Astaire, Powell and one of the great tap routines...ever
Sep 24, 2011
There's little reason to see Broadway Melody of 1940, a Fred Astaire-Eleanor Powell movie, except for the dance numbers -- and they provide the best reasons in the world.
The plot involves an unsuccessful song-and-dance team (Astaire and George Murphy), a Broadway show with a big star (Eleanor Powell), mistaken identity, true friendship and boy finally gets girl. Here, Astaire is self-effacing, a little shy when he’s around Powell and not willing to take any of Murphy’s glory from Murphy even though it’s really his glory. Murphy is brash, often drunk, develops an ego and is increasingly unlikeable until he comes to his senses. Powell is charming, initially drawn to Murphy and then realizes what talent Fred has and what a great guy he is. It’s all cliché, but likeable cliché.
Most of the dance numbers, however, are extraordinary, with songs by Cole Porter.
--Powell sings and taps out "I Am the Captain" in a major production number featuring big sets and lots of chorus boys. She shows why she was a great tap dancer and a major musical star who could carry a movie by herself.
--Astaire and Murphy do "Please Don't Monkey With Broadway," a fine example of a song-and-dance tap act that involves intricate patterns, humor, even a mock duel. Murphy almost keeps up with Astaire, who once again shows he was a generous partner.
--"I Concentrate on You" is a great Porter standard written for the movie.
Whenever skies look grey to me And trouble begins to brew Whenever the winter winds Begin to blow I concentrate on you
When fortune cries nay, nay to me And people declare "You're through" Whenever the blues becomes my only song I concentrate on you
On your smile to sweet so tender When first my kiss you deny On the love in your eyes When you surrender And once again our arms entertwine
And so when wise men say to me That loves young dreams never come true To prove that even wise men can be wrong I concentrate on you.
--"I've Got My Eyes on You" is a first-rate light romantic ballad that is a solid Astaire solo number.
I've got my eyes on you, so best beware where you roam. I've got my eyes on you, so don't stray too far from home. Incidentally, I've set my spies on you, I'm checking all you do, from a to zee. So, darling, just be wise, keep your eyes on me.
Astaire was a good piano player and shows it with this number. He's backstage and dances with a photograph of Powell over and around props and furniture, and at one point uses a small ball which he seems to have mesmerized to do his bidding. He was always great using objects, and he was great because he rehearsed endlessly. He's got that ball's number.
--The showstopper, of course, is "Begin the Beguine." It's a big production number that starts with Astaire and Powell in costume, then moves to singers, then moves back to Astaire and Powell. This is the portion that gets the raves. She's in a white dress, he's in a white tux. They're fast tap dancing on a mirror-finish black floor. Off camera Artie Shaw and his orchestra continues with the song. Astaire and Powell start tapping together, move to a challenge tap, then come back together in an extraordinary tap routine that involves them circling each other, throwing up their arms in counterpoint to their tapping and to each other. It’s not quite three minutes of extraordinary tap bliss.
When they begin the beguine It brings back the sound of music so tender, It brings back a night of tropical splendor, It brings back a memory ever green. I'm with you once more under the stars, And down by the shore an orchestra's playing And even the palms seem to be swaying When they begin the beguine. To live it again is past all endeavor, Except when that tune clutches my heart, And there we are, swearing to love forever, And promising never, never to part. What moments divine, what rapture serene, Till clouds came along to disperse the joys we had tasted, And now when I hear people curse the chance that was wasted, I know but too well what they mean; So don't let them begin the beguine Let the love that was once a fire remain an ember; Let it sleep like the dead desire I only remember When they begin the beguine. Oh yes, let them begin the beguine, make them play Till the stars that were there before return above you, Till you whisper to me once more, Darling, I love you! And we suddenly know What heaven we're in, When they begin the beguine
Fans of Astaire might consider getting a copy of Arlene Croce's The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Book. Croce was the dance critic for the New Yorker. She goes through each of the Astaire-Rogers movies explaining the background, how the dance numbers were developed and analysing why Astaire was as great as he was. If you’re an Astaire fan, it’s essential reading.
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About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer (Charley2)
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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