The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939) Poster

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Randy Bigham6 November 2001
"Castles in the Air" is the title of Irene's 1958 autobiography but it's also an apt summarization of this robust, poignant tale. Vernon and Irene Castle were far more famous and influential in their day than Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers were later, though they are less remembered now.

This movie pays glorious tribute to the Castles and their dance repertoire which Astaire and Rogers beautifully replicate. The crazy maze of fame that swirled around the young couple, their great love for each other and their private travail, are sensitively presented. The supporting cast includes the always superb Walter Brennan as the Castles' chaperone-servant, and Edna May Oliver as their agent, a take-off on real-life Elisabeth (Bessy) Marbury. Producer Lew Fields, who gave Vernon Castle his first job on the New York stage, makes a cameo appearance.

Although Irene Castle served as technical advisor and assisted Walter Plunkett with costuming, there were polite clashes on the set (and off) between her and Ginger Rogers who objected, most notably, to Irene's insistence that she dye her hair dark and cut it short to more accurately resemble her. For those familiar with Irene Castle, whose extraordinary looks (particularly the bobbed hair-style she introduced) were so much a part of her image, they will understand Irene's dissatisfaction with long-tressed, blonde Rogers. It says much for Ginger Rogers' capabilities that the story is not hindered by this departure from authenticity (more glaring then than today).


This film gives some idea of Irene's popularity as a fashion trendsetter which was tremendous in the 1910s and 20s. In fact, many of the stunning gowns Ginger Rogers wears are quite faithful adaptations of costumes designed by Lucile (Lady Duff-Gordon) for Irene Castle during her Broadway and silent-movie days. Ginger's dress with the handkerchief hem and huge chiffon sleeves (double-banded in fur) was copied from the original which Irene wore for the premiere of Irving Berlin's "Watch Your Step" in 1914. This original, by Lucile, is now at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A black and white evening gown, a pleated silk day dress, and a striped travelling suit are other Lucile designs reproduced by Plunkett for Rogers in this picture.
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Fred and Ginger as Vernon and Irene
blanche-230 July 2005
How strange to contemplate the enormous popularity of Vernon and Irene Castle before World War I and to realize that, without this film, no one would know who they are today. I hope the same is never true of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' teaming. Because of their presence on film in ten movies, it shouldn't.

Based on two Irene Castle books, this movie has more plot and more drama than the other Fred and Ginger pairings, and if you can accept that it isn't "Flying Down to Rio," "Top Hat," or "Swing Time," you'll enjoy it. Ginger Rogers does a great job as Irene, in the more dramatic of the two roles, proving again what a wonderful actress she was. The dancing was, of course, great. Ginger's gowns were actually copies of Irene's trendsetting gowns. Irene's hairstyle was well-known as well, and she wanted Ginger to dye her hair dark to match her own. But Rogers refused.

Vernon and Irene, during their short pairing, introduced many dances to the public, including the "Castle Walk" and the fox trot.

The movie's ending is a sad one, but I can't agree with another poster than the final visual was trite. I kind of liked it.
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An added poignancy with the years
theowinthrop24 October 2005
Do people watch Astaire and Rogers films for more than the pleasure of their dancing and singing? Both performed the dialog parts in their musical comedies well too, but most people think of their movies as a series of opportunities to see great dance numbers and to hear music by Gershwin, Kern, Berlin, Porter, or Youmans. I doubt if they recall the plots.

"Flying Down To Rio" deals with a traveling orchestra that assists in advertising a hotel in Rio De Janairo. Nobody recalls that, but they recall Youmans' melody "Orchids in the Moonlight" and his dance (for Astaire and Rogers) "The Carioca". They also remember the big production number of the young women on the airplane wing ("Ah, Rio, Rio by the Sea - Oh!"). Except for that, few recall the hero is Gene Raymond and the heroine is Delores Del Rio. The running gag of the three agents of the bank that is trying to sabotage the new hotel (and who are only seen as top hatted shadows) may be recalled - but it isn't really worth recalling.

In the later musicals the same problems exist. The story of "Gay Divorcée" (originally "Gay Divorce" on Broadway) is how Rogers hires Eric Rhodes to be found with her at a resort hotel so her husband can have grounds for divorce. The Porter score including "Night and Day" and "The Continental" was good - but who recalls the plot (though Rhodes is very funny as the perpetual hired "other man" for instant divorces. The final irony of the plot (almost like a flat joke's punch line) is that Eric Blore knows a nasty secret about the husband, who (for his own reasons) does not want a divorce.

