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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...
"Top Hat" has everything to make a perfect musical - great leading stars in Astaire and Rogers, good character support from Edward Everett Horton, Helen Broderick, and Eric Blore, fabulous numbers ("Top Hat, White Tie and Tails", "Isn't it a Lovely Day", "The Picolina", and "Cheek to Cheek"), an hilarious plot of mistaken identity, and breathtaking designs which transport you into a Hollywood fantasy of Venice. This was the stars' greatest teaming and the film packs a great deal of energy, fun, and sex all these years later. A true musical classic and one of RKO's finest.
The stage star, Jerry Travers, disturbs a young woman's sleep by
tap-dancing on the floor of a hotel room directly above hers. The young
woman is Dale Tremont, a beautiful fashion model. In the course of the
movie plot, by way of London, Venice and the usual snags of mistaken
identity, the two youngsters flirt, dance and fall in love.
Fred Astaire was a huge Broadway star and social lion long before he ever saw the inside of a film studio. A lucky pairing with Ginger Rogers (a film star in her own right) in "Flying Down To Rio" (1933) led on to a series of smash hits throughout the 1930's. "Top Hat" was the third film the couple made together, and for this one RKO Radio started getting serious, bringing in the legendary Irving Berlin to write the sparkling songs.
This picture was preceded a year earlier by "The Gay Divorcee", and is a repeat prescription of that successful formula - wealthy, elegant characters, frivolous lifestyles, light-hearted love and sumptuous dance numbers. It is not merely the storyline of 'Divorcee' that is repeated here - alongside Fred and Ginger, several of the cast members reappear. Edward Everett Horton was the lawyer Egbert in the earlier film, and here he is Horace the impresario, but is still Fred's bumbling buddy. Eric Blore was the wisecracking waiter, now he is the sarcastic valet: Erik Rhodes plays Italian buffoons in both films - Tonetti in 'Divorcee', Beddini here. Watch out for the girl florist ... it's Lucille Ball, two years into a very long and busy showbiz career.
The film's first number is "Fancy Free", an amiable little ditty which sets the prevailing tone of easy gaiety. Fred leads into it very nicely, his speech becoming more and more rhythmic until he lifts off into song.
"It's A Lovely Day" has a great tune, witty choreography, a thunderstorm and a superb bandstand set. Yet the song everyone associates with this movie is "Top Hat, White Tie And Tails": it doesn't involve Ginger at all, but Fred makes up for that by being in breathtaking form, his performance exuding athleticism, grace, poise and assurance.
Ginger gets her turn to sing with "The Piccolino", a song designed to accord with the plot's Venetian setting. It is the weakest number in the movie, and Ginger sings it without conviction.
In order for the plot knots to unravel, it is necessary for Horace to be kept apart from his wife Madge for 24 hours, even though they haven't met for weeks and they are staying in the same hotel. This is highly artificial, but such flaws are rendered negligible by the sweeping climax of "Cheek To Cheek", the splendid finale in which Fred and Ginger get to dance as lovers.
Verdict - Immortal stylish music and dance.
I'm only just now beginning to realize how silly the plot and some of the
comedy was in this movie. When I watched it, it was perfectly wonderful,
and I smiled all the way through. Fred and Ginger, of course, are perfect,
whether dancing so memorably to the likes of "Isn't It a Lovely Day" and
"Cheek to Cheek" or pitching woo. Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, and
Helen Broderick kept it moving with their throughly entertaining comedy
relief. Even almost 65 years after its premeire, it's still in tip-top
condition, both in the print and in its impact, on first viewing, at least.
(I'm afraid to watch it again, for fear the impact will be
I've seen almost all of Fred and Ginger's pictures since viewing this. Some are good, some less so, and all have their moments of excellence. But none of them matched this one in my mind for sheer feel-goodness. The ones that came closest were Swing Time, Shall We Dance, and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle and The Barkleys of Broadway, the last two because they had quite plausible stories, (and in the case of Castle, one based on real life). But still, Top Hat is Fred and Ginger at their best, and hopefully will always stay that way in my mind.
If you're a fan of FRED ASTAIRE and GINGER ROGERS and their predictable
screwball comedies of the '30s, you'll find this one is easy to take.
First of all, the score by Irving Berlin has a variety of catchy tunes
although I can't say it's his greatest, and all of the mistaken
identity plot is performed with such grace by the famous dancing duo
and their marvelous supporting cast that it's all as light as the
feathers on Ginger's "Cheek to Cheek" dress.
Speaking of which--for me, the "Cheek to Cheek" number is worth watching just to see how skillful the two dance the number although fully aware that Astaire objected strenuously to Ginger's feathered dress. Nevertheless, it's the dancing highlight of the film, much better than the "Piccolino" number that is used for the finale.
Eric Blore and Erik Rhodes outdo themselves in great comic support. Blore we almost take for granted at this point, but Rhodes with his silly Italian accent is a scene-stealer too. His Bettini, the dressmaker, offers some of the heartiest chuckles.
