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This was, in many ways, the zenith of the Astaire-Rogers 10-film saga. And it manages to reveal a perfectly cohesive story (as well as a marvelous musical score) without one frame of mistaken identity or a misunderstanding which takes an hour-and-a-half to resolve. (Spoiler-ish) Astaire is initially betrothed to society girl Furness, but goes out into the world to raise a wedding dowry and ends up meeting, dancing with, and falling in love with Rogers instead. (If it reads like it all happens too fast, by all means acquaint yourself with the rest of the A-R film series.) The plots ultimately didn't matter- only the duo's ravishing dance duets, which were their love scenes. Probably no more thrilling dances have ever been presented on film: the tap routine "Pick Yourself Up" which first introduces the couple to each other; the 'lovely Waltz in Swing Time' (a happy duet which sort of marks the Act 1 finale); and the dramatic "Never Gonna Dance." This number is stunning for two reasons: it's a dance of a break-up, and it's the dance which may have been their most difficult to film. Because Astaire's mantra was uncut (or nearly uncut) dance numbers, his duets with Rogers were usually all done in one unbroken camera shot. In "Never Gonna Dance," the action travels from one dance floor up two curved staircases to another, cutting only one time, to a final 2-shot showing Rogers gloriously spinning in and out of Astaire's arms several times before making a dramatic exit. The shoot, history says, lasted from mid-morning until about 4 a.m. THE NEXT DAY, as take after take of the dance was spoiled with one problem after another (cameras bumping into walls, lights crashing, Astaire's toupee flying off his head!). Eventually, Rogers' feet bled into her high heels, but neither she nor Astaire wanted to stop until they got it right- and they finally did on take number FORTY-EIGHT. Now that's entertainment.
If you only watch one Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers musical this should
be the one. There has long been a debate over which film is their best:
Swing Time or Top Hat. In my opinion, Swing Time definitely takes this
honor, number two being Top Hat, followed by The Gay Divorcée. All of
their films together are excellent, but Swing Time is set apart because
it takes a much more realistic look at love and life. This film handles
the love affair between Astaire and Rogers' characters in a way that
none of the other films did. The romance is touching, sweet, charming -
The songs are amazing, including "Pick Yourself Up", "The Waltz In Swing Time", "A Fine Romance", "Never Gonna Dance", and "The Way You Look Tonight", which is the greatest love song ever written. The scene where Astaire sings this to Rogers is not to be missed. His reaction to her touch - in this scene, as well as in the "Fine Romance" scene - is priceless. Watch for another not-to-be-missed moment, also in the "Fine Romance" scene, as Rogers uses every feminine trick in the book to try to get Astaire to respond.
Although this goes without saying, the dancing in "Swing Time" is superb. I hardly know words that are sufficient to describe the beauty that is the bittersweet dance number "Never Gonna Dance". The emotion in this scene is phenomenal. It is absolutely exquisite. If Fred & Ginger had, indeed, never danced - before or after - to any other number, this alone would have made them famous. It is the most beautiful dance ever recorded in motion picture history. Every time I re-watch this film, I'm always caught off guard by the sheer beauty of this one scene. For this reason alone, "Swing Time" is definitely a "must see" film.
SWING TIME (RKO Radio, 1936), directed by George Stevens, marks the
sixth screen teaming of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and if not
their masterpiece, their best collaboration together. Aside from the
predictable storyline that succeeds in presenting itself as an original
screenplay, its their most lavish and stylish production, with the most
memorable songs ever scored for a motion picture, compliments of Jerome
Kern. Yet it's richness in sets and costumes makes one forget that this
very expensive looking film was done at the height of the Great
The story begins with John "Lucky" Garnett (Fred Astaire), a professional dancer finishing up with his stage performance, and about to leave the theater and marry Margaret Watson (Betty Furness), his childhood sweetheart. Because his friend, "Pop" Cardetti (Victor Moore) feels his marriage would be a mistake, he succeeds into getting Lucky (whose biggest weakness is gambling) into a game of cards with his colleagues while others "arrange" to take time and have a tailor fix his pants by having cuffs put on them, while in reality his pants don't need cuffs. By the time he arrives at his wedding, the guests and preacher have long gone. Lucky persuades Margaret and her angry father (Landers Stevens), who disapproves of dancers, that if he can make $25,000 for his professional dancing, he can return to Margaret and claim her as his bride. The old man readily agrees to this idea and all is forgiven. Lucky and Pop train ride to New York City where while walking down the streets, a misunderstanding occurs between them and a young lady (Ginger Rogers) involving a lucky quarter belonging to Pop, in which a policeman (Edgar Dearing) enters the scene and sends the lady on her way. Trying to square himself, Lucky follows the girl, Penelope Carroll, to the dance studio where she works. He pretends to enroll in a class and has Penny as his teacher. Her employer, Mr. Gordon (Eric Blore), fires Penny for insulting her pupil, whom she finds annoying whom she finds annoying and incapable of learning how to dance, but Lucky squares things by demonstrating how much Penny has taught him in one easy lesson. Amazed by the accomplishment Gordon arranges for Penny and Lucky to dance professionally at the Silver Scandal Night Club. Along the way, Lucky gambles his way to success, by winning a game of cards to obtain an orchestra leader, Ricardo Romero (Georges Metaxa), who loves Penny and jealous of her dancing partner. As for Pop, he finds middle-aged companionship with Mabel Anderson (Helen Broderick), Penny's co-worker, best friend and roommate. Problems arise when Margaret returns to the scene and Ricardo insists on wanting to marry Penny.
