Do you know the musical ”Top Hat”?
Do you know the song “Cheek to cheek”? You know, the one that goes like “I’m in Heaven, I’m in Heaven…”.
Yes, that one! Of course you know it. It is from “Top Hat” along with a line of other excellent tunes.
That is how it is when songs outlive their original context. I would not say “Top Hat” has been entirely forgotten, but this is one of those tunes that stays around and pops up now and then to sneak up on yet another new audience. A few years ago it was revamped and included on an issue of the Hotel Costes compilation and certainly not as the poorest contribution. That one is an ear hanger as there ever was any. Irving Berlin had an excellent day when he made this one and almost make me forget that this is not the only great tune to come out of “Top Hat”.
Even aside from the music “Top Hat” is a delightful musical and it does get top marks from me. The center of any musical would be the music, but with their excellent dance routines Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers adds another element that makes this a very watchable musical. I am not a big fan of dancing and generally fail to grasp what is so wonderful of watching people dance, but I sort of forget that watching Astaire and Rogers sweep across the floor as if they are floating on air.
With such music and dancing I could even forgive the producers for wrapping this show in a silly or dull story to serve as a vehicle, but I actually love the story as well. It is not deep, but it is a fun comedy of mistaken identity with a host of actors who delivers.
Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) has arrived in London to appear in a show, but it a big secret and his impresario Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton) will go to great lengths to keep his presence a secret. Meanwhile Jerry has an encounter with a displeased neighbor Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers). He falls in love with her and she believes Jerry is actually Horace. Dale is friends with Horace wife Madge Hardwick (Helen Broderick) and when she finds out Jerry is Madge husband she gets somewhat upset.
Dale goes to Italy to meet Madge and brings her suitor Alberto Beddini (Erik Rhodes), a pompous cliché peacock of an Italian who refers to himself in third person. Jerry with Horace in tow is in close pursuit and catch up on Dale and Madge in Venice. Madge wants to introduce Dale to Jerry and match them up to Dale’s horror since she thinks Jerry is married to Madge. Meanwhile Horace is suspecting Dale is some sort of spy to reveal the presence of Jerry and has put his man servant on her tail. He has a little secret of his own about a girl he has met in the zoo. Fairly innocent, but his wife must not find out.
All this leads to a lot of confusion and hilarity and it plays out very well. I simply love the scene where Madge is nudging Dale and Jerry together, winking at them to make out while Dale looks horrorstruck that Madge would throw her into her husband’s arms. The look on her face is priceless and I had a very good laugh.
I know this story does not sound like much and I suppose it is not, but it is actually plenty when it is as well executed as in “Top Hat”. Edward Everett Horton as Horace has all these terrific expressions and reminds me of W.C. Fields on a good day as he has his good natured clashes with his man servant Bates (Eric Blore). Where actually does this cliché come from about the British butler with this particular look? Compare this with “Sullivan’s Travels” and “Trading Places” and you will see what I mean. I would not be surprised to learn it started with “Top Hat”. Well, actually Blore played the same part in “Sullivan’s Travels”, so there is part of the explanation right there.
If I should have something negative to say about “Top Hat” it would be two particular items:
I singularly dislike films where the characters spontaneously break out in song. It is just so unreal. And where does the music come from? It is really more like a dream image than anything else and a convention with musicals that this can be done. Though in this case I will let it rest. I like this musical too much to let it bother me.
Secondly somebody should pay for the crimes committed by the set designers for their version of Venice. This is just ludicrous. Here I am, trying to cope with the fact that the characters may break out singing with music coming out of nowhere any moment and they add this sugarcoated Disneyland of a Venice to the mix. They are really pushing it! It was possible for Hollywood to make a good Venice set. Ernst Lubitch did it with “Trouble in Paradise”. This one just looks too much like a stage from a Barbie commercial.
Again, I will try to ignore that and just focus on all I loved about this film. This is 100 minutes of good times, good music, good laughs and splendid dancing. Pour some champagne, darling and let’s burn some tap-shoes.