sandrich in lending the couple's
rocky romance a genuinely heartfelt quality. This film seems to be more about the Astaire-Rogers mystique than any of the others, so it's especially poignant when Fred sings that he's "Never Gonna Dance" if he can't have Ginger.
The story tells of "Lucky" Garnett (Astaire), a gambler and and dancer engaged to Margaret Watson (Furness, in her pre-consumer advocacy days). When Lucky shows up late for his wedding, Margaret's father (Landers Stevens, the director's real-life father) tells him not to return until he earns
$25,000 to prove that he's not just a layabout. Once Lucky meets dance teacher Penny Carrol (Rogers), however, his main problem is to keep from earning the 25 grand, since, of course, he falls in love with Penny. Highlights include a complex and delightful routine to "Pick Yourself Up," one of the
greatest of the Astaire-Rogers light courtship duets, just as their luminous turn to "Waltz in Swing Time" stands today as one of their finest romantic turns. Their last duet, to the aforementioned "Never Gonna Dance," really signals the end of the Astaire-Rogers golden years; this number, with
the scene preceding it, constitutes the team's most touching five minutes together on film.
SWING TIME also features Astaire's incredible solo dance to "Bojangles of Harlem," perhaps the only blackface number on film which doesn't make one squirm today. His skin made up as an African-American rather than a minstrel-show caricature of one, Astaire dances an obvious tribute to the great
Bill Robinson, even if the black dancer he more closely approximates is John Bubbles of PORGY AND BESS fame. The marvelous score, with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, consists of one classic song after another, and they are all stunningly staged. Astaire's rendition of "The Way
You Look Tonight" comes while Rogers washes her hair. Her final appearance gently mocks the tender lyric, but her rubbing of Astaire's shoulder confirms the sentiment of the moment. "A Fine Romance," meanwhile, that famous sardonic love duet, appears while the couple walks around a gorgeous set of
a snowy inn, the final swishing of the car's wiper blades perfectly rounding out the tune. The supporting cast, led by the acerbic Broderick, the sweetly bumbling Moore and the unctuous Blore, adds plenty of laughs, and, at the center of it all, Hollywood's ideal couple shines at their brightest.
A film to cherish.
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- Review: TOP HAT may be more energetic and glossy, but SWING TIME is arguably the most magical of the ten films Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made together. Their dancing and acting rapport are at a peak and director George Stevens shows more finesse than Mark San… (more)