The series did try to tie the couple down to more than frivolous plots dealing with mistaken identities or fake personalities. FOLLOW THE FLEET and CAREFREE tried to have plots dealing with sailors putting on a show and with a psychologist falling in love with a patient who was engaged to his best friend (Ralph Bellamy, of course). Both were amusing, but rather slapdash. CAREFREE had a curious concluding moment, when a hypnotized Rogers is literally slapped out of her state of hypnosis. Rogers looks like she has been the victim of domestic violence as she is married.

By 1939 Astaire and Rogers were tired of the series, and wanted to go their separate ways. The public was also getting tired of the series. So finally they were given a property that reversed the formula. Instead of the music and dancing ornamenting a bare plot, the plot incorporated the music and dance by telling the story of the greatest ballroom dance team of the first half of the 20th Century, Vernon and Irene Castle.

I have often felt that had Vernon Castle lived beyond 1917 into the period of talkie movies, and stayed married to Irene, they might have been in some of the Astaire Rogers films (the choreography of two rival couples dancing would have been fascinating). Vernon might have played a mentor or rival or father to Fred. But it wasn't to be. As the film shows Vernon (who was English-born) enlisted in the Air Corps in 1917, and was killed in a freak accident saving the life of a pilot he was training (the scene in the film is quite savage in showing the crash).

In the four years (1913 - 1917) when they swept the world with their mastery of dancing, Vernon and Irene Castle became leading celebrities. The film follows the slow steps to fame they took, including getting stuck for awhile in Paris because Vernon was hired only to be a comic actor, not to be a dancer. It shows how Edna Mae Oliver (as their agent and friend) gets them the breaks they deserve, and how they end as figures of social change (ballroom dancing regained popularity, and they did create not only fashions for men and women but also "the Castle Walk" dance step). That this all happened in four years suggests what their impact would have been if they lived into the 1940s together (Irene Castle died in the 1960s).

There are some delightful moments in the film: Ginger Rogers auditioning for her date Fred Astaire by doing "Yama Yama Man" complete with a costume in her parlor. She is imitating the originator of the song, Bessie McCoy. Walter Brennan trying to protect Rogers from Astaire (whose intentions he constantly suspects). Watch him in a small scene watering the grass of the lawn, and ignoring Astaire's questions. Oliver noticing the rhythmic swaying of the overhead lamp in her apartment due to the dancing going on upstairs (where Fred and Ginger are dancing). But what is best is the feeling of impending doom over the couple. We know Vernon is going to die so that means their success and their life together will end soon.

This sense of doom makes "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle" unique among the Astaire - Rogers films - it is a downer. There is no getting away from the loss of happiness Irene Castle suffered, nor the loss of talent the theater and dance world suffered. The concluding moment of the film always haunted me - Irene and Vernon dancing in spirit together, twirling in a never-ending, eventually disappearing embrace. When I saw the film the first time, Irene Castle was still alive. The second time she was gone but the two stars were still living. Now Fred and Ginger are gone too. That final ghostly dance manages to encompass two sets of dance legends, and increases the sadness that surrounds this - to me - best of their films.
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Ragtime Trendsetters
bkoganbing14 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
For their last film at RKO, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers co-starred in The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. It was the only time the team ever played real people. It was also the only time that no original score was written for them in a film. And of course it was the only screen death for either of them in their team history.

Vernon Castle and the former Irene Foote met and wed before the beginning of World War I in what we call the Ragtime era. As an act they popularized ballroom dancing and influenced many other performers including a man who was doing his own act in vaudeville at the time with his sister. That of course being Fred Astaire with his sister Adele. I'm sure doing this film must have in and of itself been a labor of love for the dancing master.

In addition Irene Castle set style for women's clothes and hair. When she cut her hair and put in a short bob, women everywhere copied her and the style really took off in the Twenties.

With the arrival of World War I, Vernon Castle enlisted and managed to survive the war only to get killed in a training accident after Armistice Day in the USA. Irene kept her career going, appearing in many silent films and she married three more times. She survived her husband by about forty years.

The film gave Ginger Rogers her first really dramatic role. The following year Ginger would get the ultimate accolade from her peers with a Best Actress Oscar for Kitty Foyle. I've a feeling that it was on the strength of this film that she got cast in Kitty Foyle.

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle boasts two strong supporting performances by Walter Brennan and Edna May Oliver. In real life, the part that Brennan has as a family retainer for the Foote family was black. But given how blacks were portrayed back in the day, it's probably just as well a black actor didn't play the part.