SWING TIME's perfection mainly relies on the comic timing supplied by both its stars and character supporters, as well as the production numbers that surpass anything Astaire and Rogers have have done thus far. The score by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields include: "Pick Yourself Up" (sung by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers); "The Way You Look Tonight" (sung by Fred Astaire, later reprized by Georges Metaxa); "The Waltz in Swing Time" (instrumental dance by Astaire and Rogers); "A Fine Romance" (sung by Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire); "Bojangles of Harlem" (sung by chorus/ performed by Astaire); "Never Gonna Dance" (sung by Astaire/ danced by Astaire and Rogers, along with "The Way You Look Tonight" and FINALETTE: Astaire and Rogers singing "A Fine Romance" and "The Way You Look Tonight." (Academy Award winner as Best Song of 1936). Of the musical highlights, "Bojangles of Harlem," Astaire's solo dance and his only black-face number, is an immediate classic that can be seen over and over again without any loss of interest. Reportedly a tribute to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Astaire manages to what would be offensive in today's society as both watchable and entertaining. Unlike the traditional black-face clichés, Astaire avoids the use of whiteness around the lips and presents himself in a complete tanned facial makeup, dressed in derby and spotted jacket. The scene where he dances in front of three shadows of himself on the wall has to be seen to really be appreciated. There's no doubt this was the best eight musical minutes ever recorded on film. Thank goodness due to political correctness that this number was never known to have been deleted from television prints. After seeing "Bojangles of Harlem," one would wonder how Astaire could ever top this? Well, he does, with "Never Gonna Dance," in he and Rogers dance on the glittering dance floor and finish it by dancing separately up a flight of two staircases. Great stuff.
SWING TIME brings back Helen Broderick, of TOP HAT (1935) fame, for the second and final time supporting Astaire and Rogers, once more delivering wisecracks in her deadpan manner, and her first of several opposite Victor Moore. As with each passing movie, Ginger Rogers has groomed, into an attractive young lady. By this time, her vocalization has matured, no longer the high-pitch girlish singer she once was in FLYING DOWN TO RIO (1933). Eric Blore, a regular in five Astaire and Rogers musicals, has less to do here than in his other collaboration with them. This time he sports a mustache, isn't playing either a waiter or butler.
SWING TIME, available on video cassette and DVD, and formerly presented on American Movie Classics, is shown regularly on Turner Classic Movies. To watch SWING TIME for the 50th time is like watching it for the first. Highly recommended, particularly during the late hours or during a cold, snowy afternoon, considering how snow does cover a lot of ground during the second half of the story. (****)
An excellent feature in almost every respect, "Swing Time" is usually
(and deservedly) considered to be, along with "Top Hat", the best of
the series of Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire musicals. And while "Top Hat"
is a well-crafted and enjoyable movie, "Swing Time" might be even
better. The story is light but entertaining, and the singing and
dancing sequences are not only first-class, but also contain quite a
variety of material, making this an ideal showcase for the stars and
Fred and Ginger are joined by Helen Broderick, who fits in very well. Victor Moore has some good moments, although his character is a bit over-used, and ceases to be funny after a while. The four of them carry almost all of the load - Eric Blore and Betty Furness are in the cast, but they do not get a lot of screen time.
