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Dancing Cheek to Cheek

  • Jan 28, 2011
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Read an additional review about the film: I'm in Heaven

Jason and I finally attended one of the Based on the Book Film Series at the Humboldt County Library. I was able to convince him to go because they were showing musicals all month, and he's always been a fan of musicals. 

On Tuesday, January 4, at 6:30pm, we went to the library to see Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Everett Horton in a film called Top Hat. We hadn't seen it before, and the film was hosted by Bob Doran, a North Coast Journal writer. Since it was a free screening with a brief introduction and discussion afterward, we went despite being tired. We arrived ten minutes early because the seating was limited. Unfortunately, we were still forced to take the not so comfortable chairs at the back of the room. Poor Jason got a really bad kink in his lower back. Still, we were able to enjoy the film despite the poor seating circumstances. 

The introduction was interesting because Doran talked about some of the actors' childhood and adult years, especially how they became Hollywood stars. I paid the most attention to the information about Fred Astaire, born Frederick Austerlitz, and Ginger Rogers, born Virginia Katherine McMath.  One thing I didn't realize was that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were contracted to the same studio, which is why they commonly played in the same films. Still, Top Hat is considered their best performance. Ginger Rogers also created the fancy dress she wore at the end of the film when they were dancing to "Cheek to Cheek." During the discussion afterward, we learned that Astaire gave her the nickname "Chicken" because of that very same dress. Astaire didn't like it because the feathers flew all over the place when they were dancing. However, when I was researching this information, Wikipedia said she was nicknamed "Feathers." I'm a little unclear about which version is true, but it's still a fun fact to know before watching Top Hat.

Although the introduction to the film was comprised of mainly fun facts and tidbits, such as Astaire starting his singing and dancing career with his more talented sister Adele Astaire, I was surprised that Top Hat was criticized for resembling an earlier film's plot too closely called The Gay Divorcee, 1934. Having not seen that film, I can't comment on whether or not the similar themes and actors devalued the production of Top Hat. To be honest, directors and writers repeat themes all the time, such as a "love triangle" or the "hero versus villain" plot. If a movie is a good, it's good regardless of whether or not it's been done before. Originality is a little overrated. Creative presentation makes all the difference.

The most interesting aspect about this film, and a topic that was discussed at the end of the movie, was how it was made during the Depression Era. Fred Astaire plays his typical aristocrat role and is always seen wearing a tuxedo, minus the time he disguises himself as a coach driver. Astaire's character is a rich American who's made it big with an international singing and dancing career in England. Roger's character is an American fashion model promoting her friends' fashion (The Great Benini)  to the rich in England and Italy. However, without his cooperation, she would have to go back to America penniless, as he points out at one poignant moment when Rogers' considers breaking her contract for love.

Top Hat is a typical escapist film for the Depression Era. The viewer is distracted from their own financial troubles by the ideas of wealth and glittering elegance that abound in this film. There are extremely detailed backgrounds and sets, such as fancy hotel rooms, Venice, and nightclubs. Many of the sets are Art Deco inspired. Of course, there are extravagant costumes and debonair characters; who doesn't like fancy ball gowns, top hats, tuxedos, and dancing? At the same time the film glorifies the rich and famous, it satirizes them, like when Astaire teases the old men at the gentleman's club for being too stodgy and quiet. The film does an effective job of allowing the viewer a brief respite from their everyday troubles with the hope that true love will prevail. After all, anything is possible!

The most unusual Depression milieu is the "gangster tap" finale of the "Tap Hat" performance that Astaire's character stars in. He taps across the stage and uses his cane like a machine gun taking out the other dancers one by one. After all, it's easier to succeed without any competition getting in your way. Whether this was a social commentary or more satire remains to be seen.

Overall, the film is worth your time. It was nominated for quite a few Academy Awards, such as Best Picture, Best Interior Decoration, Best Song, and Best Dance Direction. Unfortunately, it didn't win any of them. There was a lot of tough competition that year; Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) won the best picture award.

The discussion after the film was more exciting than the introduction, and it left me wanting to research more about these actors and this time period. I'm really happy that we attended the Based on the Book Film Series at the Humboldt County Library. It provided a great opportunity to see an amazing film that we probably otherwise would never have watched. The addition of a big screen projector made it feel as if we were in a theater watching Top Hat.

One final note about Top Hat and the musical film genre: Top Hat was not based on a book or playbut the deviation from the norm didn't disappoint any of the attendees. Doran explained that musicals are often considered plays in and of themselves, especially in regards to this production. The songs are interwoven into the narrative and are actually used to advance the plot and develop the characters. This was very apparent when Ginger Roger's character eventually unraveled the mistaken identity plot and the types of songs changed to fit the new actions/tone. Wikipedia compares musical films to stage musicals, further elaborating the idea of a play to these types of films:

The musical film was a natural development of the stage musical. Typically, the biggest difference between film and stage musicals is the use of lavish background scenery which would be impractical in a theater. Musical films characteristically contain elements reminiscent of theater; performers often treat their song and dance numbers as if there is a live audience watching. In a sense, the viewer becomes the deictic audience, as the performer looks directly into the camera and performs to it.
Dancing Cheek to Cheek Dancing Cheek to Cheek