This was a good film for Astaire and Rogers to finish their association with RKO studios. They would team up again in The Barkleys of Broadway ten years later for MGM, but that's a whole other story.
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An excellent, but also sad drama. Also the most romantic of the RKO musicals.
KatharineTheGreat30 June 2001
Warning: Spoilers
I LOVE THIS MOVIE!!! First of all, Fred and Ginger are where it's at in my opinion, so my feelings about this movie are not all that surprising. I own all the Astaire/Rogers movies, and this one is my second favorite. (the Barkleys of broadway rules) The dancing is great even if it is not really what we'd expect F&G to be doing. I am a romantic-type-person, so I absolutley love all the "sweethearts" and "darlings" and (possible spoiler here)"Irene, I'm terribly in love w/ you. I never thought I'd fall in love, but I have, and I'm glad I have, and will you please marry me?" That makes me cry every time. 2 KISSES!!! Many pecks. YEA! The end is sooooooo sad. I absolutley hate seeing Ginger cry-it just about breaks my heart. (don't mind me, I'm obsessed.)Anyway-this is a great movie-SEE IT if you possibly can. I thought it was great.
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A Musical with a Plot
consortpinguin7 June 2001
"The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle" was the last of the major Fred Astaire - Ginger Rogers musicals of the 1930s. And it was different in many ways from the others, namely that the story was more important than the songs and dances.

Really, is "Top Hat" with its emphasis on production numbers linked by a thin plot of mistaken identity really a lot different than today's action movies with endless car chases and pyrotechnic special effects linked by a very thin story about a hit man or the earth getting hit by a comet? Sorry about that analogy, I'll take the great musicals over the "actions" any day! "Yo" is not great dialog.

My parents tell me that at the time, this film was panned by the critics and did not make it as big at the box office. Could it be that everyone wanted another "Top Hat" or Swing Time?" I enjoyed those lovely musicals with their big production numbers. Could it be the emphasis on Vernon's patriotic service with the RAF in World War I might have offended many people's "isolationism" in 1939 about the growing World War II?

Fred and Ginger wanted to do a movie with more substance, and they pulled it off in grand style. The songs and dances were nice, with only one very brief "production number." But they did a great job of showing how two young entertainers met, fell in love, became famous, and made a sacrifice in the war. In 1911, young Irene Castle "discovers" Vernon, a second-rate vaudeville comic when she sees him dancing at an evening outing. She shows Vernon her not ready for prime time dance number "The Yama Yama Men." The two fall in love and marry, and with a lot of self-taught dance technique, suddenly hit the big time in France by dancing their famous "Castle Walk." The Castles' fame grew and grew and they toured Europe and America, and made a lot of money through merchandising things like Irene Castle hats. Long before Michael Jordan's basketball shoes. In fact, you will see entries for both Vernon and Irene here in the Movie Database. Irene went on to star in a few silent films, but never made a "talkie." You'll be glad to know that Irene served as an advisor for the Rogers -Astaire film, enhancing its accuracy.

As always, they had some great character actors. I never knew Walter Brennan was ever that young. Fred and Ginger really showed a depth to their acting. From there, of course, Ginger moved into dramatic movies, including her Oscar-winning "Kitty Foyle." I think Fred's later movies matured too.

In short, I think you will like this movie, but don't expect to see a clone of "Swing Time."
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Nice, Underrated Astaire-Rogers Musical
ccthemovieman-117 March 2006
Here's one of those rare films that I like where there are no villains, just a nice, old-fashioned story with good people.

Of all the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers films, I would guess this gets the least amount of publicity and if that's true, it's a shame.

There are plenty of dance scenes in here. I prefer the tap dancing to ballroom, but that's just my personal tastes. The famous dancing duo are great with any style. I like Walter Brennan, so it's nice to see him in this film and it also was nice to see Edna May Oliver play a nice character, for a change.

The only complaint was the ending was so predictable. You see it coming a mile away. How true this story is, I can't say, but overall it's one of my favorite Astaire-Rogers movies. I am sorry it gets so little attention.
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Unexpected Verisimilitude.
Robert J. Maxwell6 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Vernon and Irene Castle were genuine historical figures whose dancing, and whose other commercial enterprises, became a craze in 1911 and lasted for some years. Vernon's contribution ended with his death in a flying accident during World War I.

