The famous Ginger Rogers – Fred Astaire duo have two entries on the list: “Top Hat” and “Swing Time”. I think it was nice of the editors to let them have two instead of the usual single representative entry. Now, I do not know their musicals well enough to say if these two were the best picks. “Top Hat” seems obvious, “Cheek to cheek” secures it that spot, but “Swing Time” does not have any obvious attributes like that to make it deserve this slot on the List.
Instead “Swing Time” is very much a complete musical. A film that flows, easily, along with songs, dances and story in beautiful harmony. The acting is better here. Ginger shines and so does Fred and we as the audience are well entertained.
It helps that “Swing Time” has more story to work with. The characters are better developed and less one dimensional. More real if you like. And I think the actors were given more space to act. Still it is a dream world, far from the reality of most people in 36, but then again, that is exactly the point of musicals.
Fred Astaire is John “Lucky” Garnett, a dancer-slash-gambler who is in New York to earn enough money to win back his fiancé. 25.000$ is what it takes, but with Lucky’s skill and luck with gambling that should not be too hard. However he soon meets dance instructor Penelope "Penny" Carroll (Ginger Rogers) and is so smitten by her that now it is about NOT getting the 25.000$ so he does not have to go back to the waiting fiancé. This of course means that we get a lot of the usual love-me-love-me-not and who is really in love with who or even telling the truth. That is inevitable, but it is quite charming.
I love the supporting cast. Helen Broderick is fantastic as Mabel Anderson, Penny’s friend and colleague and Victor Moore is good as the disastrous but loyal friend Edwin "Pop" Cardetti. However it was Eric Blore that really got me out of the chair. His may be a small part as the dance school manager, but he was so awesome. I have come to appreciate him and love him every time I see him.
However there is no way around it. The centerpiece of any 30’ies musical must be the music and the dancing and it works no doubt about it. Those two, Fred and Ginger, match each other so well and for a guy who considers dancing as entertainment a waste of time it is pretty big to say that I really enjoyed when they move across the floor. This is good stuff. Also I must say that Ginger Rogers look stunning here. Especially in the dress of the climactic scenes at the Silver Sandal (awesome name!), that dress is so flattering on her, not 30’ies at all. I already mentioned that the music does not have the stand-out quality of “Top Hat”, but it is not bad either. It works and that is the important thing.
Then there is the issue of the blackface. Well, I know this sort of thing is highly controversial, but I cannot really be offended by it. I just find it ridiculous and a symptom of the age. Black music was loved and envied, even recognized, but it was a little too much to bring on some black actors for any more than playing a servant. Then better get Fred Astaire to dress up like a clown and do some black dancing. Come on! I do not mind he is dancing in black style to some cool music, but really, he does not need to dress up like that. If they wanted a black guy they should have brought one in. That would have been awesome. Yet, it is a good act and Fred can really move. That stuff with the dancing shadows is really cool. Loved it.
I have to mentions the wedding scenes. There are two of them is this film, in the opening and in the end, and both of them are messed up. Really, if I was to marry in America I would surely go to Vegas and get one of those private instant Star Trek weddings or something like that, just to make sure that nobody can ruin it at the last minute. That ceremony MUST be the most dangerous moment in any relationship. It is becoming such a cliché that I cannot see a movie wedding without waiting for the interruption that jeopardizes the whole thing.
If “Swing Time” has an issue it may be that it is almost too sweet. There is sugar coating on everything. Even a missed wedding is handled with a smile and a go-get’em attitude. We are not for a second in doubt that Penny and Lucky will get each other and the crisis is resolved almost too easily. In the background however we have the much more interesting love story between Mabel and Pop. Now that is a love story to explore. Fun, chaotic and weird. I would have loved to see more of that.
“Swing time” is hot cocoa on a winter Sunday afternoon with the phone closed and the feet up. Easy and pleasant and all that dancing should work up a good appetite for dinner.