Not to be carried away, but this is one of the best musicals Hollywood has ever produced
Mar 31, 2011
"Listen," says exasperated dance teacher Penny Carroll to her two-left feet customer, Lucky Garnett, "No one could teach you to dance in a million years. Take my advice and save your money!"
We can't help smiling because Penny is played by Ginger Rogers, and the clumsy Lucky, who saw Penny on the street and was smitten, then finagled his way to the dance studio to meet her, is Fred Astaire. But Penny's boss overhears her comment and fires her on the spot. Lucky comes to the rescue. "Now, umm... how did you say that last step went?" he asks Penny. "Oh, yes!" And with that he swings her out to the dance floor and they launch into "Pick Yourself Up," one of the most expert and cheery fast tap polkas you'll ever hope to see.
Some say Swing Time is the best of the Astaire-Rogers movies. Other say that honor goes to Top Hat. I say, "Who cares?" Both are superb. For many, what sets Swing Time apart is the extraordinarily blending of the incomparable dancing and the rich Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields songs. The book isn't much -- boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back. The usual suspects make up the comedy support, in this case Eric Blore as the dance studio owner, Helen Broderick (who was Broderick Crawford's mother) as Penny's best friend, and Victor Moore, who trails after Lucky doing card tricks.
For any musical to work, the leads must be special, the music must be extraordinary and the production numbers must be memorable. On any scale, in my opinion, Swing Time does it. Just look at the numbers. In addition to "Pick Yourself Up, there's...
"The Way You Look Tonight." If you can't hear the melody behind these words, you need to listen to more good music.
Someday, When I'm awfully low And the world is cold, I will feel a glow just thinking of you And the way you look tonight.
Yes, you're lovely With your smile so warm And your cheek so soft. There is nothing for me but to love you Just the way you look tonight.
With each word your tenderness grows, Tearing my fear apart. And that smile that wrinkles your nose, Touches my foolish heart.
Lovely, Never, never change. Keep that breathless charm. Won't you please arrange it, 'cause I love you Just the way you look tonight... Just the way you look tonight.
Astaire is at the piano singing this while Rogers is in the next room washing her hair, not feeling too beautiful and with suds all over her head. As a declaration of affection and love, it's tender, romantic and funny. For once the Academy Awards got things right. It won the 1936 Oscar for best song.
"Waltz in Swing Time" is a lush, romantic ballroom dream, with Astaire and Rogers showing their incomparable stuff on a nightclub dance floor. There's no song or words, just an incredible series of melodies built by Hal Borne from themes provided by Kern, Robert Russell Bennett and Borne. Even if you know nothing about dance, and I'm one, Astaire and Rogers are mesmerizing.
"A Fine Romance" is a rueful romantic comedy number sung by Rogers in the snow, while Astaire tries to discourage her affections.
"Bojangles of Harlem," danced in blackface by Astaire as a tribute to Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, features incredible tap dancing. And it may be the only blackface number watchable today without flinching. Astaire gives it to us in three parts; a production tap number with a chorus line of dancers, a tap routine with Astaire and three of his shadows and then a single tap routine. In the last part, try to keep track of the syncopated, complicated coordination of shoe taps and hand clappers that Astaire manages without showing an iota of effort.
"Never Gonna Dance" is one of the great stories of broken romance told in dance. It's played out in bold steps and sweeps, up a dramatic stairway and across gleaming black floors. Here's that word again...extraordinary.
If I had to list the Hollywood musicals I like best they'd be Swing Time, Top Hat, Love Me Tonight, Singin' in the Rain and The Band Wagon. It's not surprising that Astaire has three of them. In a way, Swing Time and Top Hat give as good a view as anything of what Hollywood's Thirties sophistication was all about. This is a world where Fred wears a dinner jacket or tails as effortlessly as you or I might wear slacks, where Ginger has gowns that are memorably stylish (just look at the feathered number she wears dancing "Cheek to Cheek" in Top Hat), where fancy nightclubs feature brilliantined floors and apartments are all white and all Art Deco, where Ginger wisecracks and Fred charms. It's a world long gone, but at least we have Swing Time on DVD.
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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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Swing Time is a musical film released on August27, 1936 and produced by RKO.The film was directed by George Stevens and was written by Erwin Gelsey, Howard Lindsay and Allan Scott.Swing Time was produced by Pandro S. Berman, and starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
Swing Timeisabout a performer in New York Citywho works for the money needed to marry his fiancee, but falls in love withanother dancer along the way.Afterits release the film received 2 nominations,and celebrated one win and one Academy Award in1937 for Best Music, Original Song.
It was given an MPAA rating of NR and runs 103 minutes.