From what I can gather, this film sticks fairly closely to the facts, not only as regards their dance steps but other incidents in their lives, given the necessity for inventing some events and telescoping others. Irene Castle is credited as Technical Adviser and she evidently made something of a nuisance of herself on the set. She was displeased by Fred Astaire's idiosyncratic touches in the dances but reserved most of her criticism for Ginger Rogers. Rogers' gowns weren't exact enough replicas of her own. They were, said Irene Castle, "too plunketty," a reference to Walter Plunkett who designed them. Moreover, when Vernon and Irene meet in the film, Ginger Rogers dives awkwardly into the water, and Castle complained that she herself dived and swam much better than Rogers. How would you like to live with somebody like Irene Castle? However, all but one of the songs are from the period, and they are orchestrated accurately -- banjos instead of guitars, and no saxophones. And the dance steps were taken as often as practicable from Irene Vernon's own published book of instructions. In one of them -- "Too Much Mustard" -- the feminist plaint is fully justified. Ginger Rogers does everything Fred Astaire does, only she does it backwards and in high heels.

This was the last of seven or so movies that Fred and Ginger did together at RKO in the 1930s and they're both as charming and talented as ever. But the popularity of the Astaire/Rogers musicals had been waning and this example differs rather drastically from all the others.

It's not just that this is their only period movie, and not just that it's based more or less on fact. It lacks the silly grace of their earlier films. There are no mixed identities, no misunderstandings. Neither star is compelled to pursue the other. They pretty much are together right from the start.

And the film has a darker tone. When the couple are married and poor, they don't brush it off with a couple of wisecracks -- "Here are some peanuts. I only wish they were diamonds." Their jokes about poverty have a feel of desperation about them. And the couple -- Rogers in particular -- have some scenes of genuine drama. It's more of a Hollywood biography than a romantic comedy.

For my dough, there should have been more dances, and more romance in the dances we see. Dancing was a suspect activity in the pre-war period, viewed by bluenoses as couples snuggling together in a simulacrum of sexual activity. The Castles promoted dance as a non-sensual, even healthy way to stay fit. It deflected any tendency towards alcohol use, too. And that's what's missing from these numbers. Not the alcohol, but the sensuality. Give me "Let's Face the Music and Dance" any day. These dances look too much like part of the German water cure. As if to make up for it, Astaire gets to kiss Rogers for the first time on screen -- twice.

The duo went their separate ways after this effort. The decision was a joint one. Rogers had ambitions of becoming an actress and indeed won an Academy Award for her performance in "Kitty Foyle." She was a cute blue-eyed blond from the Midwest and a competent actress but not an outstanding one, and she was beginning a new career while approaching 30. Astaire was even older, 40, but stuck to dancing with other partners. He was as antic in "The Bandwagon" with Cyd Charisse, playing an aging hoofer, as he had been with Rogers fifteen years earlier. The team were reunited in 1949 at MGM for "The Barkleys of Broadway," but the story was weak and there was something sad about the whole thing.

Their RKO pictures had a throw-away charm and an enchantment that seems to endure though, and this was the final entry. Nice while it lasted.
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My favorite musical!
Elizabeth-32813 July 1999
This movie is great! Not only do Rogers and Astaire display their fabulous dancing skills, but I think their acting is great too! I love to look at Ginger's dresses...especially Irene's trademark fox pieces when they do the 'Fox Trot'. The ending always moves me to tears; it's wonderful. If you haven't seen "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle", and are a Rogers and Astaire fan, you need to. This is my favorite movie featuring the dynamic duo. It gets a 10 out of 10!!
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Lesser Astaire and Rogers, which means still pretty good
SGriffin-616 November 2000
This was the last of the Astaire and Rogers films at RKO (they would reunite at MGM for "The Barkeleys of Broadway" [1949]), and represents the studio attempting to find a new way to make the duo popular. It's hard to believe, since the pair have become legends in Hollywood musical history, but by the end of the 1930s audience interest in Astaire and Rogers seemed to be ebbing. Consequently, this film feels *very* different than the rest of their films.

This is not a story of boy meets girl/boy dances with girl/boy loses girl/boy chases and chases girl/boy gets girl and dances with her again. There aren't a ton of the whimsical oddball comic supporting players. And--steady yourself--there are very few full-out major musical numbers. There is no stunning score of songs by Irving Berlin or the Gershwins.

This is because this is a musical biography about the Astaire and Rogers of the previous generation. Hence, the duo are asked not to dance in the manner that made them popular but in the manner that made *the Castles* popular, and to music that *that* couple danced to. Often, when the two dance, we are interrupted by various plot points (ie., cutting to other characters talking instead of keeping the camera on the dancers). One of the few moments where we are able to enjoy them completely is a montage sequence showing the Castles becoming the toast of the nation (with Astaire and Rogers literally dancing across a giant map of the U.S.)

