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William A. Seiter
Johnny Brett and King Shaw are an unsuccessful dance team in New York. A producer discovers Brett as the new partner for Clare Bennett, but Brett, who thinks he is one of the people they lent money to gives him the name of his partner.
Dr. Tony Flagg's friend, Steven, has problems in the relationship with his fiancee, Amanda, so he persuades her to visit Dr. Flagg. After some minor misunderstandings, she falls in love with Dr. Flagg. When he tries to use hypnosis to strengthen her feelings for Steven, things get complicated. Written by
CAREFREE (RKO Radio, 1938), directed by Mark Sandrich, a screwball comedy set to music, reunites the song and dance team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers for the eighth time in a sort of welcome change from their previous efforts: Astaire plays a doctor, psychiatrist by profession, rather than his usual lovesick American dancer, although the doctor in question DOES have a talent for dancing. Rogers, breaking away from sophisticated humor, makes her mark in broader comedy. She's been funny before, usually sassy with nifty comebacks, but this time in the dizzy-dame mode, but fortunately, not to the extreme.
The plot focuses on Stephen Arden (Ralph Bellamy), a witless attorney. He becomes drunk after his engagement to popular radio star, Amanda Cooper (Ginger Rogers), has been broken for the third time and stumbles to the Medical Foundation building to ask his good friend, Dr. Tony Flagg (Fred Astaire), a psychiatrist assisted by his white coated Connors (Jack Carson), to have Amanda "what's 'er name" analyzed. While waiting in his office, Amanda, accidentally stumbles upon Flagg's phonograph record, listening to a diagnosis about his last patient, closing with his comment about his next patient, Miss Cooper, being a "maladjusted woman." Upset, Amanda turns the tables around by sitting behind his desk and the doctor uncomfortably on the other end in a question and answer session. While bicycling in the park with Steven and her Aunt Cora (Luella Gaer), Amanda and Tony meet again, coming come to friendly terms. Agreeing to Tony's treatments, Amanda goes through a dinner special diet (lobster with mayonnaise and buttermilk) so to have her dreams analyzed, and hypnotism that turns to disaster when roaming the streets in a trance.
With plenty of comedy written into the screenplay, it's a wonder how dance numbers could fit into an overall "screwball" comedy, especially with a score by Irving Berlin. This is where CAREFREE stands apart from the other Astaire and Rogers films. The first number, "Since They Turned 'Loch Lamond' Into Swing" finds Astaire at a golf course accomplishing several things at the same time by playing the harmonica and tap dancing to a Scottish underscoring while teeing off several golf balls in rhythm, all to perfection without once missing his mark. There is no vocal to this number. "I Used to Be Color Blind" is very interesting mainly because it takes part as Rogers' dream dance, with Astaire, singing and dancing in slow motion. While "The Yam" sung by Ginger Rogers at the country club, is an upbeat number, followed by dancing with Astaire on wooden floors rather than the traditional glossy ones. It didn't become a memorable duet as "The Carioca," "The Continental" or "The Piccolino," but unlike these earlier dance numbers, which Fred and Ginger are the main focus, they invite dinner guests to join in with them. The final number, "Change Partners," a more appropriate title than "Carefree," is a beautiful love dance, or trance dance, where the hypnotized Rogers dances in a motionless manner with Astaire. While "Change Partners" is in slower tempo, it's one of the film's most memorable tune, it not, their most sentimental dance sequences. "Change Partners" earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Song.
Luella Gear, as Rogers' matron aunt, Cora, comes across as a middle-aged Kay Francis but speaking like Helen Broderick. Gear, in her movie debut, had very few films to her credit. She's reportedly best known for her role as Aunt Hortence in the stage version of THE GAY DIVORCE (1932) that starred Astaire. Ralph Bellamy, who by this time was usually type-cast as stuffy suitors, happens to be the most masculine of Rogers' rejected beaus thus far. His character, however, becomes very unlikable towards the second half, bogging down the story.
Rounding out the cast in smaller roles are Franklin Pangborn (Roland Hunter); and Hattie McDaniel (Hattie, the maid); and Kay Sutton (Miss Adams). Clarence Kolb takes support as the no-nonsense Judge Joe Travers, Stephen's friend who pleasure himself by telling corny jokes. Although credited, the Robert B. Mitchell and the St. Brendan's Boy Choir seem to have become victims of the editing process consider how they're nowhere to be seen, only heard on the soundtrack singing "Change Partners" near the film's close.
In spite of numerous pros and cons, CAREFREE ranks the team's most underrated film as shortest (83 minutes). It's occasionally funny in spots with imaginable, if not too successful, dance numbers. Other than CAREFREE being available on video cassette and DVD, and formerly found on American Movie Classics prior to 2001, it turns up occasionally (with close casting credits restored) on Turner Classic Movies. Next in the Astaire and Rogers series, THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE (1939). (***)
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