Astaire is top flight here--graceful, athletic, and young enough to be seen as a dancing Cary Grant--and Ginger matches him every dancing step of the way. She's particularly delightful in the rainy park sequence for "Isn't It A Lovely Day?" And for the "Cheek to Cheek" sequence she has a braided hairdo that gives her an ultra-sophisticated, princess-like look. When she and Astaire dance, they can do no wrong.
He, of course, is more skillful with a song than she is, his voice perfectly able to deliver all the Irving Berlin numbers assigned to him, while she barely gets by with her rendition of the "Piccolino".
Great fun to watch--rainy day or not. And those art deco backgrounds for hotel rooms and Venice are a knockout. The pristine print of the film shown on TCM recently really made them stand out in glowing splendor.
This classic is fine entertainment with plenty of everything - humor,
singing & dancing, good writing, and lavish sets and costumes. The only
thing missing is a plot, but too much story might have taken attention away
from everything else that makes "Top Hat" enjoyable to
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are talented and charming as a somewhat star-crossed couple. The whole story line is that Ginger thinks Fred is someone else (who is married instead of single) and thus misinterprets and rejects his advances. Their many abilities and a fine script make this paper-thin plot seem not only acceptable but amusing. Edward Everett Horton is both funny and indispensable as Fred's friend (and the man whom Ginger thinks Fred is), and the rest of the supporting players are also quite good.
This is the kind of carefully produced classic that offers many reasons for watching - see it if you have the chance, whether or not you usually like musicals.
TOP HAT (RKO Radio, 1935), directed by Mark Sandrich, marks the fourth
teaming of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and considered by many to be
their best collaboration. A reworking in plot from their earlier outing
of "The Gay Divorcée" (1934), TOP HAT, in fact, the most admired of the
two, could easily pass as a partial remake, rehash or possibly a
sequel, mainly due to the sameness in the casting of Edward Everett
Horton, Erik Rhodes and Eric Blore from "The Gay Divorcée" also
directed by Mark Sandrich. Stepping in for Alice Brady is Helen
Broderick, whose deadpan humor and dry-wit personality proved more
amusing than Brady's dim-witted character. Also similar to "The Gay
Divorcée" is Ginger Rogers singing one song near its conclusion while
Astaire provides most of the vocalization.
The story opens in London. Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) is an American dancer (what else!) who is to perform in one of Horace Hardwick's (Edward Everett Horton) upcoming musical shows. They share a hotel suite together where Jerry has an urge to sing and dance. His tap dancing disturbs a sleeping patron in the room below. Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers), the upset hotel guest in question, comes up to the room above to register her complaint. After Jerry meets his complainer, he immediately falls in love with her, and decides to soft-shoe her to sleep by dancing on sand after she returns to her room. During his stay in London, he pursues Dale whenever he can, and sweeps her off her feet by dancing with her in the gazebo in the park during a rain storm. Because she doesn't know his name, she affectionately calls him "Adam." Dale, who is to later meet with her best friend, Madge Hardwick (Helen Broderick) in Venice, Italy, discovers she's playing matchmaker, hoping to pair her with her husband's friend, Jerry, while, in turn, Dale believes Jerry to be Horace. Things get really complex as Dale mistakingly believes Made to be pushing "her husband" over to her while poor Horace, the innocent bystander, is being being threatened by Dale's dressmaker, Alberto Bedini (Erik Rhodes) and given a black eye by Madge for no apparent reason. Also adding to the confusion is Bates (Eric Blore), Horace's faithful servant, assigned by him to follow Dale Tremont and find out more about this "gold digger" out to trap Jerry, and ....
Aside from TOP HAT being long on laughs and complications becoming more confusing and the story moves on, the film takes time for five classic dance numbers composed by the legendary Irving Berlin: "No Strings, I'm Fancy Free" (sung and danced by Fred Astaire); "Isn't It a Lovely Day to be Caught in the Rain" (sung by Astaire/ danced by Astaire and Ginger Rogers); "Top Hat" (sung by Astaire); "Cheek to Cheek" (sung by Astaire/ danced by Astaire and Rogers); and "The Piccolino" (sung by Ginger Rogers and chorus/ danced by Astaire and Rogers); and "The Piccolino" (reprise, finale). Of those numbers, "Cheek to Cheek" remains a true highlight, a scene clipped in many documentaries pertaining to movie musicals or Astaire and Rogers themselves. "Cheek to Cheek" was nominated for best song of 1935. Although it didn't win, it remains as memorable as the Astaire and Rogers dance itself.