The other major musical number is a solo: Ginger Rogers singing "The Yama Yama Man." Astaire was about to end his contract at RKO, but Rogers still was under contract--so the studio is plainly more interested in trying to build up Rogers for a solo career, and the film indicates this (Rogers' solo, the emphasis on her clothes and hair, etc.) Meanwhile, the film also indicates a growing awareness of the coming war, by dealing with Vernon Castle's enlistment during World War I--one of the first times Astaire had donned a uniform for the cameras (something he would do a *lot* in musicals for the next 5 years).

All in all, it's not what one usually expects from an Astaire and Rogers film, and thus suffers in comparison to "Top Hat" or "Shall We Dance," but still retains a charm and personality nonetheless.
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The Dance of Life
lugonian2 November 2002
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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A fine war-time bio-pic
catmydogs9 November 2006
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle is the last of the 9 RKO musicals Astaire did with Rogers. However, from a story point-of-view, it is their best film by a mile. The contest isn't even close, IMO.

It's not their best musical. This film is really a drama with a few musical interludes, whereas most of the other Astaire-Rogers films were musical comedies. Those other films had flimsy plots at best and were saved only by their songs and dances. BUT - "Vernon and Irene" could easily stands alone without any songs or dances. It even has some action sequences as is typical of war-time films (WWI, in this case).

The film is a bio-pic about the Castles, who in their heyday were even bigger than Astaire and Rogers. The choreography is more attuned to 1910's sensibilities than the usual Astaire and Rogers film, but that's okay. Astaire and Rogers dance just well as always.

As the dancing duo's last RKO film, V&C is quite classy and a fine close to a great RKO dancing career for the two.
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It's pretty good but not like their previous films
MartinHafer7 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers

This film is one of the most unusual Astaire-Rogers musicals because for once the story is about a real couple, Vernon and Irene Castle--famous dancers in the early part of the 20th century. So we have a musical bio-pic, though in many other ways it's very similar to the rest of the films Astaire and Rogers made together. Once again, there are strong supporting comic players (Edna May Oliver and Walter Brennan) and plenty of ballroom-style and tap dancing. But what truly makes this different is that the film is forced to stick to the main facts about the people they are portraying, so there is no fairy tale happy ending, since Vernon was killed towards the end of WWI. Those who want the happy ending and demand the Astaire-Rogers formula remain intact will be disappointed, but I was actually pretty impressed that the story DIDN'T include some sort of sappy ending or ended on a cliché. While not a great film, the acting, dancing, direction and writing were just fine and I do respect the fact that it is not just the "same old story".
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Lovely Biopic about the Castles and good performances
hot_in_pink_hate_red15 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
What I loved about this movie was how funny, talented, sweet, and genuine Vernon Castle and Irene Castle were in real life. Along how very much in love they were. This films chronicles their life together along with the love they had for one another. From their struggle to becoming renown dancing sensations to them wanted to have a normal life after their rise to fame.

Fred Astaire is just wonderful in this Musical Biopic and gives a very wonderful and touching dramatic role as well. Ginger Rogers is lovely in this movie and also gives a touching dramatic role too. Walter Brennan is funny as their friend Walter Ashe and does quite well in being dramatic also. Edna May Oliver is excellent portraying their agent Maggie Sutton as well.

The dancing numbers in this movie are lovely and so romantic. Just watching Fred and Ginger dance is like being hypnotized. The way these two were in the ten films they did in truly enjoyable to watch. They knew how to capture an audience attention.

If you love seeing a movie about actual dancers/actors, being portray by REAL dancers/actors. I suggest you see this wonderful movie with the late Astaire and Rogers.
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Vernon and Irene
jotix10021 August 2005
From all the films that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers worked as a team, "The Vernon and Irene Castle Story" is perhaps the only one with a credible story line because it's based on real people. The film is basically Irene Castle's memoirs and it shows us the couple that got people to dance during the first part of the last century. The film, directed by H.C. Potter has some good moments in which the screen play by Dorothy West and Oscar Hammerstein, show us the couple in its heyday.

The Castles were an institution in the America of those years. We follow them throughout their years together and the people around them and we watch them performing some of the songs that were associated with them.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers do wonders with their characters. Edna May Oliver and the wonderful Walter Brennan shine in their roles. We get a small appearance by Lew Fields, the man responsible for the Castle's career in show business.

