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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). (***)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Wow, one user comment from last year interprets "Carefree" as
mean-spirited and finds it characterized mostly by low spots. Just goes
to show how different perceptions can be. While I'm the first to admit
that this isn't the most musically strong of the Astaire-Rogers pix,
and that Tony Flagg (Fred Astaire) does seem misogynistic at first, I
find a lot to enjoy in this movie.
What seems like Tony's ugly attitude toward women (in the remark Amanda hears on the Dictaphone recording) can partly be explained by a scene from the original shooting script that did not end up in the picture. In that, Dr. Flagg is visited by a vain and annoying female patient who severely tries his... well, patience. The deletion of that bit does make his attitude toward women seem harsher. In the movie as shot, until Amanda hears him assuming that SHE is "another maladjusted female," she actually is amused by what he says about the patient. The Astaire character's behavior throughout the rest of the movie does not support the idea that he is misogynistic, but I agree that some of the dialogue makes him seem so initially.
To read Ginger Rogers' character as having been "weakened" and "drugged" by Astaire's is to take this comedy too seriously. It was one of Rogers' favorite roles of their series together, because she got a chance to shine in a screwball role. And I think Ralph Bellamy, Jack Carson and Luella Gear offer good, if not sparkling, support here. The reason we seldom see Gear in the movies is that she did most of her performing on Broadway; she had appeared with Astaire before in "Gay Divorce" (in the Hortense role that Alice Brady played in the movie version).
I've shown Astaire's golf solo to many a golfer friend, and they never fail to be impressed. Maybe it isn't Astaire's most memorable dance sequence, but the fact that he hits such beautiful shots (he was a lifelong golfer with a score in the low 70s) while doing his impeccable tapping is worthy of admiration.
Amanda's dream dance ("I Used to Be Color Blind") is not something her doctor has forced upon her; maybe he can suggest her dinner selections, but he can't control the content of the dream! She's dreaming about him because he apologized (sorta) for his callousness during their bike ride, and they became friends during the dinner dance that evening. She began to find herself attracted to him. It's a gorgeous dance, filmed in slow motion and definitely showing off how beautiful and graceful Ginger Rogers is. I don't interpret their kiss to mean that she is "submitting" to anything--as a matter of fact, she initiates the clinch as she comes up from that deep backbend (as one writer puts it, it's her dream, after all).
Although I agree that "The Yam" is not a great song (the tune worked better as "Any Bonds Today?"), I'd rather watch the accompanying dance number than "The Piccolino" or the long sequences of chorus kids in "The Continental." Not that the signature steps are that attractive, but once The Yam gains momentum and wanders all over the country club, it's a blast. And I love the big finish, when Astaire props one leg on a series of tables and repeatedly swings Ginger over it (her idea, she said in her autobiography).
Now, about the hypnosis dance, to "Change Partners." Tony's attempts to medicate and hypnotize Amanda have had comic consequences (if they hadn't, there wouldn't be a screwball comedy), but there are two crucial differences when you come to this romantic dance: It isn't intended to be humorous, and what he is now trying to do essentially is UN-hypnotize her so that she is thinking for herself again.
I'll admit there is a submissiveness about her in the dance and that he is acting as a masculine force (and yes, Holdjerhorses, Astaire definitely had a strong masculine presence, non-macho though he was), but if ever there was a good cause, this is it. I find the number intensely sexy--he is mesmerizing her not because he wants to control her, per se, but because he loves her so much that he wants to get the "real" Amanda back. I also think it is significant that Tony cannot knock out Amanda, even for her own good. Far from a cop-out on the part of the writers, this was intentional and in character with the decidedly non-misogynistic character Tony has proved himself to be in all but the first couple of scenes of the movie.
The whole business about lovers hitting each other and getting black eyes is a staple of romantic comedy of the thirties, and it is NOT intended to be interpreted as serious approval of domestic violence. It is a comedy convention that represents the verbal conflict of relationships, mixed with good old-fashioned slapstick.
Finally, a last argument in favor of "Carefree:" despite the fact that this is a madcap comedy, there are some lovely, touching straight scenes in it that show just how strong Astaire and Rogers both were in the acting department. The scene during which she confesses to him on the dance floor that she loves him instead of Steve; and the one in his office, in which he gets her to admit that she dreamed about him, and she responds with grief when he tells her that he doesn't love her, are surprisingly moving, as is his dawning suspicion that he IS in love with her.
