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Guy Holden, the celebrated stage dance star, is touring Europe on
vacation. Mimi Glossop is a rich American living in London and is currently
in the throes of a divorce. They meet, they dance, they fall in
Ginger Rogers was by far the bigger cinema star when RKO Radio teamed her with Fred. She had appeared in 34 films to his 3, and two in the previous year had been smash hits - "Golddiggers" and "42nd Street". This loose borrowing from Cole Porter's Broadway show contains only one of the master's songs, the immortal "Night And Day", and only four other songs in the entire movie - Conrad & Magidson's "Needle In A Haystack" and "The Continental", and Gordon & Revel's "Don't Let It Bother You" and "Let's K-nock K-nees" (featuring an 18-year-old Betty Grable, who had herself featured in no less than eight films in the previous year).
At the depth of the Depression, this sort of film was all the rage - a fantasy of carefree opulence and ease, set in a world of Parisian floorshows, ocean liners and tuxedos. The wit is sharp and the mood flirtatious. What if the film-makers hadn't the first clue about how an English barrister conducts his cases? This is about romance, not professional ethics. What if the terrain of Brighton isn't an igneous intrusion, but in fact a sedimentary accretion? This is about two people's sublime dancing, not geology.
Fred is as always the quintessence of style, a naturally elegant creature, and Ginger is gorgeous. The plot is very well constructed, containing all the misunderstandings associated with musical farce, but developing them with panache. The denouement is both neat and unexpected. There are plenty of girls dancing in the usual geometric patterns, but there is also abundant creativity in the choreography - the playful steps in "The Continental", for example, or Fred's reluctant dance for his supper. Mimi is trying to resist Guy, and has to be drawn into "Night And Day" against her will - an instance of character being expressed through dance. Max Steiner's arrangement of this number is glorious, with its 'tacit', and the swelling fortissimos, and a dainty countermelody in the strings. Ginger sings "The Continental" like an angel, nicely ragging the time.
Inconsequential? No doubt. Frothy? Certainly. A joy to watch? Definitely!
After hearing Fred Astaire put his stamp in a song, it's hard to
imagine anyone else attempting to improve in what seems to be the
definite rendition of it. That is the case when Mr. Astaire sings Cole
Porter's elegant "Night and Day". In pairing Ginger Rogers with Mr.
Astaire, Hollywood hit the jackpot as it produced a winning combination
that went from film to film with such ease and panache, it will never
Mark Sandrich worked with Ms. Rogers and Mr. Astaire in several movies. Somehow, "The Gay Divorcée" is one of their best collaboration. This film is a lot of fun to watch, even after more than 70 years after it was made. It speaks volumes for all the people involved in the production of this movie.
The Great Depression was the right background when movies like this were made. In a way, it was an escape from the harsh realities of the times America was going through. The public went to the movies to see their favorite stars that were shown in such a glamorous roles. How could anyone not admire the great Fred Astaire, always impeccably dressed? Or how could not any woman in the theater envy Ms. Rogers's beauty and easy grace? That era made it right for Hollywood to show the world a sensitivity and sophistication that only few rich types were able to enjoy in real life, while the rest was trying to eke out a life of whatever work they could find.
The musical numbers are amazing. "The Continental" alone, must have blown the budget of the picture. Imagine how much it would cost today to have all those dancers in a sound stage! Not only that, but in that lengthy number, there are at least four changes of costumes for the women. Also, he is delightful singing "Looking for a Needle in a Haystack". A young and radiant Betty Grable makes an appearance singing "Let's K-knock K-knees" in which she shows a bit of her enormous charm and talent.
Ginger Rogers makes a gorgeous Mimmi Glassop. Alice Brady, is perfect as the dizzy Aunt Hortense. Edward Everett Horton plays an excellent Egbert Fitzgerald, the divorce lawyer. Erik Rhodes is one of the best things in the film; his Signor Tonetti injects a funny shot into the movie. Eric Blore, as the waiter, has great moments in the movie.
In setting the film in London and Brighton, a rich texture is added to this winning picture that will remain a favorite that will live forever because of the chemistry that Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire produced in anything they did together.
Following an apparently accidental teaming in 1933's Flying Down to Rio
(a fun Dolores Del Rio vehicle), Fred and Ginger got their first
starring feature a year later. It was based on J. Hartley Manners' play
'The Gay Divorce'. The Hays Office insisted on shoving an 'e' on the
end, for how could a divorce be so trifling as to be gay? Some UK
prints still run with the original title. RKO assembled a sparkling
ensemble cast of top-flight farceurs, bringing together (in ascending
order of sublimity) Eric Blore, Edward Everett Horton and Erik Rhodes
("Are you a union man?"). Mark Sandrich directs the thing with a
maximum of fuss and style. Hermes Pan helped Fred choreograph the
The plot is suitably - and delightfully - trivial. Musical star Guy Holden (Fred) happens upon a girl (Ginger), falls desperately in love with her, then spends the rest of the picture trying to free himself from marvellously silly plot threads and Everett Horton's exquisite quadruple-takes.