While most fans of Fred and Ginger will probably be looking to their usual big production numbers, the ones performed in this movie aren't up to par with whatever we have seen them do in previous films, but these actors make a delightful couple, as always.
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A goof which caused hilarity in UK cinemas
pdiamond-314 August 2006
There is one hilarious goof in this delightful film. When Irene and Vernon are having dinner in the Parisian restaurant in which they are to make their debut Irene is wearing her wedding dress as they are too broke to afford to buy her a new evening dress, She is also wearing a little lacy winged hat of the type worn in the national costume of Holland.

In England there were gales of laughter when Irene says "I feel just like a bride again in my wedding dress and my little Dutch cap." In the UK a Dutch cap is a female contraceptive device which I believe is called a "diaphragm" in USA.
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Astaire And Rogers In Top 1939 Biopic.
georgewilliamnoble20 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
The least remembered of the Astaire & Rogers pictures and their only film based on real people it was their RKO swansong released in 1939. My dear Mum would watch all the Astaire Rogers films when on TV and i vividly recall watching this as a child in our prefab when TV was still new. This DVD viewing was my first since those long ago days. The reason is that it's down beat ending has stuck with me for all these years and to be frank when i watch any musical i mostly want to be uplifted. What i now know of the Castle's and their Pre great war fame i have learned only from Wiki the online encyclopedia and no more. Given that i am writing this review 40 years after the death of Elvis Presley the movie has made me think about the nature of fame and how it can last for some but fade out for others. Also it is 100 years since the events of the great war, the scars of which still run deep for Europe and the United States. So this musical biopic is very timely as a window into those dark days though made 20 years later, just as the world prepared to do it all again.As for the RKO musical film itself, i think it has stood the test of time very well, it packs an astonishing amount into just 93 minutes and benefits from the remarkable chemistry between its popular dancing stars and the popular music of those times are still known to me and i'm sure a great many others.Perhaps only fans of the golden age of Hollywood would want to watch this film today, but i found it to be entertaining interesting and informative of an era long now gone.
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A Smart Film About An Iconic Dance Team
atlasmb24 June 2017
This bio-pic about the hugely successful dance team, Vernon and Irene Castle, starts at the time of their meeting and covers the entire breadth of their career, starting just before the advent of WWI. This film was released in 1939, so film audiences had plenty of choices and the competition was strong. Still, this ninth pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers experienced modest success.

Irene Castle herself was a technical adviser and helped design the gowns that Ginger wore--which, by the way, are very nice, despite Ginger's protestations.

Because this film covers many years and many happenings, it uses montage quite heavily--something that is usually distracting, but in this case it works well.

The dancing documents a variety of styles, some of which were introduced by Vernon and Irene. At the height of their career, they were trendsetters in dance, fashion, culture and taste. Their first dance in the film is an adaptation of minstrel dancing; later dances include the tango and foxtrot. Astaire must have been familiar with all of these styles and probably had used them in his choreography with sister Adele. Still, his choreography in the film is inspired--showing us the essence of each stage in dance evolution.

Ginger is beautiful and she seems to have a freedom in her performance, as if their relationship had advanced to the point of total trust. I only wish this film--and a few of their others--had been shot in color.
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gkeith_123 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers. Observations. Opinions.

Excellent. Biopic of pre Great War famous dancing couple.

Who else better to portray them than Fred and Ginger?

Maggie and Walter were excellent. I always love Zowie and the other dogs.

Good to see the real Lew Fields.

Ginger's costumes were divine. I hated to see all of the hair cutting, however.

Postwar period may have been bad for theatricals, so Vernon's and Irene's careers may not have survived, anyway. Changing tastes may have had a great effect, but in a bad way. The Castles were correct for the time, however, and they introduced a lot of great dances.

I am a degreed historian, actress, singer, dancer, fashion designer, film critic and movie reviewer. I am very interested in theatrical history.
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End of the RKO Series
vert00122 May 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I wonder what kind of press campaign THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE was given back in 1939? Many customers knew the fate of Vernon Castle before they ever entered the theaters, but there's no doubt that many did not (Astaire mentions that his own wife had no idea who Vernon and Irene were). For them the tragic ending may have been something of a shock, even a cheat as advertisements are virtually never downbeat, and such reactions are unlikely to help a film's reputation. The Castle film is so different from the rest of the Rogers/Astaire series that I fear it's continued to be unfairly slated by audiences and critics alike.