As wonderful as "The Gay Divorcée" and "Top Hat" are, it is moments like these, along with some of the dialogue in "Swing Time," that really show how multi-talented and underrated as actors these two musical performers were--yes, Fred as well as Oscar-winner-to-be Ginger.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers star in this delightful romantic musical comedy with a twist on the usual Fred and Ginger plot. Though odd and short in the musical number department, this teasing romantic romp features some of their best dancing and good humor to boot. Ginger Rogers is nothing short of stunning in this picture and Mr. Astaire's feet never touch the ground. Definitely their most underrated film.
The upper-class Stephen Arden (Ralph Bellamy) brings his fiancée, the
radio singer Amanda Cooper (Ginger Rogers), to be consulted by his
friend, the psychoanalyst Dr. Tony Flagg (Fred Astaire), to improve
their relationship. Amanda listens to the record made by Dr. Flagg
about her and has an initial friction with the shrink. But sooner she
falls in love with him and discloses her feelings to Dr. Flagg. He
decides to hypnotize Amanda to loath him and love Stephen. However his
subconscious makes him perceive that he also loves Amanda. But Stephen
obtains a restrain order against his friend and he can not get close to
Amanda to withdrawal his former hypnotic suggestion.
"Carefree" is a delightfully naive and adorable classic, with a silly story but wonderful dance numbers of the constant pair Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Ginger "steals" the film not only dancing, but also with a funny performance. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Dance Comigo" ("Dance with Me")
Hilarious and very stylish, this spellbinding art moderne musical is a real experiment in RKO craftsmanship. Did you know the dream sequences to the song "I used to be color blind" were originally filmed in color but the release abandoned because RKO couldn't get the tech specs right and the cost was going to be too high for the budget already set. It was a great idea and today might have made CAREFREE a more enduring success as there is no color footage of them as a dancing pair until 1949 at MGM.. Apart from the snazzy look of the art direction, Ginger's fantastic 'hearts and arrows' outfit and big black bewitching hat and the RKO world of the stone and timber country club, the music here is just terrific. The swing antics of the golf club bagpipe sequence had one audience I saw it with in rapturous applause. But I defy anyone to stay seated during THE YAM as they wing and swing their way all over the BIG SET Country club. CAREFREE is just great.
this is one of my favorite fred astaire/ginger rogers films. it's highly amusing how she toys with him at the beginning of the film, and then once he begins hypnosis, they have one of the best dance scenes i've ever seen between them. as always, their magic together is astounding.
The first Astaire-Rogers vehicle to actually lose money on first release ($68,000, a mere drop in the bucket, but still...) and there's a good reason why. Only four songs and dance numbers, including a solo for Fred. Nonetheless, although the accent definitely veers toward story rather than song, it's an interesting and amusing vehicle in which Ginger and Fred not only acquit themselves most ably (Ginger looks great in her Howard Greer costumes) but are supported by a first-rate group of players headed by old friends like eager Jack Carson and irascible Clarence Kolb plus a charming comedian in Luella Gear. Character spots are filled by well-known faces like Edward Gargan as the cop with the nightstick, Franklin Pangborn as a fussy little skeet judge, and Walter Kingsford in his customary role as a doctor. Director Mark Sandrich can be spotted as the golf caddy in the first shot at the country club with Fred and Finlayson.
If you attempt to look at the plot carefully (never a good idea in a
musical) this is a rather repellent movie. The practice of
Psychotherapy wasn't as well known or as well respected as it is today,
and the film was clearly written by someone who seemed to think of it
as some fad medical cure indulged in mainly by rich and foolish women.
As such we get to see Fred Astaire, the therapist, subjecting Ginger
Rogers, the patient, to all manner of barbaric (to modern eyes)
treatments in order to find out why she won't marry his best friend.
Eventually Astaire uses hypnosis to force her to marry him, and then
force him not to. Clearly, movie doctors were not subjected to as
severe a code of ethics as are real ones.
Its a pretty typical outing for Astaire and Rogers. Astaire's dancing is extraordinary (the dance scene on the golf course is great, as is the one where he dances with a hypnotized Rogers). Rogers' comic timing is, as always, wonderful. The secondary characters are all two-dimension cut-outs, but they're entertaining ones. If the characters didn't have quite the same sparkle to their interplay, remember, this was Astaire and Rogers' eighth film together and artistic differences were beginning to create a strain.