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April 22, 2011
I liked all the background info about this film. Very interesting. Was anything else talked about at the discussion that occurred after the movie at the Humboldt County Library? It sounds like you learned a lot about this film. It's interesting that it was filmed during the depression era. I would think people who were living in the depression era wouldn't want to see a film that has such a lavish lifestyle (since those kind of films tend to say "neener neener, I have more money than you, haha"). But I guess it was a good enough film to keep people interested. Yeah, I may have to see this film at some point.
April 26, 2011
There wasn't a lot discussed after the movie. Most people commented on whose performances they liked or little nuances that others missed. I think it was a type of film to make people forget about the Depression. Both lead characters worked hard to get to where they were at in the show business, so it was saying that if you worked hard enough, you could get there too. I do hope you see the film, Pard! You will like it!
February 13, 2011
Excellent review, been a while since I have even heard of this one.
February 22, 2011
Thanks so much for checking out my film review, Alex!
January 29, 2011
Nice review, I love this movie and in fact everything that Fred and Ginger did together and this is coming from someone who hates musicals and has very little interest in dancing, but when Fred and Ginger come together, something Magical happens they are just Perfect on the screen, it's like they were made to dance together, a match made in heaven. And about the nickname it's Feathers.
February 07, 2011
Thanks for reading my review, Orn. I have a feeling that I will enjoy all the movies these two made together too. I'll have to check out some of their other productions sometime soon.

I don't enjoy musicals very much, but I do like good dancing. I agree with you about the something "Magical" happening when the pair comes together. 

And that's what Wikipedia said too about Roger's nickname, but for some reason the man from the North Coast Journal said it was "Chicken." I'm assuming he did some research on the matter before his presentation, so I didn't want to discount what he told us purely because Wikipedia said something else. 

Did you check out my other review on Top Hat? You can read it here if you're interested in more of a traditional film review: http://www.lunch.com/silverscreen/reviews/mo...8808-I_m_in_Heaven.html

Again, thanks for reading and for your wonderful comments!
February 10, 2011
About the Feathers name, I've read the autobiography by Ginger Rogers called Ginger My Story and there she tells the story of how the name came about and she says Feathers.
February 22, 2011
Great! Thanks for the clarification. I'm sure Ginger would know how she got her own nickname. I guess either the North Coast Journal writer had the wrong information or I misinterpreted what he was saying.

BTW: How was the autobiography?
February 22, 2011
The autobiography was OK, it was very factual, you know where and when the movies were made and what she did there and when, I wish she would have been more intimate and tell more of here thoughts and feelings and the same thing can be said about Freds autobiography, perhaps it's a generation thing, they were probably brought up not to reveal their inner thoughts to anyone,
February 23, 2011
That's too bad. You could be right about the generation guess.
January 28, 2011
Wonderful review! I loved the way you included the film's history here. I did not know that this was made during the depression era, it makes perfect sense now. Sounds like you had a great time with the film, Adri! Thank you for the entertaining review!!
January 28, 2011
Oh, love the photos, especially of the pretty lady holding that little flyer. ;-)
January 28, 2011
Yeah, I liked the more historical approach for this review. And, you're welcome. Glad you enjoyed it so much!

And...ick! I look so bad here! I told James, not sure if you can read it (in the comments below), that I contemplated cutting off my head for this review. I looked icky! We were tired, and J took that photo at the end of the night because I messed up the first image at the actual library, lol.
January 28, 2011
You looked fine. You still look better than me when I'm 'made up' LOL!
January 29, 2011
LOL! Thanks for the vote of confidence. And I am sure you look great when you're all "made up." :D
More Top Hat reviews
review by . January 06, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
Quick Tip by . July 07, 2011
This was the first Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical that I saw. It's one that I will never forget, and I highly recommend it to all viewers, even if you are not a musicals fan. I loved this film so much that I wrote two reviews about it:      Dancing Cheek to Cheek, posted in The Silver Screen Community I'm in Heaven, posted in Movie Hype    I don't usually write multiple reviews for one topic, so you know it's got to be good if I took the …
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Adrianna Simone ()
Ranked #18
MY GROUPS (AND COMMUNITY):      The following information was taken from the officialCafe Libri Website.   Cafe Libri (Yahoo Reading Discussion Group)is the original Cafe … more
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About this movie


Top Hat is a 1935 screwball comedy musical film in which Fred Astaire plays an American dancer named Jerry Travers, who comes to London to star in a show produced by Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton). He meets and attempts to impress Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers) to win her affection. The film also features Eric Blore as Hardwick's valet Bates, Erik Rhodes as Alberto Beddini, a fashion designer and rival for Dale's affections, and Helen Broderick as Hardwick's long-suffering wife Madge.

The film was written by Allan Scott and Dwight Taylor. It was directed by Mark Sandrich. The songs were written by Irving Berlin. "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" and "Cheek to Cheek" have become American song classics.

It has been nostalgically referenced — particularly its "Cheek to Cheek" segment — in many films, including The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) and The Green Mile (1999).

Top Hat was the most successful picture of Astaire and Rogers' partnership (and Astaire's second most successful picture after Easter Parade), achieving second place in worldwide box-office receipts for 1935.[4] While some dance critics maintain that Swing Time contained a finer set of dances,[4][5] Top Hat remains, to this day, the partnership's best-known work.[6]

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Director: Mark Sandrich
Genre: Comedy
Release Date: 1935
MPAA Rating: G
Studio: RKO Radio Pictures
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