How is THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE different? Let us count the ways. We have a new director, H. C. Potter. We have a true story, a biography, to present rather than a fictional bedroom farce or screwball comedy. Consequently, our stars are playing real, non-wisecracking people rather than fictional characters. The Art Deco sets are gone, replaced with historically realistic trappings. Ditto for the costuming. Rather than the brilliant new musical scores to which we've become accustomed, we get a brilliant use of period musical pieces, and the choreography likewise is derivative rather than original. The comedy tends to be gentle and situational rather than verbal and brittle. And most different of all, in the end we're not dealing with comedy, but with a tragedy. When you come to think of it, that's a lot to take in for an unprepared audience.

There were many biographies made in Hollywood around this time, and among the musical ones THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE strikes me as one of the most successful, perhaps even the most successful (I'm not a fan of YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, and most of the rest hardly bear mentioning). We receive a genuine history lesson regarding the popularization of ballroom dancing in America and Europe, and I, for one, was very surprised at the commercialization accompanying the rising fame of these pre-World War One dancers. Not many dancing couples have the acting chops to successfully take on roles that branch out from romantic comedy all the way to tragedy (Kelly and Garland?) but Astaire and Rogers prove well up to the task. And while Fred probably doesn't rise above the level of competent, Ginger has the opportunity to make an actual character journey from gawky but talented teenager to loving and serious young wife. She may have pressed a bit at the beginning to play ten years younger than her actual self but it seems to me that she hit the ball perfectly during the second half of the picture.

There's more dancing in VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE than it's usually given credit for. Fred has his usual solo, pleasant but unspectacular, Ginger has a tricky specialty number meant to show her character off as gauche yet talented which she pulls off nicely, there's a lively rehearsal number to 'Waiting for the Robert E. Lee', and there are the various examples of the Castles' dances, with perhaps 'The Maxixe' being outstanding among them. They are all performed brilliantly by Fred and Ginger, and their final waltz, the last dance they did for RKO, gives us one last beautiful image to admire and one final emotional rush to feel. It was a great run.

CASTLE provided RKO with approximately the same revenue as had FLYING DOWN TO RIO, but the expenses were now far greater and the film suffered a small net loss. As a result, Astaire was offered a new contract at about half the old salary, but he felt (correctly so) that he could command his old figure on a picture by picture basis with other studios. Such was the un-romantic ending to the famous Astaire/Rogers partnership at RKO. They would both go on to have enormous success separately but are probably destined to always remain best known together. There are worse fates.
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The last of Fred and Ginger together at RKO
calvinnme25 June 2015
The great irony here is that, today, if the professional dancing team of Vernon and Irene Castle is remembered at all, it is because Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers played them in a movie. Plus,many people don't like "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle", and just find it lacking something. This is probably because there is virtually no romantic conflict between the two in this film. Astaire & Rogers spend practically the entire film either allied or happily married. Because the two are happily married in the film, you're missing all of the fun of the misunderstandings, squabbling, and sexual tension of their other RKO starring vehicles. The conflict is first economic and professional as the pair struggled to get recognized as great dancers, and then there is World War I in which Vernon Castle, as an English native, feels compelled to enlist. The film is quite good, but it is very sentimental and atypical of Astaire & Rogers' other films. This was intended to be the pair's last film together, and was their last film together at RKO. It was just a series of accidental recasting decisions that led them to reunite in "The Barkleys of Broadway" at MGM ten years later, which was a big splash musical in the big splashy MGM tradition, quite different from their earlier films together.
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Low-Key Swansong for Astaire and Rogers' RKO Career
l_rawjalaurence8 November 2014
Viewers expecting a reprise of some of the great Astaire/Rogers vehicles of the mid-Thirties are likely to be disappointed with H. C. Potter's biopic. This is a low-key retelling of the life of two great ballroom dancers, with the emphasis placed on their life after marriage. There are a few incongruities: Astaire makes no attempt to portray Vernon as an Englishman (who was actually born in Norwich in the east of the country), even though he is shown to be joining the army during the First World War. Their general factotum Walter (Walter Brennan) was in reality an African American, but in Potter's film the role has been transformed into a comic foil for Astaire and Rogers, rather like that of Edward Everett Horton in their musicals earlier on in the decade.

The dance-sequences are low-key, but reveal Astaire and Rogers' talent for taking on all types of dance. They glide across the screen like sylphs - as with all of their movies, they ooze style. One wonders why the comic Lew Fields (playing himself in the movie) declined to take them on in his show early on in their careers; and why he believed (quite erroneously) that Vernon was a better comedian than he was a dancer.