The story is not bad, but it is the musical numbers that make this so enjoyable. Practically all of them can be watched a number of times without becoming dull. The upbeat sequence in the dance studio, and the "A Fine Romance" song in the snow both show, in different ways, the two stars working together closely. Astaire's tribute to Bojangles is an impressive display of talent and choreography. Then there are the more thoughtful sequences between the two, which show yet another side of their talents.
If "Swing Time" had Edward Everett Horton back in the cast, instead of the Victor Moore character, this would easily be the best of all of the Astaire/Rogers musicals. Even as it is, it's awfully good.
There's something special about all of the Astaire-Rogers movies, and
"Swing Time" is no exception. Directed by George Stevens, it tells the
story of a dancer and a gambler - not seen as much of a catch by his
future father-in-law - who, after he misses his wedding, goes to New
York. He promises his fiancée's father that he will return, solvent,
and ask again for his daughter's hand in marriage. Once in New York, he
falls for Ginger Rogers, who was never prettier than in this film. One
thing leads to another, and the wind up as dance partners.
Eric Blore, Helen Broderick, and Victor Moore supply able support, and the film has a beautiful Jerome Kern score: "Pick Yourself Up," "The Way You Look Tonight," and "A Fine Romance" being a few of the numbers.
There are two knockout pieces in this film - Astaire's tribute to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is one of the most stunning numbers Astaire ever did. He manages to wear blackface and not have it be offensive, as it's very light makeup to suggest his portrayal of Robinson. The number, with its accompanying huge dancing shadows, is magnificent. And the final number - "Never Gonna Dance" surely is one of their top dances ever, with that incredible deco set, the double curving stairways, and Ginger in that glorious dress.
It's hard to sum up how their dancing lifts you up and out of whatever ails you. Definitely their smoothness, footwork, chemistry, and glamor reach out to my soul every time I see them.
I agree that George Stevens contribution to Swing time is noteworthy
however it is the brilliance of Jerome Kern that truly stands out from
this production. Kern's beautiful melodies:- 'Pick Yourself Up', 'A
Fine Romance' and the 'The Way You Look Tonight'had left an indelible
effect on my conscience, because programmers had been clever enough to
utilise their qualities in advertisements and TV sitcoms in the UK in
the 70's & 80's. But when I learnt recently that these numbers all
originated from the same production I was surprised.
I had the pleasure of seeing this picture for the first time over the Christmas holidays (2004) and was entranced by the execution of these compositions in their original form. Of course much of the credit goes to Dorothy Field's lyrics - perfectly delivered by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. No wonder Irving Berlin and George Gershwin also wrote for them. We should remember that Astaire the vocalist is the equal of Astaire the dancer! Notwithstanding Kerns's melodies - which like Mozart's piano concertos are pure and simple but undoubtedly the work of a master - it is also the sexual chemistry of Astaire and Rogers that is expertly conveyed by Stevens and far ahead of its time! Forget Mike Nichol's Closer (2004) it is George Steven's Swing Time (1936) which suggests the leading players and their companions have an interesting private life and are far nicer people than Closer's protagonists too!
SWING TIME just misses being the best of all the Astaire-Rogers
musicals because of one factor--too much Victor Moore and too little
Eric Blore. I tend to favor TOP HAT as their best collaboration because
among the supporting players in that one was Edward Everett Horton and,
of course, the Irving Berlin tunes were great.
This time, in SWING TIME, we're at least spared the mistaken identity theme which ran through so many Astaire-Rogers plots. It's a simple boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl sort of thing without wearing the patience thin and sprinkling some nice Gershwin tunes throughout.
My own favorites are "A Fine Romance", staged among the snowflakes in a country setting, and "Never Gonna Dance" which is the most dramatic of the duo's dancing numbers and takes place in an art deco setting that is strikingly photographed in great B&W photography.
Ginger's eye make-up looks a little heavy but she's pretty as a picture as the dancing instructor Eric Blore almost fires. Fred Astaire not only acquits himself with finesse on the dance floor but in the acting department as well.
Victor Moore soon gets tiresome (in a way that Edward Everett Horton did not). The plot is paper thin and Betty Furness has next to nothing to do--but in this kind of film, all fans really wanted was to watch Astaire and Rogers glide across the dance floor in intricate style--and this they do.
