Sunday, January 14, 2007

Fred and Ginger

Now that it's dark on Saturday evenings again, we're watching the occasional movie again, and yesterday we watched Swing Time, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This is the second Astaire/Rogers picture I've seen; a couple of years ago the Oakland Paramount showed Top Hat on the big screen with Dolby surround sound, always the best way to see a movie.

I have to admit up front, both of them are amazing dancers, and the costumes are fabulous, and the dancing set pieces are a wonderful show. I'm even more amazed at Astaire's stamina and brilliance because he smokes like a chimney. Ginger Rogers has an occasional puff, but Astaire has always got one going. Nobody was surprised at this in 1937, but it looks a little off now. At least, to a Californian.

What I regretfully admitted to myself last night was: there's nothing to these movies apart from the dancing (and maybe a song or so by Jerome Kern, or, so that's where "A fine romance" came from). Plots? You wanted a plot? For that matter, did you want reasonable dialogue? Go rent a Thin Man movie. Those are really funny, and the humor is - it's kinder. The humor in the Astaire movies, especially Swing Time, is pretty close to slapstick. If you like the Three Stooges, you might enjoy it; I don't. And the scene in Swing Time where Astaire performs as "Mr. Bojangles", in blackface, probably looked fine in 1937.

Not only is there no decent dialogue and no plot: frankly, the characters Fred Astaire plays are not very nice people. He plays sleazy opportunists (especially in Swing Time), and after about 10 minutes, I just want to smack him upside the head. Of the two movies, I'd say Top Hat was better: the plot had a little more to it, some of the dialogue was almost witty, the secondary characters held up well. But I don't think I'll rent another Fred-and-Ginger.


  1. Anonymous10:42 PM

    Funny, I remember being allowed, special treat, to stay up and watch the Late Show if it was a Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astair movie. The dancing was the draw, and believe it or not, Fred's slimy character protrayal was considered sexy. Smoking was, of course, generally accepted when the movies were made.

    Funny how I found ballroom dancing lessons horrid. Still, watching Ginger and Fred dance was amazingly absorbing - at the time.
    I think I'll depend on my memories and not rent the movies.

  2. I suppose Fred's appeal goes back to the old myth that the Right Woman can tame the Wicked Rake and make him settle down with her. I have more shelf feet than I want to measure of paperback Regency romances on exactly that theme; Georgette Heyer's are the best, although Edith Layton did a couple of brilliant treatments.

    I don't think I've believed that for twenty years, which may be why I find Fred Astaire more annoying than attractive. Actually, the person I enjoy most in the Astaire-Rogers movies is Helen Broderick, who played Ginger's horsefaced sidekick and got much the funniest lines; her remarks on men in Top Hat are the funniest thing in the movie.

    Did you know that his real last name was Austerlitz? You learn the weirdest things from IMDB.