Director Potter makes considerable use of dissolves, as well as superimposed sequences where the couple are shown rather like phantoms dancing across the screen. This is especially evident at the end, where Irene remembers those wonderful days when the two of them were performing in Paris, just after her husband's unfortunate death in an air crash has been announced. Rogers' performance is especially memorable at this point, as she battles to keep calm, despite her emotional traumas.

Astaire seems a little constricted in this film - although he has one or two moments of comic repartee with Brennan, he does not appear especially comfortable in the flying sequences, either in the air or on the ground. It's obvious that he misses his dancing shoes.

As other reviewers have remarked, THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE takes certain liberties with the truth about their biographical subjects' lives. But then perhaps we should see it not as a biopic, but as a deliberate coda to Astaire and Rogers' career at RKO - as the two of them are seen dancing into the distance at the end of the film, we realize that this is the end of an era. Although the two of them were reunited in MGM's THE BARKLEYS OF Broadway a decade later, they could never recapture the magic of their RKO canon.
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What if they gave a dance movie . . .
Hot 888 Mama8 December 2013
Warning: Spoilers
. . . and a war broke out? And I'm not talking about those STEP UP or BATTLE AMER!CA-type "dance-war" flicks. THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE is a dance movie which closes with a REAL WAR (specifically, the WWII under card, as it's taught today). One minute you have noted hoofer Fred Astaire doing a stern-faced tango. The next, he's firing the twin machine guns of a WWI fighter biplane with a lunatic grin on his face. This is definitely a film with a serious attention deficit disorder. Vernon and Irene are shown to be deeply in debt as total, hopeless failures stranded in a foreign country. After their chance swing around a dance floor earns them their first supper in days, a wordless 20-minute montage immediately commences by the end of which they are the 1913 version of William & Kate, Brad & Angelina, and Barack & Michelle all rolled into one. As soon as dialog resumes, dance gives way to war, and a few cheesy aerial scenes later, it's "goodbye, farewell, Au Revoir." But the band plays on. For a bit.
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Not Their Best But Still Good
utgard146 December 2013
Musical biography of husband and wife dance team, Vernon and Irene Castle. Not a comedy like Fred & Ginger do so well but a sweet romantic drama. Fred pretty much plays his usual self, maybe less cocky. Ginger, however, gives a softer more innocent performance than in her other films with Astaire. She was starting to branch out as an actress at this point and she would continue to do so throughout the 1940s. There's also some fine support from Walter Brennan and Edna May Oliver.

I put off watching this film for many years because everything I read about it made it seem dull and lacking in any of the things I expect to see from an Astaire/Rogers film. While it's true this movie is not like any of their films up to this point, it's still quite good. It also isn't lacking in song & dance numbers, as I had been led to believe. There are quite a few enjoyable period numbers, although not as elaborate as their more well-known films. Ginger's "The Yama Yama Man" is one of her weirdest and oddly most fascinating screen moments. Astaire & Rogers fans will enjoy it most, but I think it's accessible to anybody who can enjoy older films.
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Let's all do the Castle Walk!
mark.waltz20 October 2012
Warning: Spoilers
While this may be more famous for being Fred and Ginger's last RKO movie (and the real Irene Castle watching every move Ginger made while on the set), "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle" is a decent musical biography that doesn't depend on songs (there are only a few) but the love story of the most famous dance couple prior to the one that portrayed them here. In the early 20th Century, vaudeville reigned, and comic Vernon Castle didn't have a future until he added Irene to his act and became a dancer instead. They become the toast of Broadway and the world, having influences in practically every segment of culture-fashion, dance steps, and even cigars! But there is a sudden nasty interruption, namely the first World War, and the two lovers are separated.

If not the best of their 10 movies (which includes "The Barkley's of Broadway", made 10 years later at MGM), this is one of the most romantic, and the least to focus on wisecracks by Ginger and his efforts to give her class. Fred and Ginger seem to be playing no one other than Fred and Ginger, but that isn't important. They do all of the famous steps that their predecessors do, and in a fantastic montage (where they dance across a map of the United States), the viewer gets to see most of them. The musical highlight is "Too Much Mustard", a bouncy tune set in a nightclub that sets them up for success. Wonderful comic moments are provided by Edna May Oliver and Walter Brennan. "Too Much Mustard" wasn't forgotten with this movie; A rather obscure Liza Minnelli film called "Lucky Lady" would pick it up 35 years later for its opening credits music.
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