My biggest issue with this movie was the scene in which they sing the song "I Used To Be Colorblind". This was dream sequence, and it lasted about five minutes. "Carefree" is a black and white movie and the intent originally was to film the dream sequence in color a'la "Wizard of Oz". Apparently, somewhere in the production process, people balked at the cost and it was produced in black and white along with the rest of the film. Being filmed in black and white makes the song, and the entire sequence makes not one lick of sense, because the song is about how crisp and clear the world seems in color. Not only that, but since it was designed to be viewed on color film, not in black and white, the sets weren't designed with that same high degree of contrasts they would have if they had been designed to be viewed in black and white. As such, things in the dream sequence are LESS clear than in the rest of the movie, not more. I'm just appalled that the studio could spring for a few minutes of color footage for a film with such proved money-makes as Astaire and Rogers.
Although Ginger Rogers is memorable in her role, this is a lukewarm romantic
musical comedy which teams her again with Fred Astaire as patient and
psychiatrist in another variation on the love triangle story. Rogers
doesn't show any affection towards her fiancé (a one-note performance from
Ralph Bellamy) so he asks Fred to hypnotise her and change her inclinations.
Fred falls in love with her himself (naturally) and after that the story
descends into a rather poor farce.
There are moments which are good the Change Partners' number, for one (although the Berlin score is pretty poor); the sequence with the golf balls but they are few and far between. The movie creaks badly in places and certainly shows its age.
In the eighth of ten screen appearances together, Fred Astaire and
Ginger Rogers were firmly established as Hollywood's leading dancing
pair. What is interesting about this 1938 entry is that it feels less
like a musical and more like a screwball farce with musical interludes
composed by Irving Berlin. The other less tangible aspect is that one
can sense the two were growing in different directions at this
particular juncture. While Astaire is still his debonair, nimble-footed
self and as immaculate a dancer as ever there was on screen (watch his
golfing solo for proof), Rogers seems to find surer footing as a crack
comedy actress this time around. That's not to say they don't create
magic when they dance. Indeed they do, an especially wonderful treat
captured crisply on the newly released DVD, but you can somehow feel
the beginning of the end.
Credited to no less than seven writers, the nonsensical plot focuses on singer Amanda Cooper, a radio star who has broken off her engagement three times to Stephen Arden, a rich bon vivant who spends an inordinate amount of time at the country club. Concerned about her flightiness but convinced that she is the one for him, he consults with his psychiatrist friend, Dr. Tony Flagg. Upon Stephen's insistence, Amanda goes to see Tony, and things immediately start off on the wrong foot when she overhears some of Tony's insensitive remarks about women on a dictaphone. Amanda and Tony eventually bury the hatchet over an accident-prone bike ride and become friends. You can probably figure out the rest of the complications that occur.
Even though Astaire acquits himself well as Tony (a rare role where he is not a professional entertainer) and Ralph Bellamy gamely plays yet another third-wheel role as Stephen, it is really Rogers who dominates the comedy scenes with her sharp timing and spirited manner. Moreover, the dance numbers don't disappoint with a lovely dream sequence set to "(I Used to Be) Colorblind" and a concluding romantic pas-de-deux cast under a hypnotic spell in "Change Partners". But my personal favorite is "The Yam", a jazzy, acrobatic number meant to replicate the late-thirties dance crazes. With Astaire bouncing Rogers on a series of cushiony chairs and then gracefully twirling her airborne over his table-affixed leg, this one may be my favorite of all their screen dances based on their sheer energy and athleticism.
For whatever reason, the supporting cast is not nearly as memorable as other Astaire-Rogers films at the time with Luella Gear looking a little too young as Amanda's Aunt Cora, Clarence Kolb as crabby Judge Travers and a young Jack Carson as Tony's helpful clinic assistant (doing a pretty decent Japanese accent over the phone). While the use of psychoanalysis must have been quite novel at the time, it feels rather clichéd now. Nonetheless, Astaire and Rogers still make magic regardless of the story contrivance. The 2006 DVD contains two vintage extras a twenty-minute, tap dancing short called "Public Jitterbug #1" about an outlaw jitterbug dancer, and a brief cartoon, "September in the Rain", where famous icons displayed on packaged foods of the day come to life.
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