Well, we’ve had one solo film each for July’s Screen Team Of The Month (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers), so that means that we need to finish the month off with one of their team ups! In this case, we’re going with their 1935 classic Top Hat!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Under The Counter Spy (1954)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Woody Woodpecker Screwball Collection from Universal Studios)
(Length: 6 minutes, 22 seconds)
A dangerous criminal called “The Bat” has stolen a secret formula, but has left the bottle in Woody Woodpecker’s house while evading the police. Woody mistakes the bottle for his tonic, and finds himself supercharged as he goes after “The Bat!” This one was apparently a spoof of Dragnet (which I’ve never seen but at least have some knowledge of), which makes it somewhat entertaining (probably even more so if you know the source material). Much of the humor is derived from the drained Woody drinking the tonic and then destroying everything with a mere touch. Of course, when “The Bat” goes after Woody while he is supercharged, “The Bat’s” foul deeds backfire on him! And I can’t deny that the final joke really makes this one! After being slightly disappointed with the previous few Woody Woodpecker cartoons included in the Woody Woodpecker Screwball Collection, this one was a nice and hilarious return to form (without Woody having to be an obnoxious character) that I wouldn’t mind revisiting!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Watch The Birdie (1935)
(Available as an extra on the Top Hat DVD from Warner Home Video)
(Length: 18 minutes, 16 seconds)
Practical joker Bob (Bob Hope) wants to marry Dorothy Ripley (Nell O’Day). However, he goes too far with one of his jokes, and her father (George Watts) refuses to let them marry. This one is fairly entertaining, mainly as an early Bob Hope appearance. The various pranks he plays (and those played on him) are certainly a lot of this short’s humor (but, of course, Bob still has a few quips of his own). There’s also some extra fun with a quick appearance of Pete the Dog (of The Little Rascals fame). It’s not great, but I enjoy it enough that I don’t mind seeing it periodically.
Coming Up Shorts! with… Page Miss Glory (1936)
(Available as an extra on the Top Hat DVD from Warner Home Video)
(Length: 7 minutes, 43 seconds)
A bellhop at a hotel in a small country town awaits the arrival of a big star, Miss Glory. While he waits, he falls asleep and dreams of being a bellhop in a big city hotel, where he has to page Miss Glory. This one was admittedly entertaining. There’s not much story to it, but who needs it when there’s some fun music written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin. It’s an early Tex Avery cartoon, and while it’s not quite as wild as some of his later stuff, it’s good enough to be memorable. I certainly know I wouldn’t mind seeing it again and again!
And Now For The Main Feature…
Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton) is producing a show in London featuring the American star Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire). One time, when Horace asks Jerry to stay overnight at his hotel room to help keep the peace between Horace and his valet, Bates (Eric Blore), Jerry starts madly dancing around the room. His dancing disturbs the sleep of Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers), who is occupying the room beneath them. When she comes up to complain (while Horace is away), Jerry becomes instantly smitten with her, and tries to go out with her. At first, she resists him, but she starts coming around to him. Their mutual attraction is short-lived, however, as various circumstances lead Dale to believe that Jerry (who had never introduced himself to her) is Horace Hardwick, who is married to her friend Madge (Helen Broderick)! Stunned and angry, Dale decides to leave London with her dressmaker, Alberto Beddini (Erik Rhodes), and go to Venice, Italy, where Madge is currently staying in order to warn her about “Horace’s” flirtations. Saddened by Dale’s departure, Jerry goes on with the show. When he learns from Horace backstage via telegram that Madge had invited them to go to Italy to meet her friend, Dale Tremont (since she was trying to set up Jerry and Dale as a couple), Jerry tells Horace to charter them a plane to Italy immediately. Meanwhile, in Italy, Dale tells Madge about “Horace” flirting with her, but Madge seems to take it in stride as being something in the norm for her husband. When Jerry and Horace arrive, Jerry keeps trying to see Dale, but is mystified as to why she is being so standoffish. At the same time, Horace is threatened by Alberto and is dealing with his wife being suspicious of him (but he assumes it’s because she heard about another accidental affair of his). When Jerry tries to propose to Dale, she slaps him, and later agrees to marry Alberto in the hopes that “Horace” will finally leave her alone. Will they be able to figure out the truth of what is going on, or will Dale be stuck married to a man that she doesn’t love?