Ginger Rogers was told that SWING TIME did even better business at Radio City Music Hall than TOP HAT--and has declared that among all her films with Astaire, this is her own personal favorite. It's easy to see why. Her big dance numbers with Astaire were filmed in one long, unbroken take--but since she complained of bleeding in her dance shoes you have to wonder how many takes it took to get the perfection seen here.
Any of the films in which Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers appeared is
worth a look. Each one has something that will endear it to the viewer
that seeks in their films entertainment, as well as fun. "Swing Time",
their 1936 film was directed by George Stevens, a distinguished
American director that had a long career in Hollywood. It helps though
that Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields worked in writing some of the most
beautiful melodies heard in the movie.
"Swing Time" is a pretext to present the stars doing what they did best: dancing! Lucky Garnett is made to be late for his own wedding to the socialite Margaret, who contrary to what one expects is forgiving and accepts her boyfriend's excuses. Garnett has to prove his luck, where else?, but in New York. Accompanied by Pop Cardette, they embark in an adventure to try to raise cash and fulfill his promise to Margaret's father.
Fate intervenes in the person of the beautiful Penny. She's a dancing instructor who we first see being cheated out of a quarter by Pop and Lucky. Later they follow her to the studio where Lucky goes to receive a dancing lesson! We know what comes after that. Penny and Lucky were made for one another and it will take the rest of the movie for they to realize this fact and for us to watch some amazing production numbers.
The funniest sequence has to be when Lucky, Penny, Pop and Mabel decide to take a ride to the New Amsterdam resort during a snow storm in a convertible! Not only that, but when they arrive at the inn, finding it closed, they decide to get out and walk in the thick snow without any galoshes! Oh well! The songs one hears in the film are classic standards.
"A Fine Romance", "Pick Yourself Up", "The Way You Look Tonight", "Never Gonna Dance", and others are given excellent treatment. The two excellent musical numbers, "Bojangles' Harlem" and "Swing Time Waltz", show the talent of Mr. Astaire, in the first one, and of Ms. Rogers and Mr. Astaire in the second.
Fred Astaire is always good doing no matter what he does in this film. Ginger Rogers is also appealing as the object of Mr. Astaire's attentions. Victor Moore as Pop, is not as funny as perhaps the film makers wanted him to be, but Helen Broderick, as Mabel was excellent. Eric Blore, Betty Furness and Georges Metaxa and the rest of the cast do their best to support the principals.
This film is a joy to watch thanks to Mr. Astaire and Ms. Rogers under Mr. Stevens' direction.
I completely agree with my fellow film buffs that "Swing Time" ties with "Top Hat" as Fred and Ginger's best musical together. While "Top Hat" has an elegant, almost dreamy atmosphere to it, "Swing Time" gets a gold star for its more real (albeit musical numbers) and honest feel. Fred and Ginger just shine as dapper Lucky and sassy but classy Penny. One of their best dance numbers together is the spontaneous and fun "Pick Yourself Up", where Fred is in overly formal attire and Ginger wears a cute black business dress. Fred's big moment in the sun, however, is the legendary "Bojangles of Harlem" number. Many people today object to it because Fred dances in black face, but I feel it's totally misunderstood. Instead of the awful, grotesque black face Al Jolson wore (pitch black face with white lips), Fred wears tasteful theatrical makeup (think Laurence Olivier as Othello). Also, Fred isn't doing a jig in a cotton field and eating watermelon; the backdrop is a city with glamorous backup dancers. It's not a racist parody, it's one great dancer's tribute to another (that's who Bojangles was, after all). Forget what's on Fred's face, just watch him display a talent no one sees anymore. Because that's what it is: talent and tribute, not hate.
Aside from the perfection of "Top Hat" the previous year, this one is my
next-favourite of the Fred and Ginger collaborations. The songs are
excellent Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields ones (A Fine Romance, The Way You Look
Tonight, Pick Yourself Up, Never Gonna Dance) and the dance sequences are
good, especially the one not far from the end with those huge staircases as
backdrop; the ad-hoc tap at the dance centre, and Bojangles of Harlem, with
its shadow play dancers behind a screen.
In support Helen Broderick and Eric Blore is back (although sadly Blore's appearance in "Swing Time" is brief), and Victor Moore plays a card sharp magician who slowly becomes tedious viewing. There's a recurring joke about trouser cuffs which both sets off the plot and ends it, and Fred and Ginger have the usually sparking repartee which ran through most of their work together.
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