Keeping just one song from Cole Porter's original score, the timeless 'Night and Day', and adding only four others, The Gay Divorcée is more a comedy with songs than it is a musical comedy. But what comedy - and what songs! 'Looking For a Needle in a Haystack' is a masterpiece of economy: Fred a whirlwind of frustrated, lovestruck energy as he spins around his hotel room lamenting his missing love in peerless style. "Men don't pine," he memorably concludes, "Women pine. Men ... suffer." Everett Horton's rare excursion into song-and-dance territory is a breath of hysterical, liberating ludicrousness, as he knocks knees with a young Betty Grable. 'Don't Let It Bother You', performed by a chorus of dancing girls (and dolls), then spectacularly reprised by a tapping Astaire, is another treat. 'The Continental', the film's vast production number is peculiarly edited but sporadically fine and offers a fitting climax.
It's exceptional fluff, the sort of heady, heightened escapism that you don't come close to very often. An extravagantly mounted, joyous comedy played to perfection by two stars at their irresistible peak. Unmissable.
Quoting the Eric Blore/Alice Brady interchange in the restaurant, this movie is indeed whimsical (or "whumsical") and beautiful to boot. There probably has never been a more perfect dance than "Night and Day"....or a more beautiful song to dance to. That is the highlight of this film, although the rest of it is well worth seeing. Erik Rhodes is absolutely hilarious as the paid correspondent and the humor is not dated which is unusual in a film of this age. The "Chance is a fool's name for fate" routine is priceless. Edward Everett Horton again proves that he is the originator of the befuddled sidekick without being irritating and his little "dance" with a very young Betty Grable is such fun The art deco sets and great 30's clothes are wonderful and it makes you wish for a time when everybody wore evening dress and danced at the drop of a hat. Don't miss it...this is one of the highlight Astaire/Rogers efforts.
It's astounding that this all-time classic doesn't get a better average
Nureyev said Astaire was the greatest dancer in the world, and Astaire is at his best here with his best partner, Ginger Rogers. No need to elaborate, just watch them in action.
Erik Rhodes should have got Best Supporting Oscar. He was also wonderful in Top Hat, but it's here he gets to say the immortal line, "Your wife is safe with Tonetti, he prefers spaghetti."
The clothes and the decor evoke an ideal of courtship as aesthetic rather than as rutting, as it is today. Elegance, grace and wit give even the silliest scenes more dignity than anything, fatuous "talents" can concoct today.
Some call the plot banal, but I think it's funny and inventive. Sure it's mistaken identity, which is indeed a cliché, but so what? It's what they do with it that matters. A professional co-respondent??? Of course it's silly but Hey, that's what farce is. And this musical farce is one of the very best.
Fred and Ginger, two perfect partners, two of the best dancers in history.
In 1934, the toast of RKO. What a great pair the studio that would become
defunct in a matter of years had on their hands!
In 1933, the pair had proven themselves as second leads in "Flying Down to Rio", a musical heavily relying on special effects and little else. They stole the show, proven with "The Carioca", the erotically charged dance number which started an American craze of pressing foreheads and even got the Best Song Oscar nod over the supposed show stopping title song. Before, Ginger had "42nd Street" to her name, while Fred had the famous screen test analysis of "Can't sing. Can't act. Can dance a little."
"The Gay Divorcee" is the establishing musical of Astaire and Rogers. Silly, dated, slight, even stupid to a certain degree is the entire story. Without a doubt, high comedy and immense creativity make up for it. The mistaken identity plot was recycled for "Top Hat" the following year, but it hardly matters. It is littered entirely with hilarity! Writing was never the strongest point of these musicals anyway. The performances were not Oscar calibre but they were publicly loved, and it's obviously Astaire and Roger's singing, acting and most of all, dancing, that makes the movie what it is.
A top wealth of talent was assembled for the movie. Erik Rhodes is absolutely side splitting as the Italian guy Tonetti, wielding the fabulous line, "Your wife is safe with Tonetti, he prefers spaghetti!". Alice Brady is there as Aunt Hortense, but Edward Everett Horton is another stand out performer as the lawyer. His fumbling voice provides a character of clumsiness and two seem to go hand in hand. He was definitely one of the best supporting comedians of the 1930s and 1940s, in other Astaire and Rogers musicals, and movies like "Lost Horizon", "Holiday", "Here Comes Mr Jordan" and "Arsenic and Old Lace".