Any similarities between THE GAY Divorcée and TOP HAT are purely coincidental, but in many ways an improvement. Both films are not only the most famous and televised of the Astaire and Rogers musicals, but each presents itself like a stage play. The only twist here is that TOP HAT, which borrows from "The Gay Divorcée" is actually an original screenplay (by Dwight Taylor), written especially for the leading pair. Other than the horse and buggy ride on the London streets, the focal point remains mostly in the hotel suites, lobbies, dining areas and a brief ride on the gondola. TOP HAT gives the impression to be the most lavishly scaled musical ever released by RKO. It does. Even Ginger Rogers' dresses are glittering and rich in appearance, right down to her sleeping attire. A musical fantasy by way of costumes (how many women sleep with nightgowns flashier than a dinner dress?), TOP HAT has Astaire singing and dancing during portions of the plot, a common practice musical stage shows, though the title tune, "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" is the only one given the production number treatment played to a theater audience on screen.
TOP HAT, available on video cassette and/or DVD, and formerly shown on American Movie Classics, most commonly found on Turner Classic Movies, is fortunate to have certain cut scenes restored. During the years of commercial television back in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, the sequence involving Bates (Eric Blore) insulting an Italian police official whom he believes doesn't speak a word of English, leading to his arrest, was among the missing. Whether seeing TOP HAT at 100 minutes, or in shorter reissue 93 minute prints, the movie itself is entertaining from start to finish. And if the blonde flower clerk in the London sequence early in the story looks familiar, look again. That's Lucille Ball, the future "queen of television." (****)
"Top Hat" is one of the best films Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made
together. Jay Sandrich, the director of most of their films knew what
to bring to the story to make it perfect. It also helps the genial
Irving Berlin was on hand to write some of his most beautiful songs to
be sung in Fred Astaire's usual impeccable style. The sets were
designed by Van Nest Polglase, who is equally at home showing Manhattan
interiors as well as the Venetian fantasy sets.
Much has been said in this forum about the film, so we'll only add that Fred Astaire's Jerry was one of his best creations. Ginger Rogers as Dale Tremont, the high fashion model, shows an exquisite figure and is fine in keeping pace with Fred Astaire's dancing "cheek to cheek". The other best thing about "Top Hat" are: Edward Everett Horton, Helen Broderick, and Eric Blore. These three character actors are at their finest in the film. They make everything work because they are always there to lend a hand for the stars to shine without being on the way.
"Top Hat" is a happy film that keeps delighting viewers any time one is lucky enough to fall under its spell.
Top Hat is a terrific musical about mistaken identity that pushes the
"joke" to the limit but never takes it self very seriously. Fred
Astaire and Ginger Rogers are perfect as actors, dancers, and pals in
this engaging comedy with several great dance numbers.
Astaire does a great solo (with male chorus line) to Top Hat and teams with Rogers in The Piccolino, Isn't It a Lovely Day, and Cheek to Cheek. All excellent. During The Piccolino number they seem to be having so much fun it's contagious and it seems like the entire number is done in ONE TAKE! Co-starring are 4 great actors who all turn in splendid performances. Helen Broderick is Madge, the frustrated and wise-cracking wife. Edward Everett Horton is Horace, the henpecked but conniving husband. Eric Blore is the valet, and Erik Rhodes is Beddini. Each gets his/her turn in the spotlight. Broderick was the perfect "older" woman as sidekick, Horton and Blore are a great comedy team of scene stealers, and Rhodes has a ball fracturing English. Lucille Ball has a bit part as the florist's assistant.
Central of course are Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The Cheek to Cheek number is a classic and is fun to watch the feathers fly off Ginger's dress. My favorite is The Piccolino, especially when it breaks into a swing number and the dancers can really cut loose. Great fun.
One drawback is the UGLY set decorations that are in the same style no matter where they are. It's all that white-on-white stuff with hideous Greek decals and floral sprays everywhere. Even the scenes in Venice are all white right down to the gondolas. And just why are people swimming in the canals?
When whipping up the froth of a musical comedy most creators and commentators forget that fateful second word . . . COMEDY. Not to take away from Astaire & Rogers' beautiful balletic grace, but no one ever gave more comedy more modestly yet more professionally than Edward Everett Horton. His triple-barreled name alone suggests haughty dignity and sniffing puritanism, and his role in this film, as in so many others, gives him ample scope to screw up his mouth in petty disdain, look aghast at social blunders, and sputter in disbelief over the foibles of others while generously ignoring his own idiocies. Horton is a reactor, one which boosts a fairly pedestrian plot to the Moon & beyond. Like Margret DuMont with the Marx Brothers, there is something about the pernickity Horton that begs us to tilt his top hat and fling a banana peel his way just for the delightful reaction we are sure of getting. Perplexed or chagrined, the hatchet-faced Horton is a monument to the lost art of supporting clown -- those dumb bunnies and prissy busybodies that used to inhabit movies and give them life & breath even when the big-shot stars were off the screen. Horton had impeccable timing in delivering a line or flashing a double-take -- you feel he could just as easily count the nano-seconds between the neutron pulses of an atom. If he seems to intrude too much into the musical numbers of this movie it's simply because the director/editor must have been overly fond of his coy mugging. I recommend that music lovers rewatch this film and concentrate on Edward Everett Horton. Your attention will be well-rewarded with deep chuckles and an abiding affection for this New England zany.
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