If you’re looking for “a fine romance,” then look no further than the classic Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie Swing Time!
Dancer John “Lucky” Garnett (Fred Astaire) returns to his hometown to marry his fiancee, Margaret Watson (Betty Furness), but the other dancers in the act prevent him from getting to the wedding on time. However, Lucky is able to convince Margaret and her father to try again if he can make $25,000. Lucky goes to New York with his buddy, Pop (Victor Moore), where he meets dance teacher Penny Carrol (Ginger Rogers). While trying to get acquainted in a dance lesson, he accidentally gets her fired, so he tries to get her job back for her. In doing so, he not only gets her job back, he manages to get her an even better offer performing with him at the Silver Sandal nightclub. However, their employment is delayed when nightclub owner Mr. Simpson (Pierre Watkin) loses the contract of his orchestra and its leader, Ricardo Romero (Georges Metaxa), gambling with Dice Raymond (John Harrington), the owner of another nightclub. Lucky manages to win back the orchestra when he goes to Raymond’s club to gamble. Meanwhile, Lucky is falling in love with Penny and is trying not to make $25,000 so he doesn’t have to go back and marry Margaret.
Well, as you can see, the plot doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. But, it’s an Astaire/Rogers movie, and you’re not here for the plot! To be fair, though, I’m not sure how much of the plot’s issues relate to how much society has changed in the time since this movie was made. As I said, though, with an Astaire/Rogers film, you’re generally enjoying the music and the dancing! And what a score, with music provided by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, including such songs as “Pick Yourself Up,” “The Waltz In Swing Time,” “A Fine Romance,” “Bojangles Of Harlem,” “Never Gonna Dance” and the Oscar-winning classic, “The Way You Look Tonight.”
Of course, the three dance duets (“Pick Yourself Up,” “The Waltz In Swing Time” and “Never Gonna Dance”) are the big highlights of the movie! “Pick Yourself Up” starts us off well, with a fun song where Ginger is trying to “teach” Fred how to dance (utilizing some dance steps that would make an appearance in all three routines), and, going into the dance routine, we see her impressed with his abilities that he had been hiding from her only a few moments before. “The Waltz In Swing Time” gives us more progression in their relationship, as we see a fun dance showing off how well they could combine ballroom and tap dancing together! But “Never Gonna Dance” is a masterpiece (well, to me, it is!) showing off their dramatic abilities as they split up, believing they will never dance again, with reprises of “The Way You Look Tonight” and “The Waltz In Swing Time” included as part of the music. Just an absolutely beautiful dance routine (and one that made my “Top 10 Dance Routines” list)!
To be fair, the movie’s not perfect. The main sour note for most would probably be the song and dance for “Bojangles Of Harlem.” Supposedly a “tribute” to African-American dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, it ends up coming off quite differently. Considering Bill Robinson was known for being one of the first African-American performers to NOT wear blackface, Fred’s use of it comes across poorly, never mind the fact that his style of dancing is nothing NEAR what Bill did. And it’s not a simple case of just skipping the song to get past the blackface, as Fred is still wearing it for a few minutes while the story keeps going. Personally, I still get some enjoyment out of the dancing (and the music is catchy, too), especially when Fred goes solo apart from the female chorus, and we get what is the first time he used special effects to enhance his dancing onscreen, as we see him dance off against his own shadows. I do think that the blackface was a mistake on Fred’s part, as I have otherwise gotten the impression that he did respect African-American performers, working with a few and having high praise for the Nicholas Brothers’ dance in the 1943 musical Stormy Weather. In spite of this moment, though, I still would EASILY recommend this movie, as it is just so much fun to watch!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection. With regard to the new, restored transfer, I would say it looks great to me. Sure, it’s not as crisp and clear as some would like, but, considering the original camera negative, which would have yielded the best results, is long gone (and apparently was in bad shape when Criterion licensed the movie for their laserdisc release nearly thirty years ago), this is probably as good as we can hope for. I like it, and I certainly see a lot of improvement over the Warner DVD released about a decade ago, so this recent release comes highly recommended by me (and I personally would, at this point, already be willing to call it the release of the year)!
Film Length: 1 hour, 44 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
*ranked #1 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2019
**ranked #3 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2019
***ranked #4 in Top 10 Film Musicals
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Follow The Fleet (1936) – Fred Astaire – A Damsel In Distress (1937)
Follow The Fleet (1936) – Ginger Rogers – Vivacious Lady (1938)
Victor Moore – Ziegfeld Follies (1945)
Top Hat (1935) – Helen Broderick – Nice Girl? (1941)
Top Hat (1935) – Eric Blore – Music In My Heart (1940)
Follow The Fleet (1936) – Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers (screen team) – Carefree (1938)
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