Supposedly, the film was based on the 1911 play The Girl Who Dared by Alexander Faragó and Aladar Laszlo, but, from what I’ve read, the only aspect of the play retained for the film was the moment when Fred Astaire’s Jerry had to carry Horace’s (Edward Everett Horton) briefcase (which was one of the central moments that helped with the mistaken identity plot). More comparisons are generally made to the previous year’s The Gay Divorcee, in between the similar plot and (almost) identical cast (with Helen Broderick in Top Hat instead of Alice Brady). And it’s hard not to make that comparison, especially since Dwight Taylor, the author of the original play The Gay Divorce, was brought in to develop the story for Top Hat. However, Fred Astaire had some complaints about the initial script, including the idea that it too closely resembled The Gay Divorcee, and Allan Scott was brought in to do some rewrites (and yet, all these years later, the final film still resembles The Gay Divorcee in the minds of many). Irving Berlin was brought in to write the score, with the five songs that stayed in becoming hits at one time or another. Since Fred Astaire was mainly devoting all his time to the movies he was making with Ginger, he worked on most of the choreography with Hermes Pan (with Hermes Pan usually playing Ginger’s part), and they would show Ginger (who was still doing other films besides those with Fred) the choreography when they had it done. Top Hat would end up being a big hit with audiences, becoming the second highest grossing film of 1935 (behind Mutiny On The Bounty), and the highest grossing film in the Astaire/Rogers series. It would also be nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Original Song (Irving Berlin for “Cheek to Cheek”), Dance Direction (Hermes Pan for “Piccolino” and “Top Hat”) and Best Art Direction (Carroll Clark and Van Nest Polglase) (and regretfully losing them all).
Top Hat was the second Astaire-Rogers film that I saw (following 1949’s The Barkley’s Of Broadway, which I didn’t take to immediately), and it’s since become my favorite film in the series! Personally, Irving Berlin’s music is part of the film’s appeal for me, and I consider the score to be his best (I think some of the other musicals that used his music were better, but I like this score the best). All five songs are great fun (and easily get stuck in my head whenever I watch this movie)! I’d certainly give the edge to the songs “Top Hat, White Tie And Tails” (which I’ll admit to having done a tap solo to years ago, with the outfit becoming my go-to dance costume whenever I could use it for various specialty routines at dance recitals) and “Cheek To Cheek” (which is the song and dance that most defines the partnership of Fred and Ginger to me, and which I have also danced to, although it loses some of its meaning in the process since, at 6’4″, I’ve towered over most of my dance partners). But “No Strings (I’m Fancy Free),” “Isn’t This A Lovely Day (To Be Caught In The Rain)” and especially “The Piccolino” are all very delightful songs (and dances!).
The music (and dancing) are a big part of what makes the film a classic, but the comedy is right up there, too! Fred and Ginger certainly have some wonderful comedic moments together, and lines that stick with me, including this fabulous exchange:
-Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers): “What is this strange power you have over horses?”
-Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire): “Horse power.”
Of course, Fred and Ginger are hardly the only ones with comedic abilities here, as the rest of the cast handle it quite well, too. But it’s Edward Everett Horton (with his hilarious double-takes) and Eric Blore who steal the show, especially when together. Of course, Eric Blore’s Bates insulting the Italian policeman (who supposedly doesn’t understand a word of English) is one of the film’s most laugh-out-loud moments for me! Sure, the film’s plot is ridiculous, but with Fred and Ginger (and all the rest of the cast) to carry the film, who needs a good plot? I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending this film quite highly (seriously, go find a way to watch it now)!
This movie is available on DVD from Warner Home Video.
Film Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
*ranked #1 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2022
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Helen Broderick – Swing Time (1936)
Lucille Ball – Follow The Fleet (1936)
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