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William A. Seiter
In 1911, Vernon Castle, minor comic in a stage revue, pursues the leading lady to a New Jersey beach...where, instead, he meets stage-struck Irene Foote. A few misadventures later, they're married; at Irene's insistence, they abandon comedy to attempt a dancing career, which attempt only lands them in Paris without a sou. Fortunately, agent Maggie Sutton hears them rehearse and starts them on their brilliant career as the world's foremost ballroom dancers. But at the height of their fame, World War I begins... Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE (RKO Radio, 1939), directed by H.C. Potter, marked the ninth screen teaming of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and what a better way to end their cycle of successful musical comedies together than in having the most popular dance team of the 1930s in an autobiographical film portraying the most famous dancers of twenty years ago. The couple who made "The Continental" a dancing craze of the 1930s, were now reintroducing once popular dances such as "The Fox Trot." Based on the books "My Husband" and "My Memories of Vernon Castle" by Irene Castle, who was technical adviser of this production, the movie itself centers on an ordinary girl named Irene Foote of New Rochelle and her marriage to a dancer named Vernon Castle of England who was content into playing a comic stooge on the American stage.
The story begins in 1911. Vaudeville was at its height. Vernon Castle (Fred Astaire) is an stage performer working as part of "The Barber Shop" comedy act with the legendary Lew Fields (Lew Fields). He's in love with Claire Ford (Frances Mercer), a leading lady who shows no interest in him. After being stood up on a Coney Island beach, he encounters a dog that immediately links him to Irene Foote (Ginger Rogers) and her servant, Walter Ashe (Walter Brennan) in a row boat. After a brief courtship, and the meeting with her parents (Robert Strange and Janet Beecher), they marry. Taking her advise by giving up low comedy towards dancing, they eventually make a success in Paris, thanks to Maggie Sutton (Edna May Oliver), their discoverer who offers them their first tryout at the Cafe de Paree. Their success as King and Queen of barroom dancing is cut short with the outbreak of the World War.
The songs selected in this production from the 1911-1917 era, whether as background music or dance numbers performed by Astaire and Rogers, include: "Glow Little Glow Worm," "By the Beautiful Sea," "Row, Row, Row," "The Yama, Yama Man" (Sung by Ginger Rogers); "Come Josephine in My Flying Machine," "By the Light of the Silvery Moon," "Oh, You Beautiful Doll" (reprise); "Cuddle Up a Little Closer," "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee," "The Darktown Strutters Ball" (sung in French); "Too Much Mustard," "Rose Room/The Tango," "Tres Jolie Waltz," "When They Were Dancing Around," "Little Brown Jug," "Maxine Dengozo," "You're Here and I'm Here," "Chicago," "Hello, Frisco, Hello," "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans," "Take Me Back to New York Town," "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," "Who's Your Lady Friend" (sung and danced by Fred Astaire); "The Destiny Waltz," "Nights of Gladness," and "The Missouri Waltz." Of the songs used, only one, "Only When You're in My Arms," was a an original written for the film, sung by Astaire to Rogers.
While THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE was reportedly not a successful film when released, it has gained some status in later years. Thanks to this movie alone, the names of Vernon and Irene Castle would definitely be forgotten. While they're almost virtually forgotten, their names in the title would help them remain somewhat notable to future generations to come, for as long as this movie continues to be available for viewing. THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE is not only part of the Astaire and Rogers series, it's also a part of them. A sad film in many ways, particularly with its unhappy ending, it was an end of the Astaire and Rogers era, and they knew it. One can actually feel it by watching their performance. Astaire and Rogers show warmth in their infrequent kissing scenes, and Rogers herself is altogether excellent in her performance from a youngster in the early portion of the story to her devoted and mature wife towards the end. The costumes and everything else used in this production, as close to accuracy as possible, recaptured the bygone 1910 era. The musical interludes, while plentiful, are actually brief, with one segment done in a ten minute montage featuring a handful of instrumental dance music. All this and many more help this production another one of the best presented by Astaire and Rogers. While not their last, the team would be reunited in one more musical ten years later, THE BARKLEYS OF Broadway (MGM, 1949), once again playing a husband and wife dance team, but this time as fictional characters.
Also seen in the supporting cast are Etienne Girardot as Papa Aubel; Victor Varconi as The Grand Duke; Rolfe Sedal as Emil Aubel; Donald MacBride as the Hotel Manager; and in cameo, actor Roy D'Arcy as himself, appearing in the Hollywood segment in which Irene Castle stars in a silent motion picture, PATRIA. Walter Brennan and Edna May Oliver are an added asset in both tender moments and comedy as the middle-aged other couple acting part as both friends and agents to the Castles.
THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE, available on video cassette, later on DVD, and once shown on American Movie Classics, occasionally plays on Turner Classic Movies. In recent years, deleted scenes including French vocalist singing and sounding like Maurice Chevalier to the tune "Darktown Strutters Ball," have been restored, along with the original RKO Radio logo and closing credits replacing the sold to television logo of MOVIETIME or C&C Television that were used for commercial TV prior to 1984, along with its closing cast credits.
While not 100 percent accurate, with some character names being fictitious, the movie itself is straight forward, right to the point, and at 94 minutes, hardly has any time to bore its viewers. (****)
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