Monday, 22 July 2013

Swing Time (1936)

Swing Time
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.


  1. My only issue with Swing Time--and this is really my only issue with it--is that I just don't buy Fred Astaire as a gambler. He's too immediately likable for me to ever find him believably shady.

    I liked Top Hat more. Still, it's hard to go too far wrong with Fred and Ginger.

    1. Yes, Fred as a gambler...? no, not really. In any case I think the gambler theme is used here in the best sense, a guy who takes the chance and go for it.

      I am on Top Hat too.

  2. With all due respect to Top Hat, Swing Time is my favorite Astaire/Rogers movie. I've seen all ten and those two are the best, but the other eight all have something to recommend them, whether it's the first pairing, the last, a dance scene on roller skates, or a true life biography of a famous husband/wife dance duo.

    Swing Time had the songs Pick Yourself Up and The Way You Look Tonight, which were big hits.

    And I don't have an issue with the blackface scene - perhaps the only time I can say that. Astaire owed a big debt of gratitude to Bill "Mr. Bojangles" Robinson, but even he couldn't get Bojangles hired much in Hollywood for the simple reason that he was black. Astaire wanted to dance with him, but that wasn't allowed by the studio. The best he could do was a tribute dance in the same style as Bojangles in this film, as if it were the real Robinson who was doing the dancing.

    1. That is almost what I expected. The blackface scene looks more like a tribute than a mockery. Fred has respect for the dance and the music. I just feel sorry they felt they needed to dress him up like that.
      Those were different days...

  3. It's been a few years since I've seen Swing Time, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again. You mentioned how you weren't sure how this stacked up to the other Astaire/Rogers musicals. While I haven't seen all of them, I've seen enough to say that yes, Top Hat and Swing Time are definitely the two most worthy of inclusion in The Book. I really enjoy ALL their musicals, because come on, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but these two are easily the best overall films.

    I love these movies. Turn your brain off, sit back, have a good time.

    1. I should find some of the others, I know. I have some Fred Astaire did with Rita Hayworth and although she is gorgeous those film do not have the magic of Top Hat and Swing Time.

  4. I'd give the slight edge to Top Hat, but Swing Time is right behind. But I find something to delight me in everyone of their movies. Their other 1936 movie, Follow the Fleet, has what I think is their most beautiful ballroom dance, "Let's Face the Music and Dance".

    1. Maybe that is where I should start. I will take a note on that.