Read an additional review about the film: Dancing Cheek to Cheek Top Hat
was a pleasant surprise for my husband and I because neither of us had ever seen it before. The opening sequence was especially cute because the top hat turned out to be an actual hat on Fred Astaire's head. In fact, the entire beginning was engaging despite the quiet mood in the club room. The comedy plays off the setting a lot, and it was fun to see Astaire do a little tap dance just to startle the old, stodgy men. It was easy to tell that I was going to enjoy this film from the very beginning.
The movie stars Fred Astaire as Jerry Travers, a singer and dancer working for producer Horace Hardwick, played by Edward Everett Horton. Ginger Rogers plays Astaire's love interest, Dale Tremont, an American woman modeling clothes for the great designer Alberto Beddini, played by Erik Rhodes. Beddini is the "villain" of the film, and I felt bad for any Italians that might have been offended by his caricature. Every time Beddini pulled out his sword, I thought of Inigo from The Princess Bride
. Of course the caricature played into the humor of the film, so it was difficult to take any joke as an ethnic insult.
This is truly an all-star cast made even better by the supporting roles of Eric Blore and Helen Broderick. Blore plays the surely butler Bates who always speaks in the third person and creates mischievous problems by disagreeing with his boss Hardwick and wearing strange costumes. Broderick plays Madge Hardwick, Horace's cynical and humorous wife who's off in Venice enjoying a vacation while her husband is opening his show in London.
I'm not sure if I've ever seen any of these actors before, but all the players produced a fantastic romantic comedy and musical. I was laughing during the comedic scenes and tearing up during the more romantic parts. Because the cast worked so well together, I cannot choose a favorite character or actor in Top Hat
. The movie wouldn't have been the same without this dynamic group playing off each other.
The story wasn't anything special. It was your typical boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back plot. There were some surprises caused by the mistaken identities, which prompted a lot of the humor of the film. Some parts became frustrating because the problems caused by the mistaken identities seems easily avoided, but that frustration only made the film better as I awaited the big reveal. I especially enjoyed the surprise ending, which I won't spoil in this review. I was so engaged with the piece, I didn't see it coming. What made the story so wonderful was the acting quality and the song and dance numbers. A lot of modern day musicals don't impress me because I feel like I'm watching a Broadway show rather than a straight-forward musical (I see a distinct difference between Broadway and other musical genres). This film was classic musical without too much flair or pizazz to make it contrived.
Speaking of the music, Irving Berlin's score was to die for. Every song in the film fit perfectly for the mood. The dancing and music also moved the plot forward. Some of the more notable songs were "Top Hat," "White Tie and Tails," "Piccolino," and of course "Cheek to Cheek," which was my favorite. When Astaire and Rogers danced to "Cheek to Cheek," I teared up. It is a beautiful score, and Astaire has a beautiful singing voice. I imagined myself being serenaded by that song while twirled about in a beautiful dress. Berlin really outdid himself with this score, and I'm sure it's a major reason for the success of the film.
The costumes, sets, and camera angles were superb in the film. From the opening closeup of the top hat to the overhead shots of the dancers during the "Piccolino," everything was finely shot with a distinct purpose. The closeups gave viewers opportunities to see the actors' dynamic skills in the simplest of facial twitches and glances to the more comical caricatures. The distant shots gave a synchonized dancing perspective to some of the larger dance numbers, such as Jerry Travers's performance during the London show or the choreographed Piccolino dancers. The ribbon was an especially nice touch that looked very glamorous from an overhead shot. The costumes were all stunning. I loved every outfit that Rogers wore from her nightgown to the famous ostrich-feathered dress. Astaire looked stunning in every formal tuxedo he wore. Even Blore's humorous costumes were fun; I especially enjoyed his gondola ensemble. Even though the sets were obviously fake and exhibited the Hollywood glamor of the time period, they were still fantastic. The Art Deco elegance allowed the viewer to get lost in another time period, one that highlighted a clean Venice, Italy, which wasn't how it was during the 1930's.
Overall, my favorite part of the film was the big finale and the much anticipated dance to "Cheek to Cheek." My least favorite parts about the film was the overemphasis that women needed to be married and protected by a husband, Horace Hardwick's loose morals with a "designing woman," and the lack of color. Helen Broderick made the first downside bearable because she showed that there were atypical women around during this period who had no qualms with punching their husband when it was deserved, a simply priceless scene. It was easy to forgive Hardwick's loose morals because the romance wasn't really about him; this detail added additional humorous moments to the mistaken identity theme. And finally, the lack of color was distressing simply because I wanted to see the brilliance I imagined of all the costumes and movie sets. Still, there was nothing wrong with leaving this detail to the viewer's imagination.
In the end, this is a fantastic romantic comedy and musical worthy of a +5 rating. I'm not too familiar with other films of the 1930's, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I recommend it for musical buffs, romantic-comedy lovers, and those who enjoy older films. I can't help but wonder if a younger crowd would enjoy it too. Astaire is really dreamy and handsome while Rogers is simply gorgeous--so the romance element will really grab anyone's attention. Plus, the dancing is fantastic and the best I've ever seen in this style. If you're a fan of So You Think You Can Dance
and enjoyed some of the previous tap-dancing contestants, you will truly be wowed by Astaire's and Rogers' caliber of dancing. They blow some of the modern-day tappers who I thought were stunning out of the water. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are really an incomparable duo.