Only one song was retained for the filmic version of "The Gay Divorcee". The censors even crashed down on the stage's original title "The Gay Divorce". Fred performs a great rendition of the immortal Cole Porter song "Night and Day". "The Continental", the Best Song of 1934 is thrown there in the mix too. Other great numbers in there include "Looking for a needle in a haystack", "Don't Let it Bother You" and "Let's K-nock- K-nees". The latter is performed by a young Betty Grable. This is notable for the only time Edward Everett Horton sings and dances on screen. We can see from the results there's an obvious reason.
The stylish period of courtship and even set decoration and costumes evoke great memories of eras gone by. RKO hasn't helped preservation of these technical elements by throwing what always appears to be mediocre sets, but it doesn't matter anyway. The whole thing is irresistible, spectacular and unforgettable. This is one of the forgotten musicals of the time which has it all.
The superb Fred and Ginger series always ended with a big, big set piece
where the two of them could dance, and 'The Gay Divorce(e)' is no exception.
This time it is 'The Continental', which allows half of what passes for
Brighton to join in the dance.
Not the most original of plots, this movie teamed the leads together for the second time (the first time they led the cast though). Both are terrific, and Fred's dancing throughout is a treat. Ginger is her usual bouncy self, all wisecracks and big eyes, and good on her feet. They're ably supported by Edward Everett Horton (as 'Aunt' Egbert), Alice Brady (the towering matriach, Rogers' aunt), Eric Blore (as an irritating waiter who likes talking about rocks and playing with words), Erik Rhodes (as a daft Italian), and Betty Grable (as a hotel guest who has a terrific number with Horton, 'Let's K-knock K-knees').
As you might guess, the story revolves around a divorce, which might be a gay one (in the 1930s definition of the word, of course), and, as so often in this series, mistaken identities. Tiny roles go to William Austin (as Rogers' blustering geologist hubby), and Lilian Miles (an Alice Faye lookalike who gets to reprise 'The Continental' all to herself).
This is one of the better entries in the series, ably directed by Mark Sandrich, and featuring a mix of songs including Cole Porter's 'Night and Day', and the jaunty 'Looking for a Needle in a Haystack'.
After their hit dancing of the "Carioca" in "Flying Down the Rio," RKO
gave the teaming of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers a star role in "The
Gay Divorcée" in 1934. With few exceptions, the plots of the
Fred-Ginger films were excuses to get to the important part - the
dancing - but the story lines were always pleasant and the casting
good. "The Gay Divorcée" was based on a Broadway musical (of which the
only number retained is "Night and Day") and it appears that a few of
its plot devices were adopted in later Astaire-Rogers films as well.
One such plot device is that of mistaken identity. In this movie,
Astaire (reprising his Broadway role) is mistaken for a professional
correspondent hired to help Rogers get her divorce. Another device is
that at first, Ginger is never interested in Fred - that goes here,
too. And there's a stock cast in these films, namely, Edward Everett
Horton and Eric Blore (and of course, he's always the butler and always
very funny). Horton plays Rogers' attorney whose major problem is
Rogers' aunt (Alice Brady).
What can be said about the dancing except that it's glorious? Fred and Ginger dance to "Night and Day" after Astaire sings it to her. For a supposed non-singer, Astaire could really put over a song - his voice is pleasant and he's so musical - no wonder composers wrote songs for him. Ginger is beautiful and spunky as Mimi, a young woman ducking Fred while she's trying to get a divorce. Betty Grable has a bit that showcases her in the number "Let's K-knock Kneez." There's also "I'm Looking for a Needle in a Haystack" delightfully sung and danced by Fred. Astaire's dancing is fantastic throughout.
It feels as if about half the picture is taken up with the elaborately staged production number, "The Continental." In later films, of course, the dancing would center more around Fred and Ginger, but it's a great part of the movie and certainly solidified these two as a top box office pairing.
For pure enjoyment, there's nothing like watching Astaire & Rogers in these movies.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Gay Divorcée" (RKO Radio, 1934), directed by Mark Sandrich,
reunites the supporting young couple who supplied the "comedy relief"
and very little dancing to the previous year's success of FLYING DOWN
TO RIO (RKO, 1933). The couple in question are Fred Astaire and Ginger
Rogers. With this being their first starring film musical as a team, in
reality, they are virtually supporting players, this time supporting
the supporting character actors who seem to be on more than the stars
themselves. Even several production numbers are performed by others,
but Astaire does manage to get at least one big solo spotlight to
himself before doing his couple of twists and turns with Rogers.
However, this doesn't take away from the chemistry they have, making
this the one to set the pattern for their future films ahead.
