“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“Listen. No one could teach you to dance in a million years. Take my advice and save your money!”
Screen couples don’t come much more iconic than Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. So iconic in fact, that I know they are one of the most successful and enduring screen couples in cinema history, and it’s possible I’ve never seen a single one of their soft shoe team ups. Which is kind of sad, because at this stage, I have seen every Burt Reynolds / Dom DeLuise team up, several times. So I guess it’s time to get stuck right into some 30s song and dance, with Swing Time.
Lucky (Fred Astaire) is a hoofer, dancing on stage as part of Pop Cardetti’s (Victor Moore) magic act. It’s his wedding day and he hopes to leave the theatre behind, marry his sweetheart Margaret (Betty Furness) and become a professional gambler. His fellow dancers run a scam that sees Lucky missing his wedding and hopping a train to New York City, penniless except for his lucky quarter, with the aim to win $25,000 and return to take Margaret’s hand in marriage.
With Pop tagging along, they arrive in the Big Apple and things almost immediately start to go swimmingly. Lucky meets dance instructress (as the movie calls her) Penny (Ginger Rogers), and together with her friend Mabel (Helen Broderick), the four go from one stroke of good fortune to another. Lucky’s gambling leads to them being cashed up an even winning the contract of a successful nightclub act. But even in the 30s, a romantic comedy plot means a spanner needs to be thrown in the relationship works at the end of the second act.
The story is hokey, predictable and by the numbers. The acting is hammy, big and corny. The song and dance numbers are shoehorned in and far from organic. But Astaire and Rogers are Astaire and Rogers. So the dancing is amazing and the songs are more than serviceable, but it’s the chemistry between the two leads that makes Swing Time so easy to watch and so easy to get lost in.
It does lose a few points though, for resorting to a bit of the old black face. I know it was a different time and they didn’t know they were being offensive, but it’s hard to watch in 2015 and not feel a little icky. The dance number Astaire does underneath the grease paint is nothing short of amazing, but the black face kept getting in the way of me really enjoying it.
Swing Time is the kind of movie that makes you fully understand why certain genres, certain actors and certain ways of film making were so popular back then, and so enduring today. I can’t imagine me ever deciding to watch an old song and dance movie out of the blue, but Swing Time makes me realise that finding myself watching an old song and dance movie isn’t so bad. When you’re watching the absolute best at what they do, whatever it is they do is going to be entertaining.