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William A. Seiter
Showman Jerry Travers is working for producer Horace Hardwick in London. Jerry demonstrates his new dance steps late one night in Horace's hotel, much to the annoyance of sleeping Dale Tremont below. She goes upstairs to complain and the two are immediately attracted to each other. Complications arise when Dale mistakes Jerry for Horace. Written by
TOP HAT is the quintessential Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film--it might be the first of their nine pairings together that I've seen, but already I can tell just what it is that makes 'Fred & Ginger' almost a brand-name everywhere. Neither Fred Astaire nor Ginger Rogers wanted to get too stereotyped as being the other's partner (Rogers especially took roles specifically to get away from being typecast as one half of a dancing team), but watching them dance, you really couldn't imagine their names coming apart in conversation. It will always have to be 'Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers', because their dancing takes your breath away. The fact that it is incredibly technically complicated is itself astounding... what makes it all the better is that they make it look so darn easy and natural.
Astaire plays Jerry Travers, a professional dancer who meets and falls in love with Dale Tremont (Rogers). He tries very hard to woo her, by filling her room with flowers and singing her through a storm (the beautiful "Isn't This A Lovely Day"). Dale, unfortunately, mistakes him for her friend Madge's husband, Horace Hardwick (played with acerbic relish by Edward Everett Horton). The comedy of errors continues for most of the film, since Dale continually mistakes Jerry for Horace (regaling Madge with 'Horace's' attempts at romancing her), and her costume designer Alberto Beddini is therefore convinced that Horace is the one he must 'kill'--so as to avenge Ms. Tremont.
The plotline itself is slightly fantastical, littered with just enough eccentric characters to have you falling off your seat laughing at some of the things they do and say. Erik Rhodes as Beddini, for example, has some of the best lines in the film--"I'm a-rich and a-pretty..." He practically steals the show, which is hard given the presence of veteran scene-stealers like Horton and Helen Broderick as Madge Hardwick. Although the comedy of errors arising from the mistaken identity wears a bit thin after a while, it *does* provide some absolutely top-notch comic moments. Take the scene when Madge urges Dale to dance with Jerry--the look of utter *un*comprehension on Dale's face when Madge keeps urging them to dance closer is most certainly one for the DVD pause button. ;)
Aside from the dancing (which is sublime, and undescribable--'Fred & Ginger' is something you have to see in action for yourself to believe), the score is brilliant. Irving Berlin has penned some of the most beautiful songs ever, and here we have just a small but certainly representative sampling of them, with "Isn't This A Lovely Day", "Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails", and, of course, "Cheek To Cheek"... a classic by any standard.
What Fred & Ginger lack in palpable, explosive chemistry (along the lines of that shared by Tracy and Hepburn, or Bogart and Bacall), however, they more than make up for in their perfect synchronicity with each other--they're perfectly in tune through every dance sequence, and that's a delight, and amazing, to see.
Overall the film is a bit uneven, coasting along on the charm of its dancing leads. But it's most certainly one that's worth watching, quite simply so you can finally say that you've seen a Fred/Ginger movie, and now know what all that fuss was about. Because, goodness, there really is nothing quite so magical as when Astaire takes Rogers in his arms and spins her around a dance floor, defying gravity and all laws of motion.
Physics means nothing when it comes to these two...
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