The plot centers upon Guy Holden (Fred Astaire), a famous American dancer, traveling with his lawyer friend, Egbert Fitzgerald (Edward Everett Horton). After a brief stay in Paris they head for London where Egbert finds himself filling in for his attorney father who's away in Scotland. As for Guy, he encounters Mimi Glossop (Ginger Rogers), traveling with her matron aunt, Hortense Ditherwell (Alice Brady). A situation involving a dress caught in her aunt's luggage leads Guy to help only to accidentally rip it and loaning her his raincoat to cover up her embarrassment, leaving her his calling card where to return it. Later, Hortense has her unhappily married niece, Mimi, seek divorce proceedings through Egbert Fitzgerald (whom she almost married three ex-husbands prior). Egbert takes the case and hires a gigolo, Rodolfo Tonetti (Erik Rhodes), to act as Mimi's hired correspondent so to have her geologist husband, Cyril (William Austin) "catch them in the act" and agree to a divorce. Before Tonetti accepts the job, and not knowing who the client is, he is given a secret password, "Chance is the fool's name for fate," a line from one of Guy's shows. When Mimi meets up with Guy again, Guy uses that phrase in conversation, and stunned that the man she's been avoiding to be working for her attorney, she reluctantly invites Guy to her hotel room about the same time Tonetti arrives, further complicating matters to the situation.
A drawing room farce if ever there was one, sometimes amusing, often silly, with this being typical of 1930s musicals. While essentially a filmed staged play, "The Gay Dibvorcee" does break away from drawing room settings with a car chase and brief street scenery. Taken from the hit play, "The Gay Divorce" (1932), which also starred Astaire, with Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore reprising their roles, the film succeeds due to the presence of Astaire and Rogers. Of the songs from the stage production, only Cole Porter's "Night and Day" remains.
The musical program with new score by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel, Con Conrad and Herb Magidson, include: "Don't Let It Bother You" (sung by French chorus girls/ followed by a tap dance solo by Fred Astaire); "Looking for a Needle in a Haystack" (sung and danced by Astaire); "Let's Knock K-neez" (sung by Betty Grable and Edward Everett Horton); "Night and Day" (sung by Astaire/ danced by Astaire and Rogers); "The Continental" (sung by Ginger Rogers/ danced by Astaire and Rogers, and others); and "The Continental" (finale).
While some of the earlier songs are forgettable, with "Needle for a Haystack" inventing the Astaire character, "Night and Day" marks the first Astaire and Rogers dance on screen in its entirety. "The Continental," a lively song that would be the first Academy Award winning song, is lavishly produced, interestingly choreographed (resembling "The Carioca" from FLYING DOWN TO RIO), it focuses more on couples dressed in black and white attire dancing in montage sequences, with time out for singing by Erik Rhodes playing his Constantina, and another, Lillian Miles, who appears, sings and is never seen or heard from again, before Astaire and Rogers take center stage going into their dance of Spanish, Hungarian, Viennese and jazz steps before its conclusion.
Of the supporting players, Alice Brady comes off best with her amusing combination mixture of Margaret Dumont and Gracie Allen. She, like her counterpart, Edward Everett Horton, would become type-cast with such roles, but later proved her ability as a dramatic actress with her Academy Award winning role of IN OLD CHICAGO (20th-Fox, 1937). Other character actors in support include William Austin, briefly appearing as Mimi's husband, presenting himself close to the mannerisms of future character actor, Billy DeWolfe; Eric Blore as the waiter would have his share of comedic scenes with Astaire and Rogers in three additional musicals.
Of the ten Astaire and Rogers musicals, "The Gay Divorcée," "Top Hat" (1935) and "Shall We Dance?" (1937) , all with Edward Everett Horton, were the most commonly revived from local television through much of the 1960s to the 1980s, many substituting the Movietime or C&C Television logos over the original RKO Radio during its introduction and closing credits. Aired regularly on American Movie Classics during the stations beginning to 2000, it's also shown frequently on Turner Classic Movies. Availability on home video dating back to the 1980s from the now extinct Nostalgia Merchant to Turner Home Entertainment has paved the way for future generations to discover and enjoy the legend of Astaire and Rogers.
"The Gay Divorcée" being one of the twelve feature films to be nominated for Best Picture of 1934, is vintage fun. Even as the latter Astaire and Rogers musicals started to wear thin, namely CAREFREE (1938), they never ceased to amaze in what the team can do with their dancing feet. (****)
Of the nine Fred and Ginger movies, this is possibly the most charming. It is archetypal for the species -- boy meets girl, misunderstanding develops, misunderstanding resolves, boy gets girl. No villains to speak of, no blood. Lots of music and fun. The paper-thin plot makes it all the more fun. Nobody is taking anything seriously, everybody's in it for the good times. A rendition of "The Continental" is a very stylish song and dance number. A very young Betty Grable stops in for a quick vignette in "Let's Knock Knees". The Italian lothario, played by Erik Rhodes, is one of the funniest comic characters ever. Comedic standard character actors Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore aren't far behind him. Even if you were in the mood for Reservoir Dogs, you won't be able to ignore the natural enthusiasm and love of life in this film.
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